February 15, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Data Visualizations: How Songs Go Viral on Turntable.fm

turntable.fm

Scroll down for more pretty data visualizations of viral music in online listening rooms.

It’s going to take a while. Eventually, online listening rooms such as Turntable.fm will feel as normal as radio — another tool for letting people listen to music at the same time, even if they can’t talk to each other — does now. Just because music gets distributed digitally and over the internet doesn’t mean that humans will lose their appetite for shared experience in a single generation.

After a fairly spectacular launch, Turntable.fm hasn’t seen the sort of exponential growth that vaulted Facebook into the mainstream. But have you been there lately? Judging from how many points some of the DJs have, i t clearly has a loyal core following, and as of this instant, four rooms (including one DJed exclusively by the jam band Widespread Panic) have over a hundred listeners, and there were too many active rooms for us to count.

Turntable.fm had its first ever hack day on Tuesday, and on Friday, it announced the result. (Well, maybe there were more than one, but they only posted about one.) Anyway, this hack is a datamining experiment that traces how songs get transmitted between people on this real-time group listening network.

The way songs spread on Turntable.fm is sort of unique, to start with, due to the nature of the service. First of all, you’re “standing” in a “room” listening to someone DJ. Because any user can become a DJ, you might want to add the song they’re playing to your own Turntable.fm song queue, for the next time you take the stage. This is easy to do, and it makes a Heart icon float out in the room, so everyone else can see it. It also gives Turntable.fm a clear view of how songs spread.

Turntable.fm web developer Dan Delany explained that his hack involved creating a data visualization of how one song spread on the service. There are a lot of images and explanation below, so here’s the short story:

  • Songs spread in totally different ways, depending on how famous the songs already are.
  • Songs that are famous outside of Turntable.fm start from lots of sources, and people don’t re-share them that much.
  • Songs that are debuted on Turntable.fm spread faster and more thoroughly than any other type of song played there.
  • Some songs that go viral within Turntable.fm don’t go viral anywhere else, even though they debuted outside of Turntable.fm. So maybe some songs are specifically suited for group listening rooms. Just like subscription services will have an effect on music culture, group listening — if it goes mainstream — could start to have an effect on music itself.

Says Delany,

Ever since the day the “snagging” was introduced as a new feature on turntable, Jon (who draws cats) set up our servers to keep track of which songs were snagged by whom, and from whom, and stick this bit of info in a collection in our database. Then we didn’t touch that collection for a long time. So imagine my excitement to poke my head in there yesterday and find an untouched goldmine of nearly 8 million snags collected over the past year and a half! I immediately set to work writing a script to sort these out and generate something visual to show how songs propagated through the community. After a (hack) day’s work tweaking data and playing with d3 I was able to generate this lovely tree, which shows all snags for the song “At The River” by Groove Armada [listen], one of my all-time faves.

Here’s the first visualization for “At The River,” which shows the song spreading from an inner circle and proliferating across the network.

turntable.fm hack

 

As it turns out, that was a fairly atypical tree, because these other songs look completely different. We’ve included Dan’s explanations along the way:

Macklemore – “Thrift Shop”

On one end of the spectrum, there are songs which are already very popular outside of turntable – for example Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” and LCD Soundsystem’s “New York I Love You”, which are shown below. Songs like these, we found, have very large collections of primary sources – they are already so well-known that most people add them to their queue on their own rather than snagging them – and their trees don’t extend out as far. Thrift Shop is so popular that the first two layers of dots are completely obscured by the thousands of snags mashed on top of each other.

thrift shop

LCD Soundsystem – “NY I Love You”

 

On the other end of the spectrum, there are songs which are, at first, completely unknown outside of turntable – because they were debuted on turntable by their original artists! Below are a few examples – Knife Party’s “TT VIP” version of “Internet Friends” and Bronze Whale’s remix of Miike Snow’s “Devil’s Work”. In both of these cases, there are very few original sources who, by sharing their creations on turntable, achieve a much wider audience through snags.

Knife Party – “Internet Friends”

Miike Snow –  “Devil’s Work (Bronze Whale Remix)”

I’ve saved the best for last – the most interesting trees come from the songs that “go viral” on turntable. These are songs that are known to some people outside of TT, but are significantly more popular in our community than in the rest of the world. Of course, snags are the reason for this phenomenon – people discover the track in a turntable room, become smitten with it, and spread the discovery throughout the site. My favorite examples of this are “Wildflowers” (or really any song) by ::M∆DE:IN:HEIGHTS::, and CoinJar’s mashup of Will Smith vs. Parov Stelar, “Gettin’ Booty With It.” Check out the spread on the latter, I count 13 “generations” (tree layers) of snags. For those keeping track at home, that’s a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag of a snag!

Yeah.

(Also, you can carry hundreds of Turntable.fm rooms around in your pocket – iPhone or Android.)