Data Visualization for Music Taking Off

Data visualization is an exploding field, with rock stars and conventions of its own, such as Yale’s Edward Tufte or the popular writer/blogger Nathan Yau (“Visualize This”).  As data overwhelms us (more since 2002 than all the years of human history prior combined!), visualization of it continues to grow in influence, and we are seeing a growing use of it in news and economic reporting and even to describe music history.

My favorite topic is naturally data visualization as it pertains to music.  As part of a thesis for Columbia University, I am working on a music search/recommendation tool that will enhance listeners’ interaction with their collections in old and new ways.   Earbender 3.0 takes “files” and enables users to see them as graphics.  The recommendation aspect of the algorithm supplements their listening history with social and real time data in order to generate more accurate and relevant results.


Click image to open interactive version (via Thomson Holidays).

Thompson, the travel publisher, released a graphic called “How Music Travels” that describes the development of various dance music movements geographically. While it is unknown how they derived the data, the visualization is entertaining and informative (to a point).  A commenter accurately mentioned the glaring omission of Germany’s Kraftwerk, but if there was a source listed, it may have mitigated arguments.  The fact that people are passionate about this graphic seems to me that a personalized version would be pleasing to many users.

What are some other genres that might have a map to tell their story? Personally, the story of the blues migration, as told in Robert Palmer’s “Deep Blues,” would be a great document of the impact of Muddy Waters music most specifically. And that’s why they started the Rolling Stones, isn’t it?

It’s fun to watch once or twice, but the dance music graphic would have been more interesting (and credible) if the mechanisms that instigated movement or influence were included.  The graphic can’t really be used for exploration beyond genre names, so it really falls short of its potential.  What if it had links to albums or songs to buy?  Nevertheless, if travel companies are working on this sort of thing, the future is upon us.

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