How mood and tempo can influence artist discovery?

If you log-in to Deezer, Spotify, YouTube, etc. to listen to a particular artist, you can simply pick their top-tracks. Yet, while they’re the most popular, they are not necessarily the ones providing a good understanding of their style, or – on the opposite – might not surprise you enough. Plus, depending on which platform you use, unexpected results can appear!

Using the Gracenote API, here’s an experiment using their mood and tempo detection features to answers questions like “What a band generally plays”, “How eclectic an album is” or “How can I listen to something unexpected my favorite artist”.

You Can’t, You Won’t And You Don’t Stop

First, let’s try to understand how eclectic an artist is: do they tend to play diverse style, or do they stick to common patterns? In the first case, is that something we can experience through a single album, or did they simply switch genres over the years?

Take for instance the Beastie Boys, who played hardcore punk in their early years, before becoming hip-hop stars in the 90’s. If you look as their old recordings, compiled in “Same old bullshit“, you’ll find the following top-3 tempos and moods.

Beastie boys - Some Old Bullshit
# Tempo
- Medium Tempo: 8 (57.14%)
- Fast Tempo: 6 (42.86%)
- Medium Fast: 5 (35.71%)
# Mood
- Aggressive: 8 (57.14%)
- Cool Confidence: 4 (28.57%)
- Heavy Triumphant: 4 (28.57%)

While a more recent record like “Hello Nasty” seems to leave away the aggressive parts of their early years, even though the defiant mood is definitely here to stay!

Beastie boys - Hello Nasty
# Tempo
- Medium Tempo: 21 (95.45%)
- Medium Fast: 12 (54.55%)
- 90s: 7 (31.82%)
# Mood
- Attitude / Defiant: 7 (31.82%)
- Defiant: 7 (31.82%)
- Cool Confidence: 6 (27.27%)

Looking at individual albums, there are interesting patterns as well. London Calling from The Clash combines elements of Punk-Rock, Jazz, Ska, R&B and more. Consequently, lots of different moods are covered in the same album:

The Clash - London Calling
# Mood
- Rowdy: 5 (26.32%)
- Excited: 4 (21.05%)
- Ramshackle / Rollicking: 4 (21.05%)
- Cool: 4 (21.05%)
- Loud Celebratory: 3 (15.79%)
- Casual Groove: 3 (15.79%)
- Carefree Pop: 2 (10.53%)
- Upbeat: 2 (10.53%)
- Empowering: 1 (5.26%)
- Cool Confidence: 1 (5.26%)

Fear of the Dark

On the other hand, some bands didn’t significantly evolved during decades. Running the same test on the first and most recent studio albums of Iron Maiden (“Iron Maiden” and “The Final Frontier“) shows that tempo remains the same, while the Defiant mood is still a strong part of their style, 30 years after their first release.

Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
# Tempo
- Medium Tempo: 6 (75.00%)
- Medium Fast: 5 (62.50%)
- 100s: 4 (50.00%)
# Mood
- Defiant: 5 (62.50%)
- Hard Positive Excitement: 3 (37.50%)
- Hard Dark Excitement: 2 (25.00%)
Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier
# Tempo
- Medium Tempo: 6 (60.00%)
- Medium Fast: 4 (40.00%)
- Fast: 3 (30.00%)
# Mood
- Defiant: 6 (60.00%)
- Heavy Brooding: 6 (60.00%)
- Brooding: 2 (20.00%)

Finally, for all their studio albums (143 tracks), we have:

Iron Maiden
# Tempo
- Medium Tempo: 88 (61.54%)
- Medium Fast: 55 (38.46%)
- Fast Tempo: 53 (37.06%)
- Fast: 44 (30.77%)
- Medium: 31 (21.68%)
- 100s: 26 (18.18%)
- 80s: 21 (14.69%)
- 90s: 14 (9.79%)
- 130s: 12 (8.39%)
- 140s: 12 (8.39%)
# Mood
- Defiant: 72 (50.35%)
- Heavy Brooding: 33 (23.08%)
- Hard Dark Excitement: 30 (20.98%)
- Brooding: 26 (18.18%)
- Rowdy: 18 (12.59%)
- Confident / Tough: 10 (6.99%)
- Hard Positive Excitement: 9 (6.29%)
- Aggressive: 9 (6.29%)
- Heavy Triumphant: 7 (4.90%)
- Alienated / Brooding: 7 (4.90%)

This becomes interesting in terms of discovery. if you want to listen to typical Maiden, just pick a mid-tempo track with a defiant mood: “The Trooper” is one of them. On the other hand, let’s imagine you’re into something more obscure, pick an Alienating 90s-BPM track, like “Mother Russia“.

If you want to run similar experiments on your favorite albums, simply set-up an account with the Gracenote API, and get the small Python class I’ve build for the analysis.

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2 thoughts on “How mood and tempo can influence artist discovery?

  1. Nice! I like the discovery angle at the end.

    Now I’m curious (future project for me, or for you!):
    – Top 10 “Monotonous” Artists (Artists with fewest number of different moods across their discography)
    – Top 10 “Adventurous” Artists (Artists with most number of different moods)

    and

    – Web app that takes Artist as input, and picks “typical” and “atypical” tracks for that artist.

    Keep up the awesome work, and glad pygn could help! 🙂

    1. That would be interesting stats / projects indeed!

      Do you also have, besides the hierarchy, a notion of distance or scores between tempos and moods in the GN data? E.g. How close medium-fast is to 110s, compared to 110s? And hard dark excitement vs hard positive one?

      I guess that would be cool to compute a standard deviation for each album / artist and find the ones with the min/max ones? And maybe use a temporal aspect to find if the artist just changed style in a few years or over a few decades?

      Anyways, lots of interesting insights can be extracted from this dataset I guess 🙂