Skip to main content

Pretty Good Hat

Tag: music

A situation yesterday prompted me to recall this video, which I return to once in a while when I am low on joy. The rube goldberg machine version of this is probably more famous, but this marching band version of This Too Shall Pass fills a certain critical part of my heart in a way that I can’t really explain. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJKythlXAIY

a colorful clock-like diagram showing a high amount of listening time over the years between about 8 am and 10 pm. The other angles of the clock are empty.

Today’s experiment with my last.fm data is this clock-like display of my peak listening hours across time. All of these would be really fun to integrate into more Shiny-based toys – maybe that will be next on my list.

Data storytelling with last.fm: Ever since wondering if I could make something vaguely Spotify Wrapped-like with data from last.fm, I’ve dived deep into retrieving, slicing and making pictures of my music data over the past several years. Experimenting with a view of my most-played tracks over, it started to click for me just how many stories are found in this data, that this is much more than listening history – my own stories are embedded in this data, too.

In this plot of my most-played tracks for each year since 2005, you can see the huge spike in 2015, featuring huge numbers of plays of songs by Lord Huron, Frank Taylor, Hem, and Josh Ritter. I knew immediately what this was: The bedtime playlist for our kiddo, whom we would tuck in and leave to listen to songs they loved at the time. They’ve never, ever slept well without a lot of work, and for a while we had a beautiful routine of tuckins and music.

a parallel coordinates plot showing many colorful dots and a vertical spike of much larger dots in 2015

It’s a little bittersweet to see this, as it represents a really hard time in all our lives but also signifies a lot of love and, in the music itself, something that’s always been and continues to be really special.

(Methodological note: Because the spike in 2015 is so high, I had to re-do the entire plot on a log scale in order to see any variation at all in the lower-numbered tracks! I made up for that by scaling the size of the dots to the true total annual play count of each track.)

You can see the data entirely fall off a cliff after 2015. This same picture also tells the story of the death of Rdio, at one time my very favorite way to listen to music and which had great support for tools like last.fm; I replaced it with Apple Music, which has never natively supported that record-keeping, so 2015 is the last year until 2020 that I even have much of this information.

That, of course, is the first year of pandemic and also the first year I started using Roon, listening to music exclusively at home, and shifted all my workouts to home, too. So that big 2020-2021 spike of lots of colors? That’s my wife and me lifting weights and doing squat jumps in our living room!

a colorful stack of close-together dots in a scatterplot

In 2007 you can see the light blue dots appear: That’s when I started listening to Josh Ritter, while away from home for a few months. I was living alone in Bellevue, WA, on a pre-doctoral internship, and carrying my iPod in my pocket while jogging or walking in the park across the street from my long-term company housing complex. I can trace those light blue dots and lines all the way through to now (though the frequency of that workout playlist swamps even my favorite artists right out of the annual top twenty). And looking at this graph I can see the trails in that little park, remember the first time I heard Josh Ritter play “Wings” in my headphones; I can recall tucking the iPod into the console of my rental car, and then spiral into memories of the post-internship vacation that my wife and I took up to the San Juan Islands, where years before I spent a summer teaching climbing.

photo of a shiny silver car gear-shift, with a white third-generation iPod tucked beside it

I can click the 2011 dots to see the music I played for our kiddo in the car while driving to and from day-care. There are some silly kids songs that they used to love, and I was also on a pretty good OK Go kick at the time, so “This Too Shall Pass” was a common track in the car. God that song still gets me. I got into TV On the Radio around this time, too, and found it good car music. (Again: Thanks to Rdio, I was discovering and listening to a lot of music.)

Way back in 2005-2006 I was working at home on finishing my disseration. In iTunes I had albums from Richmond Fontaine and Tom Waits in heavy rotation – Ripped from actual CDs that I bought at Gopher Sounds in downtown Flagstaff!

I’m honestly surprised that last.fm is still operating. I’m not sure what it really does, anymore that would make revenue, but I’m glad it’s still there and that I have good tools to store my listening history once again (Oh – including now adopting Marvis as a great iOS app for scrobbling when I do listen to Apple Music again, thanks to some good discussion with music folks at micro.blog!) When scrobbling stopped working reliably there after 2015, for a while I decided that I didn’t care: listening to music was an ephemeral experience, and so would be my interest in online web-2.0 tools, I reasoned, and I made peace with leaving behind that history.

Now, as long as it continues to work, I’m so happy to have this somewhat constant and almost invisible trace, this throughline of so many moments in my life.

Image of an album cover showing the song titled Certainty. The album art is a pencil sketch of several animals including a dinosaur, sitting around a fire while a bear plays guitar.

It’s not actually out yet, so this new Big Thief album is my favorite thing from 2022 so far.

screenshot of a parallel coordinates plot, which draws lines between ranked points over time. The Josh Ritter song 'Good Man' is highlighted as the top ranking track in 2013, and has lines connecting to its rank in several prior and subsequent years.

Today’s last.fm data time produced this plot of my top 20 tracks for each year since 2005. I’m going to write a (much?) longer post about this, because it has my brain really spinning on storytelling with data; for now, enough to say I’m excited and having a good time!

screenshot showing a plot of data bars

Continuing to tinker with last.fm data, I’ve built a tool to pull my per-track history, and I can do a bunch of fun things with that detail. This plot shows how much I listened to artists in their first year in my data set, compared with all listening in the same year.

Made one more small adjustment this morning to tuneR, adding a date range selector to limit the query. It’s fun to see how my top artists change when adjusting that window.