Where is the (musical) drama? Big data answers

spotify where is the drama

Monday distraction: Paul Lamere, Director of Development Platform at The Echo Nest, which is owned by Spotify, has created an entertaining hack that anyone can try — Where Is the Drama? The idea is to use waveform analysis to identify a song’s climactic section. Lamere did this with an algorithm that locates the 30-second clip with the largest volume gain.

Any veteran of the loudness wars, in which producers compress their tracks to an unvarying noise throb, will tell you that Lamere’s hack will only work with classic material which has dynamic range. Indeed, one of his examples is Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” where the 30-second dynamic surge leads into the guitar solo.

It should go without saying that a rise in volume, as a single criterion, does not necessarily represent musical drama. In the “Stairway to Heaven” example, we argue that a later song section, after the guitar solo when the voice track resumes and the backbeat intensifies, is more urgent and dramatic. And that is an example of how data analysis is both illuminating and limiting.

Is this hack an homage to modern attention span deficit? Lamere is tongue-in-cheek about that: “I am no longer wasting time listening to song intros and outros, I can just get to the bit of the song that matters the most.”

The experiment is fun, if nothing else. You can enter songs to test, here.


Brad Hill