Band on the Run: Connecting neighborhoods through live music


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In this article we use machine learning to explore the ways that neighborhoods are connected by live music.

“Every day’s an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines.
And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories…”

Paul Simon

From Right Here to Everywhere

A musical scene can indelibly define a place. The specific culture of a neighborhood can give birth to a new sound. From New Orleans Jazz to DC Hardcore, Greenwich Village Folk to Queensbridge Hip Hop, musical scenes have been intertwined with the identity of geographic areas ranging from specific street intersections (Haight Ashbury) to entire metropolitan areas (Nashville).

Left: The Grateful Dead at the corner of Haight and Ashbury (credit: Herbie Greene) — Right: Medieval troubadours painted by Simone Martini c. 1315 A.D.

At the same time, since antiquity, music has travelled — from medieval troubadours, to the traveling opera companies of the mid-nineteenth century, through to the decades long cross-country meanderings of the Grateful Dead.

With the rise of the internet and streaming services, new music can reach millions of geographically distributed fans at once, allowing highly specific genres like Chicago Footwork to develop a passionate following in London and even find new expression in cities as far away as Hiroshima. Increasingly the internet itself is the metropolis where genres like Vaporwave and Seapunk are born.

Left: Chicago Footwork in Japan (credit: John Calvert), Right: Vaporwave-A genre born on the internet (credit: Reddit)

Yet, despite the simultaneous, everywhere nature of the internet and music streaming — or perhaps because of it — touring remains a vital (if troubled) facet of the music industry. Musicians continue to connect with fans in neighborhoods across the globe through live shows. In this article we explore the links between these geographically distributed fanbases and ask: how do touring musicians connect neighborhoods?

Since forming Topos last February, we’ve been fascinated by a simple question: what does distance mean in the 21st century? While in past articles we’ve explored holistic understandings of distance that leverage a wide range of heterogeneous data and technologies (first in New York City, then more broadly across the US), in this article, we focus narrowly on a single dataset and technological approach. In particular, we take the tour dates of musicians traveling across the US from 2008 to the present as the basis for a machine learning model that allows us to develop a tour-based distance metric relating neighborhoods across the US. We then use this metric to algorithmically generate venue and neighborhood suggestions for touring musicians.

Below: A sampling of touring patterns across the U.S.

The jet set: Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Katy Perry
Home/away or on the tour bus: The Radioactive Chicken Head, Bob Schneider, Sam Evian
Hyper local: Andy Coe Band, Surprise Party, Just Another Folk Singer

A Model Built on Co-occurrence

Collaborative Filtering (CF) is one of the most widely used machine learning approaches for determining distance between entities. Once calculated, these distances are often used to power recommendations. From Spotify’s Discover Weekly to Amazon’s product recommendations, CF algorithms form an important part of many well known recommendation engines.

Neighborhoods that co-occur frequently on tour schedules become closely connected

The fuel for CF recommendations are datasets where candidate recommendable items co-occur. Amazon’s recommendations are fueled by the co-occurrence of items in users’ shopping carts; Spotify’s Discover Weekly is fueled by the co-occurrence of songs in user generated playlists and listening histories. In our case, the co-occurrence of venues and neighborhoods on the schedules of touring musicians provided the input for our CF-based similarity metric. We were able to construct these schedules by hooking into the setlist.fm API, an incredible resource that has data on concerts in the US dating back to 1850.

Exploration: Neighborhood Similarity

We start exploring our tour-based similarity metric by looking at three very different neighborhoods: Bushwick NYC, Downtown LA, and Maryvale, Phoenix

Neighborhood similarities visualized in three dimensional space

Bushwick, NYC

Acid Mothers Temple <<<->>> Acid Baby Jesus

Bushwick is most similar to other well known hipster neighborhoods across the US. It is perhaps telling that there is not one but two bands whose names start with the word “Acid” amongst the most popular acts in the list of similar neighborhoods.

Popular Musical Acts: Acid Mothers Temple, John Maus, Ty Segall, Widowspeak, Acid Baby Jesus

Downtown LA

The Trans Siberian Orchestra — a band that has only ever played arenas

Home to the 21,000-seat Staples Center, Downtown LA’s most similar neighborhoods are other centrally located neighborhoods surrounding big arenas like the Boston Garden and Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. Popular acts in these neighborhoods tend to be top-of-the-charts musicians and — across the board — the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a band famous for going directly to arenas without ever having played smaller clubs or opening for other bands.

Popular Musical Acts: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Katy Perry,Justin Bieber, Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Maryvale, Phoenix

Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, Mötley Crüe

Maryvale — famously one of first planned communities in the United States — is located on the edge of the city of Phoenix; its most similar neighborhoods tend be outside of major metropolitan city centers (Fair Park Dallas), or to form small municipalities in their own rights (Tinley Park IL, Englewood CO). Mainstream Country and Metal are generally the most popular genres, with a solid showing from 70s Classic Rock Bands (Journey, Boston, Styx).

Popular Musical Acts: Brad Paisley, Toby Keith, Mötley Crüe, Slipknot, Journey

The Closest Connections

By allowing only the strongest links (>top .1 percentile) between neighborhoods to remain, we can observe some interesting neighborhood groupings. One striking aspect of these groups is their diversity: some are tightly connected geographically (Group 2) while others span the breadth of the country (Group 5); some have narrow genre preferences (Group 4) while others exhibit more eclectic tastes (Group 1).

Network diagram of neighborhood clusters

Group 1: Pacific Northwest

Separated by 182 Miles, this small cluster of two neighborhoods spans a wide range of genres. Within this stylistic diversity, the most frequent acts tend to be older, established medium-popularity performers

Top acts: Indigo Girls, The B‐52s, Brandi Carlile, Ziggy Marley, Aimee Mann

Group 2: Insider NYC

Separated by just 4 Miles, this small cluster is the tightest geographically. Group 2 is also the most ‘local’, with 16 of the top 20 (mainly alt/indie) performers based in NYC.

Top Acts: Widowspeak, Moon Hooch, Men and Whales, The Bottom Dollars, Sharon Van Etten

Group 3: Almost Country

Largely comprised of western neighborhoods (with Tinley Park IL as the sole exception), group 3 has a corresponding passion for country music; half of the top ten acts are mainstream country musicians (Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Toby Keith, Zac Brown Band, Rascal Flatts). As in the earlier exploration of Maryvale, Mainstream metal and 70’s classic rock are also favorites.

Top Acts: Brad Paisley, Slipknot, Luke Bryan, Mötley Crüe, Journey

Group 4: Central Downtown Areas

Connecting centrally located downtown areas, Group 4 is the most geographically dispersed. In contrast to this geographic diversity, Group 4 is tightly focused on a particular spectrum of sound — the pop-punk/emo/post-punk continuum (with some Comedic Metal — Steel Panther, Gwar — sprinkled in).

Top Acts: Steel Panther, Say Anything, All Time Low, The Used, Mayday Parade

Group 5: Arena Haloes

Centered around huge stadiums (NYC’s Madison Square Garden, The Boston Garden, Chicago’s United Center) the neighborhoods in Group 5 are visited by arena-filling superstars like Bon Jovi, Kanye West, and of course, Billy Joel whose monthly MSG residency (and accompanying helicopter commute) has become legendary.

Top Acts: Trans‐Siberian Orchestra, Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, Rihanna, Katy Perry

Recommendations

Similarity metrics are often constructed in order to power recommendation engines. And where Spotify might recommend an album or Netflix might suggest a movie, here we give examples of using our similarity metric to recommend venues and neighborhoods for touring musicians, focusing on locations where the musician rarely, if ever, performs. For each act, we also produce a list of similar musicians based on their touring schedules.

We then flip directions and focus on location, recommending musicians who have yet to perform but would be most likely to find an audience for a sampling of venues.



From Nodes to Edges

In this article, we’ve constructed a narrow, highly specific view of place, ignoring myriad factors that shape neighborhoods. While there is a small but statistically significant correlation between the similarity metric constructed here and the Topos Similarity Index (which increases for certain cities), these measures are largely orthogonal. The TSI is a holistic measure of similarity, encompassing everything from the form of the built environment to the ratio of big box stores to local retailers, while here we have worked with a single data source pertaining to one facet of culture.

Tour Based Similarity vs the Topos Similarity Index for Boston <> US. Pearson Correlation of .249, p <<.05

Yet even this narrow view reveals much about neighborhoods, from their form (the connected downtown neighborhoods surrounding large arenas) to their milieu (the hipster neighborhoods connected to Bushwick).

We believe this approach starts to demonstrate the potential of understanding location as a set of relationships rather than solely as a set of isolated points or regions to which metrics are ascribed. Many applications of Location Intelligence — from opening a new store to planning a trip, launching a political campaign to arranging a tour — are ultimately about relationships: Brand and customer, traveller and a foreign culture, politician and constituent, touring musician and fan. Understanding the manifold ways one place is similar to another provides rich context for expanding these relationships into new territories.


This post is part of an ongoing series capturing different insights we generate while developing our platform. We would love to hear your feedback. If you enjoyed this article please share and 👏 a few times so other people can see it too.



Album sales up as streaming soars






UK music fans streamed more music than ever before in 2017 – an astonishing total of 68.1 billion songs.

That’s the equivalent of everyone in the country playing 1,036 tracks, or almost three continuous days of music, on sites like Apple Music and Spotify.

Most of those songs were apparently by Ed Sheeran – who had four of the Top 10 biggest-selling singles of the year.

Trade body the BPI says streaming now accounts for more than half (50.4%) of all music consumption in the UK.

The figure is up from 36.4% last year – with a record 1.5 billion streams served in one week last December.

To put that in context, we are now streaming more songs in a single week than we did in the first six months of 2012.

If anything, though, the BPI is actually underplaying the success of streaming, as it relies on data from the Official Charts Company, which does not currently count music played on YouTube towards its figures.

It has been estimated that if YouTube was included, the number of streams accessed by music fans in the UK would double.

Most-streamed artists of 2017
1) Ed Sheeran
2) Drake
3) Little Mix
4) Eminem
5) The Weeknd
6) Calvin Harris
7) Coldplay
8) Kendrick Lamar
9) Stormzy
10) Post Malone

Overall, sales of music generated £1.2 billion for the UK economy last year, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association.

At the opposite end of the technological scale, sales of vinyl continued to grow, with 4.1 million LPs purchased in 2017.

Again, Ed Sheeran was the most popular artist on the format – closely followed by Liam Gallagher and Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, which featured in the top five vinyl albums for the third year in a row.

CD sales down

However, vinyl only accounts for 3% of the overall music market, and its success is in stark contrast to the decline in CDs and downloads.




CD sales, which peaked at 162.4 million in 2004, now languish at 41.6 million.

Digital downloads are also on the way out, with just 13.8 million albums bought on stores like iTunes and Amazon last year, a drop of 23%.

Overall, music consumption was up by 8.7% – the fastest rise since 1998.

Sales and streams contributed £1.2 billion to the UK economy, according to the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA).

Chart showing music consumption in the UK

Apart from Sheeran, the UK’s biggest artists included Rag N Bone Man, whose album Human shifted more than 885,000 copies by the end of the year.

Little Mix’s Glory Days continued to sell well, while Pink and Drake were the best-selling international artists.

It was also a better year for new artists after a dismal 2016, where only one British debut album (Bradley Walsh’s Chasing Dreams) went gold.

2017 saw the likes of Dua Lipa, Stormzy, Harry Styles and J Hus achieve the 100,000 sales milestone.

Rag 'N' Bone Man
Top 10 albums of 2017 (combined sales and streams)
Artist Title
1) Ed Sheeran ÷
2) Rag ‘N’ Bone Man (pictured) Human
3) Sam Smith The Thrill Of It All
4) Little Mix Glory Days
5) Pink Beautiful Trauma
6) Ed Sheeran x
7) Michael Ball & Alfie Boe Together Again
8) Drake More Life
9) Liam Gallagher As You Were
10) Stormzy Gang Signs & Prayer
Zara Larsson
Top 10 singles of 2017
Artist Title
1) Ed Sheeran Shape Of You
2) Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee ft Justin Bieber Despacito (Remix)
3) Ed Sheeran Castle On The Hill
4) French Montana ft Swae Lee Unforgettable
5) Ed Sheeran Galway Girl
6) Ed Sheeran Perfect
7) Clean Bandit ft Zara Larsson (pictured) Symphony
8) Rag ‘N’ Bone Man Human
9) Chainsmokers & Coldplay Something Just Like This
10) Jax Jones ft Raye You Don’t Know Me
Amy WinehouseImage copyrightPA
Top 10 vinyl albums of 2017
Artist Title
1) Ed Sheeran ÷
2) Liam Gallagher As You Were
3) Fleetwood Mac Rumours
4) Various Artists Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix 1
5) Amy Winehouse (pictured) Back To Black
6) Rag ‘N’ Bone Man Human
7) Pink Floyd Dark Side Of The Moon
8) The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
9) Oasis (What’s The Story) Morning Glory
10) David Bowie Legacy

Overall, the entertainment industry enjoyed a bumper year in 2017, with sales of video games, films, TV programmes, and music all recording growth for the fifth consecutive year.

Disney had the two biggest-selling film titles of the year – with the live action remake of Beauty And The Beast and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story collectively selling more than 2.9 million copies.

DVDs and Blu-Rays both saw a double-digit decline in sales, but revenues from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon grew by 22.2%, and now account for more than 70% of the video market.

According to ERA, the entertainment market as a whole reached a “new all-time-high”, generating £7.24 billion last year.

CEO Kim Bayley called it “an historic result” driven by new technology and innovation.

“New digital services are bringing ever increasing numbers of the UK population back to entertainment with 24/7 access to the music, video and games they want,” she said.

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The dichotomy of music

Guest writer Mandy Edwards

With another reported suicide of a member of a high profile band, I can’t help but feel sad. Not only for the fans of Linkin Park and Soundgarden, but for the music industry as a whole. I massage backstage at high profile gigs and I am reminded of a gig I worked at a few years ago. One that left me feeling unclean, shocked and perturbed. It’s what started a hiatus from that world, because it was a stark lesson of how dark it could go.

They say never meet your idols. You soon realise the ones that ‘make it’ are still stumbling, confused incomplete humans like the rest of us. Trying to find a way to be whole or find some semblance of home or comfort. For many musicians, I think music can be therapy. A way to exorcise the demons, make sense of them, deconstruct them. But I find some musicians never find healing.

I recently had my first guitar lesson after being hypnotised watching Haim rock out on stage at Glastonbury. It made me feel I wanted to ‘be’ them. I can understand the tacit nature of music. How it can speak to you. How it can be addictive. How it can be a natural high. Maybe that’s why so many musicians turn to drugs. To recreate the high they have on stage. Even just watching the 3 guitarists that make up Haim made me feel like I was on some other planet. I can only imagine the magnitude they felt being up there and seeing adoring fans totally rocking out and vibing on their music. What a let down it must be to head onto a tour bus, or go for a Big Mac at Mcdonalds afterwards and thinking ‘people adored me 20mins ago!’ It’s one rocky bump back down to earth.

It’s taken a while for me to love music again, simply because I massaged at a gig of someone I was a fan of. Don’t get my wrong, they weren’t someone I had idolised as a teenager. It didn’t run that deep and thank god it didn’t. Before I even arrived I had pages and pages and pages of Do’s and Don’t’s –  I wasn’t allowed to talk to them even. Of course this musician will have to remain nameless, but all I can say is, they were one of the high contenders. You couldn’t get much bigger in stardom and fame at the time.

I was positioned in a dressing room opposite Costume. My backstage pass was only for that small stretch of corridor. I could hear whispers from one security guard to another. Serious conversations, stressful conversations and I could see the panic. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. Everyone ran around covering cameras backstage, at the stars request.

All of a sudden someone from costume came in with a hanger in hand. She threw it across the room and shouted

‘what a bitch!’

This woman was almost in tears. Tears of anger and frustration. Clearly she was talking about ‘the boss’ and clearly you now know it’s a woman we are talking about.

Then, I bizarrely bumped into a local GP.  He had been given instructions to go to the Artists hotel room. The fact they were due on stage within the hour didn’t seem to matter. He had to examine the Artist whilst she was asleep, administer an injection, which, of course I had no business knowing exactly what kind of injection, due to confidential reasons. He too wasn’t allowed to talk to her. He seem white as a ghost, almost shell shocked. He said ‘I am never doing that again.’

I was a good girl and stayed in my little corridor, but when it was time for the Artist to go on stage I watched from my vantage point to see if I could see them walk onstage. I did see her. She was walking with her entourage of dancers. All I could hear was her telling her dancers the concoction of drugs she was on. She looked back at her dancers and told them clear as day. She didn’t even whisper. Then she looked me in the eye defiantly. It was almost a glare as if to say ‘how dare you look at me! Did you not get the brief? – it was weird to say the least.

Nothing about that night was joyful, creative, inspiring. It felt dark to a point I had to jump in the shower as I got home and I shuddered. It felt like I was witnessing another Amy Winehouse. It felt tragic and it shattered the illusion.

I think that’s what musicians are. An illusion. To create an illusion. To elevate you. To inspire you. Sometimes they may give so much, they are left empty themselves. Each gig chipping away at them, their soul, their identity. A human shaped outline on the stage, like that of a crime scene. It could easily lead to existential crisis. Who am I really? I can imagine feeling like you are in some sort of warped reality. Living up to what people ‘think’ you are, to the point you lose who you really are.

Maybe they felt empty to start with and the adulation was a way to fill them up. To make them whole. Maybe drugs are a way to get up in front of thousands of people and be unwaveringly brave. Maybe performing day in day out and living up to expectations is too hard to bear. Maybe it’s true that all artists are a little tortured. The scared and vulnerable child inside wanting be liked. Hell, even my guitar teacher told me within 30mins he was taken in by a paedophile ring at aged 6 and music saved him. Interestingly enough he played with Amy Winehouse and mirroringly he called her a bitch too. Full of ego. Maybe when you have talent, you can get to the position where ego just runs away with itself. Where you turn into a monster. You are the spiritual saviour for many, whilst you destroy yourself.

I don’t know the story of Chester Bennington or Chris Cornell’s suicide. I didn’t know them personally. I don’t know why they wanted to escape, but all I know is, I want to find the light in the darkness. I want to create. But I don’t want it to be what makes me whole. I don’t want to get sucked into this tantalising power. I want to be grounded and not driven by ego. Is that what gets us all in the end? Ego. This illusion that we are better, special whilst everyone is down ‘there’. I don’t want to look down, but elevate myself to a higher consciousness, whilst also elevating others. Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe the answer is different for everyone. Maybe we just need to realise the interconnected nature of it all. That we aren’t alone. Demons and all. Isn’t that what music is about after all. To connect us. Maybe we just need to reach out more.

Mandy is a writer, traveller and massage therapist for the music and film industry. Visit Mandy’s regular blog here.

If you have a story to share, send it to us: rogermoisan@yahoo.co.uk