I Got The Feelin’

Last week, I’ve been going through my CD collection, trying to find records I haven’t been listing for a while. And I got the feeling that music I listen to nowadays is slower than the one I was listening to in my 20’s. I was wondering if that was an age issue, or it was simply the fact that music in the 90s was “faster” than the one released in 2015. So I tried to scrap the BPM database to get a more appropriate answer about this “feeling” I have. I did extract two information: the BPM (beat per minute) and the year (of release).

Here is a function to extract information from the website,

> library(XML)
> extractbpm = function(VBP,P){
+ url=paste("https://www.bpmdatabase.com/music/search/?artist=&title=&bpm=",VBP,"&genre=&page=",P,sep="")
+ download.file(url,destfile = "page.html")
+ tables=readHTMLTable("page.html")
+ return(tables)}

For instance

> extractbpm(115,13)
$`track-table`
Artist Title
1 Eros Ramazzotti y Claudio Guidetti Dimelo A Mi
2 Everclear Volvo Driving Soccer Mom
3 Evils Toy Dear God
4 Expose In Walked Love
5 Fabolous ft. 2 Chainz When I Feel Like It
6 Fabolous ft. 2 Chainz When I Feel Like It
7 Fabolous ft. 2 Chainz When I Feel Like It
8 Fanny Lu Fanfarron
9 Featurecast Ain't My Style
10 Fem 2 Fem Obsession
11 Fernando Villalona Mi Delito
12 Fever Ray Triangle Walks
13 Firstlove Freaky
14 Fito Blanko Pegadito Suavecito
15 Flechazo Del Norte Mariposa Traicionera
16 Fluke Switch/Twitch
17 Flyleaf Something Better
18 FM Static The Next Big Thing
19 Fonseca Eres Mi Sueno
20 Fonseca ft. Maffio & Nayer Eres Mi Sueno
21 Francesca Battistelli Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
22 Frankie Ballard Young & Crazy
23 Frankie J. More Than Words
24 Frank Sinatra The Hucklebuck
25 Franz Ferdinand The Dark Of The Matinée
Mix BPM Genre Label Year
1 — 115 — Sony 2009
2 — 115 — Capitol Records 2003
3 — 115 — — —
4 — 115 — Arista Records 1994
5 Explicit 115 Urban Def Jam/Island Def Jam 2013
6 — 115 Urban Def Jam/Island Def Jam 2013
7 Radio Edit 115 Urban Def Jam/Island Def Jam 2013
8 — 115 Latin Pop Universal Latino 2011
9 Psychemagik Dub 115 — Jalapeno 2012
10 — 115 — Critique Records 1993
11 — 115 — Mt&vi Records/caminante Records 2001
12 Rex The Dog Remix 115 — Little Idiot/Mute 2012
13 — 115 — Jwp Music 2000
14 — 115 Merengue Mambo Crown Loyalty 2012
15 — 115 — Hacienda 2010
16 Album Version 115 — One Little Indian Records 2004
17 — 115 Alternative A&M/Octone 2013
18 — 115 — Tooth & Nail Records 2007
19 — 115 Merengue Mambo 10 2012
20 Urban Version 115 — 10 2012
21 — 115 — Word/Fervent/Warner Bros 2009
22 — 115 Country Warner Bros 2015
23 Mynt Rocks Radio Edit 115 — Columbia 2005
24 — 115 Jazz Columbia 1950
25 — 115 New Wave — 2004

We have here one of the few old songs, a 1950 tune by Frank Sinatra. If we scrap the website, with a simple loop (where the bpm is from 40 to 200). Start with

BASE=NULL
> vbp=40
> p=1

and then, a loop based on

> while(vbp<=2017){
+ F=extractbmp(vbp,p)
+ if(length(F)==1){
+ BASE=rbind(BASE,F[[1]][,c("Artist","Title","BPM","Year")])
+ p=p+1}
+ if(length(F)==0){
+ vbp=vbp+1
+ p=1}}

Then we should clean the dataset

BASE=BASE[-duplicated(BASE),]
BASE=BASE[-which(BASE$Year=="—"),]
BASE$y=as.numeric(as.character(BASE$Year))
BASE$bpm=as.numeric(as.character(BASE$BPM))
BASE=BASE[BASE$y>=1940,]

and we end up with almost 50,000 tunes.

boxplot(BASE$bpm~as.factor(BASE$y),
col="light blue")

Over the past 20 years, it looks like speed of tunes has declined (let us forget tunes of 2017, clearly we have a problem here…)

library(mgcv)
plot(BASE$y,BASE$bpm)
reg=gam(bpm~s(y),data=BASE)
B=data.frame(y=1950:2017)
p=predict(reg,newdata=B)
lines(B$y,p,lwd=3,col="red")

which is confirmed with a (smoothed) regression

p2=predict(reg,newdata=B,se.fit=TRUE)
plot(B$y,p2$fit,lwd=3,col="red",type="l",ylim=c(90,140))
lines(B$y,p2$fit+p2$se.fit)
lines(B$y,p2$fit-p2$se.fit)

even when incorporating the confidence band. Bumps are probably related to smoothing parameters, but indeed, it looks like the average speed of music tune has decreased, from 110-115 in the 90’s to less than 100 nowadays. Now to be honest, I would love to have access to personal information from itunes, deezer or spotify, to get a better understanding (eg when in the week, in the day, do we like to listen to faster music for instance). But so far, I could not have access to such data. Too bad…


8 thoughts on “I Got The Feelin’”

  1. Thank you for sharing this nifty trick with us. I can’t wait to try this on my own. Please keep on sharing more cool hacks in the upcoming posts.

  2. Must say Authur… I do share the gut feeling for your hypothesis. However, a few things here might help you test your hypothesis. First, as already pointed out by you, the data set is an issue, and bigger datasets will help. Secondly, with bigger datasets, it would help to test the hypothesis on smaller datasets separately. Thirdly, testing the hypothesis across the same type of music might help as well. Finally, it is also possible that the generic songs with decent popularity may differ from popular songs in terms of frequency of beats for any time zone. Have you also checked exponential, logarithmic, or any other relationship for the data charts put up by you on this blog? Whatever modifications you go ahead with, I am looking forward to your next blog on the same. 🙂

  3. In my view, you would need smaller but more robust data to answer the question with a reasonable degree of confidence. Perhaps you want to sample tracks from a few music genres using Discogs, match them to a BPM database, and then see if the effect is robust to time and genre. 100 tracks per 5-year window per genre (let’s say, classical, rock, jazz, electronic) would be more than enough to get the trend.

    I suspect that you are correct for a genre like electronic music, which basically started as a genre in the mid-1970s, and which, to the best of my knowledge, reached its highest BPM peak in the mid-1990s, under the influence of several strands of techno (acid and trance in particular). Note that electronic music is an interesting case study here, because the BPM is part of the information used to compose and select the music.

    Disconest might also help:

    http://www.disconest.com/?discogsurl=https://www.discogs.com/release/8698126

  4. There is a possible issue here, illustrated below.
    You cannot listen to 2015 CDs in 1990 while you may be able to listen to CDs purchased in 1990 or remastered from 1990) in 2015.

    Obviously with count data of actual listens this becomes less relevant except that CD with Despacito on it, you don’t listen to because it is always on your car radio 🙂

  5. Well done! I had the same feeling, but it is also nice to see a “bump” during the 80s (yes, I was already listening english rock at that time!).
    One suggestion though: you would probably avoid any supecious bumps (if any) by using the np package and a cross-validated bandwidth . Moreover, you would be able to get (and to plot) the first derivative without any additionnal effort. That would certainly confirm your feeling but would be a more robust result.
    Anyway nice post!

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