We did the math over the summer, and sure enough, we discovered users of Smule's apps have created over 900 million songs. That's right. All of you Magic Piano, AutoRap, Sing!, I Am T-Pain, Songify, Ocarina 2 users have been busy. Keep in mind this is quite a different metric than, say, the number of songs you played in your music streaming app or on your iPod. These songs were all created by users. Smule has always believed that people are creative. Perhaps we were right.
We decided to spend some time analyzing the 900 million songs. We wanted to understand why people used our Apps and see what we could learn about how people were creating music. For example, we wondered if it were possible to identify a beginner vs. someone more experienced with music. If we could, then it might be possible to change the first time experience of the products.
We also wondered if we would see affinities emerge across different types of songs or even regions, noting most of the user-created songs are geo-tagged. We wondered, for example, if we could identify regional preferences and affinities by analyzing different songs in different regions, not only in terms of song preferences (e.g which songs do they like to play in Salt Lake City, Utah) but also in terms of their musical interpretation and style, in particular as it relates to the use of time.
For example, here is a recent performance of one of my favorite hymns, "Abide with me, tis Eventide" in the Magic Piano.
Time is such an important aspect of music. In the early days of keyboard music, many early predecessors to the piano lacked any dynamic range and had quite limited sustain. Aside from controlling the set of pitches you played, your interpretation was largely a function of how you used time. Magic Piano's design embraces this aspect of musical expression. As such, you can listen to twenty different performances of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" from Magic Piano users and each one would be unique. Did they play fast? Did they slow down at the end of a musical phrase or did the speed up? Of course, did they play the right notes? But also, did they strike notes of a chord together or did they roll them? Etc.
We used some fairly robust statistical analysis techniques (including the Pearson correlation coefficient and the Spearman rank algorithm) to test affinities of musical interpretation. These statistical techniques allow us to compare, say, two different songs created by users and ascertain how similar or dissimilar they are. If we then group collections of songs by region, we can use the same techniques to determine whether people in the same region play the songs in similar ways or not -- a test of musical affinity.
So... We looked at "Gimme Shelter" by the Rolling Stones and compared Red States to Blue States from the 2000 election map. Sure enough, the song is played twice as often in Blue States as compared to Red States. Recall "Gimme Shelter" is a war protest song from the Vietnam Era:
We then tested "Daddy Sang Bass" by Johnny Cash, a song about a poor family trusting their lives to the Lord:Oh, a storm is threat'ningMy very life todayIf I don't get some shelterOh yeah, I'm gonna fade awayWar, children, it's just a shot awayIt's just a shot awayWar, children, it's just a shot awayIt's just a shot away
Sure enough, the song was played twice as often in Red States vs Blue. Of interest, perhaps, Red States took more time with the songs, while Blue States had more uniform performances.Though the circle won't be brokenBy and by, Lord, by and byDaddy sang bass (mama sang tenor)Me and little brother would join right in thereIn the sky, Lord, in the sky
We decided to move on and test the Swing states, namely Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire. We may as well predict the election, right? Specifically, we looked at affinities in terms of musical interpretation and styles between the Swing States as compared to the Red and Blue States. Are performances in Nevada, for example, more similar to performances in the Red States or Blue States? And to keep the test honest, we chose a neutral song, "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.
While Romney takes Ohio and Florida, as you can see from our election map below, Obama will win in '12. Maybe.If I leave here tomorrowWould you still remember me?For I must be traveling on, now,'Cause there's too many places I've got to see.But, if I stayed here with you, girl,Things just couldn't be the same.'Cause I'm as free as a bird now,And this bird you can not change.Oh... oh... oh... oh... oh...And the bird you cannot change.And this bird you cannot change.Lord knows I can't change.