Monday, 9 January 2012

What did Rock Radio play? An explanation.

This post was supposed to give a bit more analysis of the old Rock Radio data but as I wrote it, I discovered a good bit of explanation was necessary first...

In my original post, I noted the number of tracks played, the number of artists that featured and how often the different artists were featured across the Breakfast and Drivetime shows over a period of seven days. (Although I missed one of the Breakfast shows, so I only have the data from 13 shows.) The next thing I wanted to do, but never got around to, was to look at the genres of music that featured. But, before I can look at genres, I need to make a couple of disclaimers.

First, I realised after collecting the data that not everything that is played on the radio features on the website. It seems that if the DJ played something that was not in the station's database of songs, it didn't feature on the "what was played" page. Sometimes the webpage claimed that the same song was played twice in a row and my guess is, that when a track was played that was not in the database, the system just reported the previous track had just been played again. It looks like Real XS does something similar - it has solved the repeated track reporting problem but there are still gaps when a DJ goes "off piste". For example, on the last Friday before Christmas, I submitted a trio of festive songs for Tom's Godfather of Rock feature (or Godfather-Christmas in this case). I asked for The Black Crowes - Back Door Santa; The Darkness - Christmas Time; and Black Stone Cherry - Santa Is Back; but as you can see from the screen dump, Back Door Santa is conspicuous by his absence!

So any analysis of what the station played will be incomplete because I am relying on what their website says they played rather than listening to the output and recording what they actually played.

From Wikipedia entry
The second disclaimer relates the the way I have decide on the genres of music played. Picking a genre is, inevitably going to be subjective, so I tried to assign a musical style in a way that was as fair and transparent as possible. But the main problem was that I had data on 361 different songs. I quickly decided that I had neither the time nor the inclination to go through 361 songs and assign a musical genre to each one! Since there were only 185 artists ("only 185" - ha!) I decided to assign a genre to each artist and then assume that each track of theirs that was played was an example of that genre. Clearly this is daft, for example I have classified Kiss as "Hard rock" (for reasons I'll explain in a moment) but had the misfortune to hear the abomination that is I Was Made For Loving You on Tom's show the other day, which couldn't be considered Hard rock by any stretch of the imagination! I hope though that reporting on genre by artist will give a reasonable view of what the station played since it is as good as I can manage in the time available.

The last piece of the puzzle therefore is how did I allocate genres to artists. The problem is, of course, that if you got five Rock fans in a room, you are likely to have seven different opinion on how to categorise any given artist. Also, some artists defy easy categorisation and over the course of their career, or even the course of one album, they can range across umpteen genres. I decided therefore to rely on the wisdom of crowds and turned to Wikipedia for help. Pretty much every artist listed in Wikipedia has a number of genres associated with that artist listed in a sidebox along with basic information such as when and where they were formed; years active; and past and present members. I decided to allocate the genre listed first in this sidebox as the genre for the artist. So, to take Rush as an example, I would probably have categorised Rush as "Progressive rock" but accept that they are a band that are difficult to pin down to one style. As you can see from the screen shot here though, the sidebar in Wikipedia, while listing "progressive" as one genre, puts "Hard rock" first in the list. In this instance, the list happens to be in alphabetical order but this is not always the case. I cannot find any information to explain the convention in the order of listing genres but have assumed that the first listed is the one that is considered by the Wikipedia community, to best categorise the artist and in general, on the face of it this seems to be a reasonable assumption to make. There are one or two exceptions I made to this method. If an artist does not have a Wikipedia entry (and the overwhelming majority do) I chose a genre based on information either from the artist's own website or (preferably) a site such as AllMusic. The other main exception was where the first stated musical genre in the artist's Wikipedia entry would have left them in a category of one. In those instances (again this applied to fewer than ten artists) I chose the next listed genre instead.

I hope this makes sense and that you don't disagree too violently with the approach I have adopted but let me know what you think. And now, after this long attempt to justify myself, I hope to actually post some new analysis of the old Rock Radio data in the very near future.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Free Download Friday #120: Free Prog!

Four progtastic tracks from Pallas for free download.

Pallas by tim ellis
Pallas, a photo by tim ellis on Flickr.
The free tracks are cunningly placed on a page called Free Downloads. The track at the bottom of the page is the radio edit of Monster. And it is a monster of a track - catchy chorus and great guitar solo about the four minute mark. Oh, and as well as the mp3, you get a pile of graphics and promo material.

Scroll back up to the top of the page, and you can download a "big band" remix of the same track - it does what it says on the tin and yes, it is as weird as it sounds.

Also on the page is a demo track called Atlantean and a cover of Black Moon (and ELP track from the album of the same name - not ELP's finest IMHO but Pallas do a good job with the cover).

So, a pile of graphics and about 20 minutes of prog for free. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Rock Radio and Real XS

Some time ago, I wrote a post about the Rock Radio Playlist. I always meant to go back to the data and do a bit more analysis but somehow I never got around to it. A lot has happened since April 2011, not least the transmogrification of Rock Radio into Real XS.

Moving at the speed of rock! by DavidDMuir
Moving at the speed of rock!,
a photo by DavidDMuir on Flickr.
Had Rock Radio continued on, the data was so old that  it would not have been worth digging it up but, with the changes, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to poke the data a bit more and then compare it with an analysis of data from the current Real XS output. So, over the next couple of posts, I'll look again at the old Rock Radio data and over the next couple of weeks I'll collect data from the Real XS breakfast and drive time shows to see how it compares.

First though, four observations I should have made at the time of the switchover:
  1. I understand the station had to save money but cutting DJs may be a false economy. I don't tune into radio to hear uninterrupted music - I use my iPod for that. The DJs are the glue that keeps me stuck to a show; them and the community of listeners that grows around a show. For example, Billy Rankin used to regularly get hundreds of comments on his facebook page and I am still in contact with a number of people that I only know because of their contributions to his programme. You don't get that loyalty and community with an uninterrupted rock block!
  2. Rock Radio had the Metal Hammer show and the Classic Rock Magazine show both of which have now gone. I don't know how much money the sponsorship of these shows brought in but I wouldn't have a problem with more sponsorship if it allowed the station to hang on to more DJs. (Poor Tom Russell seems to be given no time off. Are there no employment laws about exploiting national treasures?) Perhaps the Classic Rock Presents Prog magazine would have sponsored a show, or a Blues/Guitar magazine. Or, the station seemed to have a good relationship with Roadrunner Records - would a company like that not have been willing to sponsor a show? (I'm aware here that I may be trying to teach my rock radio management grandmother how to suck eggs but thought it was worth saying.)
  3. I became increasingly uneasy about the Real XS trails that were supposed to reassure us. They kept telling me not to worry because they would be playing Kylie. It never occurred to me that they would not be playing Kylie! Why did they feel they had to keep telling me they wouldn't? In fact the more I thought about it, the more annoyed it made me because if Kylie ever produces an out and out belter of a rock track, I hope they would play it! For example, look at the people that collaborated with Slash on his recent album - would you have anticipated hearing someone from the Black Eyed Peas or Nicole Scherzinger on rock radio? Yet, the Slash tracks fit perfectly with a rock radio playlist. So, bitten from both ends: if they are a rock station it should go without saying that they wont play pop; but if a pop artists starts producing great rock songs, of course they should be played!
  4. I've kept the one that annoyed me most to last. At the time of the changeover, the people in charge appeared to treat their listeners with contempt. (Thought long and hard about that, but I think "contempt" is not too strong a word.) This seems odd since up to that point, they were a station that knew how to connect with their listeners with (as mentioned already) the DJs facebook pages; a great website; and regular events such as the birthday bashes, curry-oke nights and secret sessions. Yet when the rumours about the changes started circling, the management kept a stony silence. Now, there may be commercial reasons why they could say nothing but when the news broke "officially" on another website there was still nothing from Rock Radio management. It was Father Ted who understood the listeners and broke the news a couple of days later - against (I suspect) the wishes of management. And it was Father Ted (of blessed memory) who caught the mood of the listeners and when he thought: Rock Radio's going down the tubes, so let's party! Meanwhile, Rock Radio management's response was too little and too late when they finally put a corporate-speak announcement on the website and tried to pretend that it was business and usual: "Nothing to see here, just move along and keep listening." Bah!
That was then, but where are we now with Real XS? A while down the line, it's fair to say that it is not exactly business as usual (the complete destruction of the evening schedule is particularly upsetting) but it is also fair to say that the popocalypse feared by some has not taken place either. There is a feeling abroad though that the playlist has changed somewhat. I hope the next few posts will shed some light on that...