Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Klosterman's Rock Lexicon

I am currently reading an excellent book called "Killing Yourself to Live" where author Chuck Klosterman visits the sites of many famous rocknroll deaths including Elvis, Lynyrd Skynrd and Kurt Cobain. Klosterman is one of my favorite writers and all of his pieces for Spin are worth checking out.

As I spend my days building machines that can describe music, Klosterman's exposition on the meaninglessness of rock genres struck a chord with me. Researchers spend many hours and write many papers trying to classify genre, yet often most human listeners don't even understand these arbitrary terms. As a rock journalist, it's Chuck's job to help clear up this confusion! Here are a few examples of his wisdom:

SHOEGAZE: Music by artists who stare at their feet while performing—presumably because they are ashamed to be playing such shambolic music to an audience of weirdos.

PSYCH: (as in “psychedelic”) ... This is music for drug addicts, made by drug addicts.

IDM: This is an acronym for “Intelligent Dance Music.” Really. No, really. I’m serious. This is what they call it. Really.

So, even if your classifier can't tell "post rock" from "prog rock", now at least you have no excuse!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Slashdot Shark

On November 5th, 2009, I achieved every nerd's dream when a story about my research on music analysis, iTunes' Genius feature and my music game Herd It was featured on Slashdot, spending over 24 hours on the front page! Better than a Ph.D, a love of Unix or a lifetime pass to the Star Trek convention, this certifies me as a complete geek. w00t!

Of course, the best result from all this was that we got lots of traffic to Herd It and collected some great data. Many sites have talked about the surge in traffic - and website crashes - that results from being Slashdotted but Herd It fared pretty well, once I suspended the huge, inefficient MySQL query I use to calculate scoreboards. Alas, all these new users were fleeting... such is life. Looking at Herd It's Google Analytics, there was a big bump on days 1 and 2 (while we were on the homepage) which dropped of steadily over the subsequent week until we were back to just about our original level. This must be a phenomenon that is seen with many one-shot promotions (news stories, price drops, superbowl ads) and inspired me to coin the term "The Slashdot Shark".

Without warning, a huge fin rises from the depths, strikes and then disappears, leaving carnage and destruction in its wake!