This is Part 6 of a multi-part blog posting analyzing the way that Reverbnation, the popular artist/dj/rapper/band ranking website, ranks artists (see Parts 1 & 2 for background)
(scroll below for a super long play list of awesome electronic music you can stream for free)
Recap: We hired a focus group of 5 individuals , each of whom is a big fan & heavy listener of electronic music. We asked them to listen to 3 tracks by each artist ranked in the Global Top 50 on Reverbnation’s Electronica Charts. We also asked them to listen to 3 tracks by each artist ranked from 1001 to 1050. We did not tell these participants which artist made which song, or what each artist was ranked, so as not to bias them for or against an artist based on that artist’s ranking. Some artists only posted 1 or 2 tracks on their Reverbnation page, so the total number of tracks our group of 5 heard was around 260. Our 5 judges assigned each track a score between 1 (lowest) and 10 (highest), based simply on how much they “liked” the track – we left that vague standard to their own interpretation. After the first day, in which they listened to all or part of these 260 tracks, we tallied each tracks average score, and “cut” from our list any track that did not receive an average score of at least a 7.5 from our 5 judges. This left 126 tracks. We then put these 126 tracks in a “head to head” competition, randomly pitting one track against another, and asking our judges to select their favorite between the two. We used a special software to match tracks based on how well each track was doing.
Fast forward to the present: After 3 rounds of this head-to-head competition, 64 of the 126 songs/tracks left – roughly half – have “won” two out of their three head-to-head matches and, to narrow the field, we cut the 62 tracks that had only 1 win (or less). So, in summary, after 3 rounds, out of the 100 artists we began with, 43 artists still have at least 1 track in the competition (note that some of these 43 artists have 2 or more tracks still remaining) and from an initial pool of 260 songs/tracks, 64 were left:
Artists ranked in Reverbnation Global Top 50 (at time Focus Group began, listed alphabetically) that still have at least 1 track left in the competition:
- Alderec King (Spain)
- beats antique (USA)
- BILLY (Canada)
- Counting Clouds (Germany)
- Datsik (Canada)
- Downlink (Canada)
- Dr. Kucho! (Spain)
- Excision (Canada)
- Infected Mushroom (USA)
- Inna (Romania)
- Jakeamon (UK)
- Levent Aydogan (Turkey)
- nickasaur! (USA)
- NOISIA (Netherlands)
- NUDE! (Germany)
- Pretty Lights (USA)
- Serge Devant (USA)
- Steve Transcoder (Germany)
- TRANXGO (Argentina)
- trezOra (Georgia)
- Umek (Slovenia)
- UNCLEMAD (Italy)
- Underworld (UK)
Artists ranked in between 1001 and 1050 at time Focus Group began (listed alphabetically) that still have at least 1 track left in the competition:
- 2drops (Israel)
- Amit Bharadwaj (India)
- Biofear (Canada)
- Bong-Ra (Netherlands)
- Burn in Noise (Brazil)
- Etnica (Spain)
- GarGO!! (Italy)
- Going after Zen (UK)
- Goldfrapp (UK)
- Kostistlac (Slovakia)
- K-toh (UK)
- Laura Escude (USA)
- MC CONRAD (UK)
- MOODMUSIC (France)
- ORION (Germany)
- Palenke Soultribe (USA)
- Psextreme (Serbia)
- Set Prometheus Aflame (USA)
- Stickleback (Australia)
- Tom Hades (Belgium)
Before closing this blog, a few observations:
- We were very surprised that, based on the results of our Focus Group so far, 20 of the 43 artists were ranked between 1000 – 1050. We didn’t see that coming. To reiterate, when hearing a track, our 5 judges were not told who produced the track, or the artists’ rank on the Reverbnation Electronica Charts.
- For those doing a country count, here are the number of artists that made the cut, listed by country: USA (8), UK (6), Canada (5), Germany (4), Spain (3), Netherlands (2), Italy (2), then many countries with (1).
- Of the 100 artists we began with, however, some countries had a higher percentage of artists make the cut: Canada (83%), Spain (68%), Italy (67%), Germany (50%), Netherlands (50%), UK (38%), USA (30%).
- This data – while no means a large enough data set to draw definitive conclusions, leads to the following question: is it possible that the Reverbnation charts are somehow, unintentionally biased in favor of American artists? Being American artists ourselves, we certainly hope that’s not the case. It is interesting to note that 4 of our 5 judges are American. An alternate interpretation is that, because Reverbnation is based in the US, it’s likely to attract more US artists whereas non-US artists might be less likely to register unless they already are very very good. Canada comes off looking the best so far – in terms of the percentage of their artists on the Reverb charts and how well they have done so far in the competition.
- In truth, we’re not sure how to interpret these preliminary results.
Next up: the final 32 tracks.
This is Part 2 of a multi-part blog posting analyzing the way that Reverbnation, the popular artist/dj/rapper/band ranking website, ranks artists.
Since posting that blog, however, some aspect of the Reverbnation rankings approach bothered us, but we couldn’t quite figure out what. Then it hit us. But we’re not going to relay our conclusion – yet. Instead, we wanted to see if we could demonstrate what we think the flaw is (with hopes it can be addressed). That being said, we respect Reverbnation, which – and this is no small statement – we genuinely see as a key player in the future evolution of music worldwide.
What’s the best way to “rank” (and therefore promote) talented artists?
We decided to put together a group of people who are hard-core fans of Electronica – a “focus group,” in marketing language. Our idea was to play tracks by the Electronic Music artists ranked in the top 50 or top 100 on the Reverbnation Charts, but without telling the participants which artist made which song, or the current ranking of each artist, so as not to bias them towards choosing an artist just because that artist happened to be ranked higher in the charts (i.e., to prevent the ‘popularity bias’).
Then we decided we’d also test another theory. Instead of playing music by the Top 100 Electronica Artists, we would instead play 3 tracks by each of the Top 50 artists and mix that with tracks produced by artists ranked from 1001 to 1050 – again, without telling our focus group which artist made what track, etc.
Why do this? We figured there was obviously a connection between an artist’s/producer’s ranking on the Reverbnation Electronica Charts and quality of that artist’s music (certainly more so than what is reflected on more mainstream charts, like Billboard). However, we thought the current rankings might unevenly reward artists who regularly perform in public and/or were better at the administrative aspects of the music business, benefiting them over artists who also produced great work, but were unpolished (e.g., they didn’t know how to master their tracks) and/or simply did not perform publicly and, therefore, had a hard time accumulating fans – perhaps because they were studio producers rather than performers. Just because an artist was out in public promoting itself, we wondered, should that necessarily elevate them in the rankings over an introverted producer? Consider this: exactly 2 years ago, Lady Gaga was ranked #728 in the Electronica category on Reverbnation! She now purportedly has over 10 millions fans on Facebook. Did she just suddenly improve?
The answer, of course, is that Lady Gaga was just as good in October 2009 as she is currently – but 10 million people didn’t know about her – and this got reflected in her Reverbnation ranking. Aside from the obvious marketing benefits, there are, of course, advantages to performing publicly. Having been DJs ourselves, we are aware of the pressure of keeping a crowd moving for hours. Fun? Yes. Easy? No way, and we respect those who do it. But we should also remember that there are advantages to another approach: cloistering oneself, not that the two approaches are mutually exclusive.
Secluding oneself for a time in order to record music has the advantage of giving the artist time to reflect inwardly and perfect their craft. Frankfurt Germany’s electronic genius, Oliver Lieb (a/k/a/ Spicelab, LSG, etc.) is, we hear, one such example. Many of us remember our high school days being surprised to learn that the quiet girl no one knew graduated at the top of the class. It also gives an artist space to develop their own unique sound. There are times when it’s good to hear other artists. The trick is, preserving what it is that makes you, well, you, and not parroting other musicians. It’s our philosophy that what makes an artist great is his/her ability to express their uniqueness through their music. Unlike the conventional thinking of big business, people aren’t looking for a product/service – song, anything, produced for them. Instead, the power of a creation is when it represents an authentic expression of its creator – each of whom is unique. THAT is what we all want to connect with (or, in business parlance, purchase) because, to be candid, we’re all connected. Literally.
And so, after some initial failures, we managed to assemble a focus group. Yes, we actually did.
The Monster Loop Electronic Music “Focus Group”
What were we after in our group? First, because the Electronica category includes many different styles (e.g., Dubstep, Psytrance, House, Progressive, Ambient, etc.), we wanted people who liked many styles of Electronica. Second, we wanted men & women. Third, we wanted people who represented different age groups, but who all liked & actively listened to Electronica. And fourth, we wanted people who were into Electronic Music more than they were into the Electronic Music scene.
The Focus Group – it actually worked
We ended up finding 5 people, each of whom we paid a modest sum, to listen to music. And it wasn’t that hard. Little did they know at the time, they were about to hear A LOT of music. To respect their privacy, we will not reveal their identities. They did, however, give us permission to relay the following:
Participant #1 (“Katja”) is a 24 year old female from Germany studying mathematics at a Chicago-area university. She listens to Electronic Music around 5 hours a week and is “heavy” into the European Electronica scene.
Participant #2 (“Mike”) is a 45 year old man from Chicago who manages a record store. By the end of the weekend, he acquired a nickname – “Rain Man,” (he was cool with this) due to his ability to recall obscure facts about almost any techno artist from the past 30 years. He claims he has over 5,000 vinyl records, most of which are Electronica, though he pointed out that term “is of recent lineage.”
Participant #3 (“Jose”) is a 28 year old man from Hammond, Indiana. He’s a graphic designer in Chicago and said he likes every style of Electronica. His favorite style is Dubstep.
Participant #4 (“Jason”) is a 29 year old unemployed man from Chicago who likes ambient, downbeat, and experimental techno. He thinks Aphex Twin (Richard James) is “the best ever.”
Participant #5 (“Seth”) is a 40 year old man who has been listening to electronic music since 1988. His favorite styles are “Acid House, Progressive, and Psytrance” and “almost any style if it has a good beat.” Like ‘Rain Man,’ he had an impressive knowledge of the genre.
Weaknesses of our Group
The youngest participant in our focus group is 24 years old. There is obviously a huge contingent of fans under age 24 – and we’d love to get their viewpoint. This particular focus group, however, had alcohol. Enough said. Most of the participants are from Chicago; there is only one non-American (a German) and 4 of the 5 participants are men. A more subjective “weakness” (strength?) of the group is that there appeared to be a higher than average IQ level – just a guess and we’re not sure of the impact. Finally, 5 is hardly enough people to draw too many conclusions. From our own experience, however, we have continually been surprised to find that people who have listened to and commented on our music have generally liked the same tracks.
What the Electronic Music Focus Group listened to & liked
Results will be discussed in the following two blogs. For now, we wanted to relay what we had our little group do (bwaa haa ha). After meeting for dinner on Friday evening to make sure no one was Jack the Ripper, each person agreed to show up the following morning at my home outside Chicago (note: Monster Loop is listed as Atlanta on the charts because William lives there and I used to. Note also the photo on the left which was taken while setting up). They were then asked to listen to samples of 260 Electronic Music tracks. Yes, 260. And, yes, it took all day. Probably poor planning on our part. Beer was eventually brought in, and food. People took breaks, etc.
After hearing a track, each person was asked to score it between 1 and “10,” 10 being best. We did not provide any guidance other than that 10 was whatever they liked best, however they defined “best,” whether or not it had the slickest production, etc.
And they did. They actually did. Many funny things happened that day. That is the subject of my next post.
Due to an outpouring of global interest and feedback – we heard today from people representing over 10 countries and four continents – we’re posting more recommended tracks from around the world.
Artist / Location / Track
1. EricM / Sandton, South Africa / 2 Much
2. Squid Lid / Toronto, Ontario, Canada / Catarak Fungicides
3. Claeysen / Paris, France / Kiss Me, I’m Bored
4. Caibel / North Carolina, USA / Trippin’ Dirty
5. Carl Jurgens / Oslo, Norway / Game Over