This is Part 5 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)
In Part 4, our five Focus Group “Power Listeners” were deciding which track they preferred between the 2 we played for each of them – this went on for several rounds. We left off in the last blog with Round 2, where we provided a playlist of the artists who, after 2 rounds were undefeated. We also relayed a caveat that the list was a work in progress – as you’ll shortly see, things get even more interesting.
Fast forward – it’s now after Round 3. There are still some “undefeated” tracks in our Focus Group which includes tracks from Electronica artists ranked in the top 50 on the Reverbnation Electronica global charts and those that are ranked between 1001-1050 on those same charts (recall that we are testing how our focus group results ultimately match up with the Reverb rankings). At this point, we gave our Focus Group a well-deserved break and asked them to share their thoughts about the music so far. Keep in mind that none of the 5 know which artist produced a particular track or where an artist stands on the Reverbnation Charts. We did this in order to reduce the likelihood of a biased review.
Monster Loop: By now you’ve heard a lot of music. Before getting into a specific question – so far, overall, what do you think?
Katja: I’m tired (laughter)
Seth: To be honest, better than expected. I’m not on top of music as I was 2, 3 years ago but … I dunno, almost seems like it’s gotten better… I mean, a lot of great songs, tracks, whatever - I’m hearing. Not sure if it’s that the music has gotten better or that [Reverbnation] has figured out a way to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Mike: I don’t know about wheat and chaff but, the music wasn’t <bleep> and that was a surprise. I’ve never been on Reverb… didn’t know about Reverb…. but there’s quality in these songs. Well, some <bleep> too. - but not so much … so I agree.
Monster Loop: Okay, so you all agree that there are some good tracks. At this point, do some stand out?
Seth: I see it in tiers… You have the top , and I think there are around 10 – 15 tracks at the top. You have a second tier with 20-50 tracks. Then this huge group under where most of them are, maybe 75-100 tracks, wherever the math takes you. This big group, the songs aren’t bad, they just aren’t great. There were many tracks that were good, but I’ve heard 500 other tracks like it so it didn’t move the needle for me so much. A bit dated, derivative. Some were repetitive, or lacked … I don’t know… imagination? Hard to say. Good quality… just didn’t have that extra whatever it is that makes you turn up the volume. Know what I mean?
Mike: I have no idea what you’re talking about. (laughter)
Seth: You know what I mean.
Mike: I’d add categories. You’ve got the category of – “WTF is this doing in the Electronica category category?” (laughter) I mean, <bleep>! There’s a category called Electronica. This word has meaning. I feel bad knockin’ some of the songs in this face off, because some of them getting dinged are actually good. It’s just I think they are in the wrong show. They should be in the Alternative section or Hip Hop. A few tracks I heard that were good lounge music – is there a category for that?
Monster Loop: You raise an interesting point. There were some artists here that haven’t scored as well in the faceoff, but that did better on the first day which might fall into this categorization issue.
Jason: If I remember right, I liked some of those artists and gave them good scores yesterday. It’s just that, at this stage of the evaluation it’s harder - you have 2 tracks and both are good … 1 is clearly electronica the other could be Rap, Pop or even Jazz. When it’s close …. both tracks are good, maybe I give an edge to the track that’s more what I think of traditionally as Electronica.
Mike: What’s the rule [on Reverbnation] about being in a particular category?
Monster Loop: As far as we’re aware, there isn’t one. When you sign up to be on Reverbnation, you (the artist) select the category. At least, we think that’s how it works.
Mike: I’d think you need some kind of constraint on which category you could be in based on your music, but I think that would be hard to do.
Katja: What’s it matter which category? If an artist wants to rap and signs up as Electronic, what do I care? It they don’t belong in Techno, they won’t do well in techno.
Jose: Are there more artists in some categories than in others?
Monster Loop: Yes.
Jose: Maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe they figure… it’s a better chance to be #1 in hometown… Make momma proud. (laughter) Maybe it makes it easier to be #1 in their country. And actually, you would get an advantage if you’re rap in the Electronica category because your points don’t just come from fans/streams/downloads from Electronica artists – it doesn’t look at that. So you could get votes from people who like rap and people who like electronica. But if they’re both, what’s the harm?
Seth: Hip Hop is already established in the US. It’s proven itself. Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, RUN DMC… those pioneers and others set it into motion … and succeeded . The growth of that genre was incredible. My thinking is, “Look, if you have a good Electronica sound and want to Rap, then be “Hip Hop” – the genre welcomes a new sound. Electronica is trying to get established itself – particularly here [in the US]. I think a lot of people are gravitating to Electronica lately because they aren’t into country/metal/rock – they feel like it’s run it’s course – and felt their only other option if they want that rush, that juice, that power to make them move their <bleep> - was Rap, but they didn’t connect with Rap at a deep level. It’s not for them. I mean, remember that part of the reason Rap/Hip Hop rose so quickly was that it was a category that was sorely lacking – it appealed to many people – of all races – that weren’t connecting with other styles of music. So now it fills that need, that niche. Electronica is attempting to fill a different niche – one for a group of people that maybe don’t resonate with Rap. Or Hip Hop does resonate, but it’s not enough – it appeals to part of them, but Electronica hits another level.
So – and maybe I’m off-base here, I think there’s something slightly invasive about it. Like wearing blue on St. Patrick’s Day. Blue is just fine, but on St. Patrick’s Day we all agree to wear green. It’s not written down anywhere. What makes Electronica “Electronica” – and I hate that word (Electronica) by the way – we used to just call everything Techno – what was <bleep> wrong with the word Techno? … anyway, what made it what it is, was the music took center stage – not the vocals – the singing, the rapping, hey, even da yodelling - whatever… The music. And being cutting-edge is part of it.
(Seth continues his rant) What’s the difference between techno & pop? Pop’s prosaic. Vocals will dominate – that’s the first rule – the focus is generally superficial and watered down to appeal to the least common denominator. You’re giving them empty calories, so you’d better wrap it up in a beautiful package to distract them from that fact. Labels find these good looking kids, teach them a few dance moves and, walaahh – presto, we have a fresh new star – here ya go world, here’s your next pop star. Aren’t they cute? Look how cute! But can they play an instrument? Hardly. How do you spot them? Easy, they draw attention to themselves. Hey, look at me!! I’m cool!!! I wear crazy hair, do crazy things on stage, I’m cwazzzzy! It’s all about me. In fact, why don’t we name the band after me?
Who is actually producing the music? Don’t ask that question. This beautiful person you see magically does it all. They’re even better than Milli-Vanilli. Don’t ask about the people who actually produce the music. It’s like the making of sausage, you don’t want to know. Maybe some kid reads this and gets mad – hey I like (fill in the blank with the pop music flavor of the week). Well good – let them know the truth. They’re being duped. And rock music isn’t much better. So under my definition, if the artist (1) is unusually attractive and is featured on the cover art, (2) the band is named after them, (3) they don’t actually produce the music and/or (4) their releases/press doesn’t at least give equal footing to the producers of the music, it isn’t Electronica.
Techno, excuse me, Electronica, was the style with artists dedicated to pushing the boundaries, who would not compromise their sound. In the late 60′s & 70′s, maybe part of the 90′s, that belonged to rock. Those guys are using walkers now. Electronica is the new rock. Techno used to be synonymous with “underground” and for good reason. We don’t want to lose that. That’s part of its DNA. And when I see a Techno release that has an attractive, voluptuous woman in a bikini, for example - when the artist leads with that on the cover photo… that’s a joke. I mean, if the music’s good, you don’t have to resort to that. It’s cheesy. Think about it… “Hey, look at that gorgeous woman who is almost naked – wow! She’s so hot. The music here must be so good.” Huh? There’s something faulty in that syllogism. It’s like me writing a novel and hiring Kim Kardashian to sign copies and sit in for me at promotional events to help sales. Who wrote the book – Kim? <bleep> no. Kim had nothing to do with it. Look, if you want to look at beautiful women, there are plenty of websites for that you can surf while listening to quality Techno.
Katja: I think you don’t like pop. <laughter>
Jason: Calm down brother <laughter> I get what you’re saying. It’s just that… this category, that category… I don’t … I don’t care about that stuff. Don’t even think about it… I like good music – whatever the category. I leave that to the people who count the beans after the concerts. Maybe for some, sex is part of the package. Just enjoy the music.
Mike: Aside from the fact he’s badly in need of therapy, I mostly agree with Seth. When I listen to Techno, Psytrance – whatever, I generally don’t want to hear someone’s voice – or, if there are words, give me strange words… weird samples in some foreign language like Basque. The last thing I want to hear is a narcissistic chant or breathy vocal about how you’re so <bleep> hot. When did humility go out of style? Get therapy kid. I don’t want to understand the words. Why? I’m me, not you, and I’m in the zone man. Don’t break my concentration! Don’t suggest meaning to me with your words. I have my own meaning for these sounds, and it’s deeper than words. I’m going inward. Remember raves? You know this – Electronic Music – there’s something spiritual about it – these are the hymns you wished they’d play in church. These all night raves – that is church. What’s going on out there while they’re dancing for hours to the hypnotic beat? They’re tuning in. Tuning into All That Is. And you’re anthropocentric if you think you need words to get there. BOO YA.
Katja: Vas? (we think that’s what she said) Are we at a symposium on Hegel’s Dialectic?
Jose: That’s some passion bro. <laughter> This is startin’ to feel like a classroom <laughter> Maybe I’m from a different planet or somethin’, but I go to the clubs, and I tune in. My momma wishes I was tunin’ in to All whatever it is you said – you talkin about God? I think maybe I tune in, but I’m tunin into something else, and she’s wearin a tight skirt. <laughter>
And on that note, we’ll sign off for now. Stay tuned – more to come soon.
This is Part 1 of a new multi-part discussion analyzing the way that Reverbnation, the popular artist/dj/rapper/band ranking website, ranks artists.
Background for those unfamiliar with Reverbnation
Reverbnation is perhaps the leading online music-marketing platform. Used by over 1.7 million DJs/artists/bands, managers, and record labels, to increase their presence (and sales) on the internet, Reverbnation provides valuable marketing tools to music professionals (e.g., promotion, fan relationship & measurement, digital distribution, marketing, and concert booking ). A significant part of Reverbnation.com, though, is the sites rankings/charts, which are organized by musical category (e.g., country, rock, pop, rap, heavy metal, electronica, etc.) These can be viewed locally (a 25-mile radius), nationally, and globally.
The higher an artist is ranked, the more opportunities generally come the artists’ way because (1) Reverbnation is now working more closely with music industry professionals and insiders and (2) Reverbnation’s charts are becoming an efficient way for record company professionals to sort through the large group of emerging artists (a subject of a future blog entry). The rankings are viewed by many as a “screen” of sorts. It is, therefore, in an artists’ interest to rise in the Reverbnation rankings. The following is an image of “Infected Mushroom,” from L.A., currently #1 in the US, #4 Globally, in the Electronica category.
So, how are the rankings decided?
According to its website, the Reverbnation charts are based on Band Equity Score, or “BES.” BES is designed to measure popularity based on 4 factors: Reach, Influence, Access, and Recency. Reverbnation points out, however, that BES ”encompasses hundreds of things on the Reverbnation site,” including statistics not made available to the artists. Examples given are promoter plays, percentage of emails opened by your fans, and shared widgets.
How do these factors play out?
Those familiar with Reverbnation are already aware that each artist has its own webpage, similar in many ways to a Facebook page. On this page, artists have the option of sharing with their fans various information including the number of the artists (1) fans, (2) song plays (songs may be streamed for free on each artists’ page), (3) visits, and (4) widget hits (widgets are mini mp3 players fans can place on their own websites - the point being, widgets are a way for people to play an artists’ music from a different location).
But which factor is most important? And what are the relative weight of these, and other, factors? Reverbnation is secretive about the mathematical formula used to determine BET, which in turn determines an artists ranking. Let’s see what we can deduce about BET.
The value of factors can be deceptive
The following illustrates why many artists are confused by the method used to rank artists. At the moment, the top 10 Electronica artists on the Global Charts are as follows:
- Inna (Romania)
- Paul van Dyk (Germany)
- ATB (Germany)
- Infected Mushroom (US – L.A.)
- Bassnectar (US – San Francisco)
- Datsik (Canada)
- Ibrahimcelik (Turkey)
- Pretty Lights (US – Denver)
- Excision (Canada)
- Alderec King (Spain)
The artists, #4 “Infected Mushroom ” and #8 “Pretty Lights” chose not to make their fan data public, so for purposes of this example, we’re using #11 Frankie O. Solovely and #12 Umek, to have 10 artists.
How important are the number of fans? #1 Inna clearly leads this category (has by far the largest number of fans). So far that seems a key metric. However, #12 “Umek” has over 350,000 fans, while #10 “Alderec King” has only around 60,000 – almost 300,000 less than Umek, yet is ranked higher. Is this because Alderec pulled in a large number of fans in the past 2 weeks? Or is the number of fans not a key factor? We’ll come back to this.
How important are visits to an artists Reverbnation page? ”Excision,” rated #9 on the Global Charts, leads this category with around 215,000 visits, but Inna has less than half as many visits, yet Inna is #1. Again, this conceivably could be due to recency, or perhaps artist visits is not a key factor in one’s ranking.
How important are song plays? In terms of the number of times music on an artists’ Reverbnation page has been played (streamed), the clear leaders in our example are “Ibrahimcelik” and “Datsik.” Both have over 2 million plays; in contrast, Inna has only around 150,000 plays - a sizable difference – yet Inna is #1. Does this suggest song plays are given little weight or can this be explained away if, for example, song plays for Ibrahimcelik and Datsik occurred several months back? Is it possible Reverbation is concerned that heavily weighting song plays leads to rankings distorted by artists continuously playing their own music and/or entering into pacts with other artists to play each other’s music non-stop and therefore artificially increase their BES?
And there’s another angle here. These statistics may suggest that the average fan of Ibrahimcelik (112,019 fans), plays 19 of his tracks on average, while an Inna fan (3.6 million fans) does not, on average, play an Inna song even once (0.5 plays per fan - total of 167,497 plays). Huh? Something seems odd here. Are Inna’s fans that much less into playing her music than Ibrahimcelik’s fans? Does Inna just have a more organized fan-collection system? If Ibrahimcelik’s fans are playing each of his songs that many more times, should Reverbnation assist in promoting a lesser known artist (at least lesser known to us, but maybe that’s not saying much). Assuming his fans are streaming Ibrahimcelik’s music that often, should he only be #7 while Inna is #1, that is, what constitutes a genuine “fan”? It appears Reverbnation partly attempts to address this by purportedly giving more “credit” to fans that are registered on Reverbnation.
How important are widget hits/impressions? The leader here is Bassnectar, with over 300,000. Paul Van Dyk has 14,000, but Van Dyk is ranked #2 and Bassnectar is ranked #5. So widgets are important, but the rankings don’t appear to be driven by this factor.
Post more music? Another interesting factor is whether an artist is penalized/rewarded for posting more music. “Frankie O. Solovely” (#11) has over 125 tracks posted, while “Alderec King” (#10) has just 2. Solovely has around 2,500 total song plays, while King has 8,182. In other words, a track composed by King averages around 4,000 plays per track, while a track by Solovely averages 21 plays per track – quite a difference - yet the two artists are neck-in-neck in the ratings. And Bassnectar (ahead of both at #5) averages around 1,000 plays per track, so plays-per-track does not appear to be a key factor. Should it be? And should an artist be rewarded for posting more material? What incentive do artists already selling their music have to post loads of their music on Reverbnation to be streamed for free?
We ran some back-of-the-envelope calculations and it appears there is a penalty for having more than 3 songs, increasing in severity up to around 10-12 tracks, and then capping (i.e., once you hit 12 tracks, there’s no additional penalty for posting more than 12 tracks). We are not entirely sure of our conclusion here, but based on these 10 artists, the data supports this preliminary conclusion. In other words, it appears that an artists number of listens/widget hits, etc. is divided by the number of tracks (though using a more complex formula – at least it appears this is the case).
While it appears confusing, a factor does appear to stand out
In Reverbnation’s Questions & Answers section, it addresses this confusion by reminding artists of two key components: (1) recency and (2) there are dozens – perhaps over a hundred – factors they consider.
So one can never truly decipher Reverbnation’s formula, right? That’s probably wrong, and the answer is pretty basic.
The ranking of the 10 Electronica artists shows a very strong correlation between one’s BES and the number of fans. For math nerds reading this, we calculate a correlation of .8303. Based on the example featured in this blog – and we admit 10 artists is a VERY small data set and not enough to draw broad conclusions - the number of one’s fans, for example, is 2-3 times more important than the number of fan visits to one’s reverbnation page.
There’s a logical reason for this (we suppose). Put yourself in Reverbnation’s shoes. Reverb wants to attract top talent – among other reasons, doing so will further increase its credibility in the music industry. Assume Lady Gaga was considering Reverbnation (she may already be on there, we have not checked). If the key criteria were the number of visits or plays, it would seem that Lady Gaga would have a large disadvantage because visits = visits on Reverbnation and plays = plays on Reverbnation music players. Lady Gaga purportedly has over 10 million fans on her Facebook page. Reverbnation allows artists to carry fans over. This way Lady Gaga could, if she chose to register on Reverbnation, instantly be ranked #1 (at least, I assume that would be enough to carry the day!). Reverbnation surely is aware that a hot artist would shy away from having to prove themselves among a large group of unknown but very talented, emerging artists.
A problem with this is, it is difficult to authenticate a fan list. A band can simply provide a huge excel file with fan email addresses and get credit for this list. To reduce the risk of distortion, Reverbnation “quarantines” such contacts for 3 days, in which time the new fan has a chance to accept or reject their status as a fan for Reverbnation purposes. If the person does nothing, they are counted.
Soooo, what’s the bottom line? We’re not sure (yet), sorry. We’re still analyzing it with the help of an autistic friend. Our view is – and we’re not going out on a limb here – there is no perfect way to rank artists, and Reverbnation appears to be making a genuine attempt to come up with a fair system. We assume they keep it secret so that artists won’t discover and take advantage of loop holes in the scoring. The idea is to come up with a way to discover talented artists – even if the artist doesn’t happen to have friends at a large record label. Time will tell.