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Just how much do I dislike 90’s music?


Most people seem to love the music they grew up with.  Not me.  I spent junior high, high school, and most of college in the 1990’s, yet I strongly dislike the music of that era.  Now this is not a post about whether or not I am right  that the music of the 90’s was terrible (it was), but about how to quantify just how much I dislike that music, and maybe learn something about myself in the process.  To Science!

I exported a playlist of all the music in my iTunes library, which at the time of export included 11080 songs (excluding classical and spoken recordings). The file created contains all the information about each song in your library.

I plotted a histogram (shown in pink) where each bar represents the number of songs in my music library that were released that year.  There are two major peaks: one in the past 5-10 years, the other around 1960, with a huge valley between them that bottoms out around 1990.

Notice there is another deep trough between 1941-1945, corresponding to the drastically reduced output of the recording industry during the Second World War.

I suspected those two big peaks were for different reasons.  If we remove all the jazz from the collection (shown in blue), the size of the earlier peak is greatly reduced.

What I found a little surprising was that the real bottom of the trough occurs between 1988-1995.  This is a bit earlier than I had guessed it would be. Maybe I dislike the late 1980’s and simply didn’t realize it.

If we look at only the jazz songs (shown in red) the peak around 1960 is quite strong, but it also becomes apparent that the peak in the late 1930s is due almost entirely to jazz recordings. In particular this is due to my fondness for stride piano. And apparently I didn’t much care for the jazz in the 1980’s.

Assumptions and Caveats:

1. Music ownership is equivalent to liking.  Partly true. I don’t own things I don’t like and actively remove things I don’t like. But I don’t like everything I own equally.  I don’t have ratings of every song, but I expect the distribution of music I “love” is a bit more flat, with great music from all eras.

2. There are no underexplored eras. You might say “Well, you just haven’t heard the really awesome music of the 90’s.” Possible, but unlikely. I’m very active about seeking out new music.

3. With the exception of WWII, the number of records released has generally increased over time. In addition to this, many older recordings have never been released in electronic formats. This creates an overrepresentation of recent eras.

4. Years are representative.  Automatic music databases often will provide you with the re-release date of music instead of the original release date. This is important because it might otherwise bias the results, particularly if you have a lot of music that was originally released on LP. I am very diligent about making sure that the years of all my songs are correct.

The hardest part of doing this to your own music library is getting the data in the right format.  Here is the R script I used to make the plots, preceded by a lot of comments on how to do some find-and-replaces to get the data so R can read it.  Happy exploring!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012.11.01 13:13

    Editor’s Note: The music was not all obtained via the iTunes store (which may contain biases towards more mainstream music), but was mostly imported into my iTunes library from cds.

  2. Josh permalink
    2012.11.05 09:38

    I performed a similar analysis on my own library and got very different results!

  3. 2012.11.05 09:46

    Very cool, Josh. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Sarah W permalink
    2013.04.13 15:31

    Chris, one thing that I noticed about iTunes is that even when you import your own CDs, the database (Gracenotes, I think) it uses to getsong data often uses the year that the music was first available on CD, not the year the album was released. This may bias your results from the 50s-80s toward the 90s-2000s. I doubt it would affect the conclusions about the dip in 90s numbers, but it may artificially inflate your 2000s numbers.

    • 2013.04.13 18:05

      Sarah, that’s a good point. I am well aware of how the databases will use CD release as the default date, and I always make sure to correct this. Had I not corrected this, it would have appeared that I instead actually loved the 90’s, since much of the music I own was first released then.

      • Sarah W permalink
        2013.04.14 19:14

        I was hoping the results were even more extreme than they appeared!

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