What Music Matters Most to KEXP?
Analyzing every song KEXP played in 2015.
Seattle has a lot to be proud of. It topped the list as the most well-read city in America. It leads the pack as the city with the highest online charitable donations. It also was recently chosen as the city with the most annoying fans in the NFL. Even with all these accomplishments, there’s one thing that Seattle’s discerning music fans treasure most: it’s beloved independent radio station, KEXP.
KEXP has been a tastemaker in the indie and alternative music scenes for as long as they’ve existed, and even before as KCMU. They have consistently innovated new technologies like dynamic playlists and live streaming radio. They are world renowned for their fantastically produced in-studio performances. They are a vital part of not only the local music scene, but the indie/alternative scene at large. It’s easy to get an idea of what kind of impact they have by watching some of the testimonials from their recent New Home campaign.
Obviously, KEXP is incredibly important to the scene. But what scene is that, exactly? The best way to get to know the station and the population it serves is to dig into the data behind what they play and see what music really matters most to the station where the music matters.
KEXP has a live-updating playlist that lists every song they’ve ever played going back to 2001. All the data used for this project comes directly from the KEXP playlist and was scraped using import.io. There are a couple of features of this playlist that make it an ideal candidate for using a web scraping tool like import.io.
- All the information about a track is laid out in an identical structured format.
- All the track information you could want (artist, album, date released, label) are listed right there on the playlist.
- A URL is created for each hour of the playlist. The URLs for each page of the playlist are named in a very predictable way: kexp.org/playlist/[year]/[month]/[day]/[time]
To get the data, two separate import.io scrapes were created. The first treated each page as a table and scraped each track as a separate row in the database, extracting all of the track info and DJ comments. The second treated each page itself as a row in the database, taking the name of the show and DJ for that hour. These two tables were then joined using the URL of the source page so that inferences about which artists, albums, and tracks are played by which DJs.
There were some challenges faced by the data and some clean-up was required:
- Find and Replace was used to get rid of extraneous titles, e.g. “DJ Comment: [Comment]”
- A series of Find and Replace, concatenation, and string calculations were used to parse year and label as separate fields. In the original dataset, they are combined into one field that takes on a variety of formats, mainly "Released in [Year] by [Label]" and "Self-Released in .
- Because Tableau, the main data visualization tool used in the project, accepts fields as case sensitive, inconsistencies between how tracks, albums, and artists were typed in respect to capitalization and punctuation, as well as spelling errors and typos, lead to inaccurate record counts. Track/Album/Artist names have been corrected where obvious and grouped, but the data is still not 100% accurate.
What Music Matters Most
Analyzing the top tracks, albums, and artists
The following chart has been present in every year of this report.It allows you to switch between viewing the top artist, album, and track of the year based on plays. This year, a feature has been added to allow you color the bars based on dj or on month. You can compare which DJ played a certain artist, album, or track the most, or see what month it was played the most. You can also filter to just a particular show or dj.
Top Artist: Tame Impala
Tame Impala is an Australian psychedelic rock band that has been an indie darling and music festival staple since 2012’s Lonerism. Their follow-up, Currents, finally came out in July 2015, significantly contributing to plays. Switching the above chart to be colored by month shows the effect of this release, with over 70 plays in both July and August. Seattle’s love for Tame Impala is evident in it’s burgeoning psych scene and the enthusiastic reception at last year’s Sasquatch Festival:
Top Album: Currents by Tame Impala
It serves as no surprise that the band with over 100 more plays than the next most popular artist also has the most played album of the year. Several songs from Currents got a significant amount of airplay and accounted for 8 of the top 10 most played Tame Impala songs of the year.
The data for top albums is slightly off, as albums suffered the most discrepancies between how things were inputted. The biggest culprit was what turned out to actually be the second most played album of the year, Courtney Barnett’s “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” which had so many capitalization and punctuation differences that the above chart miscategorized it. (For the technically curious, the above chart makes use of Parameters, which cannot utilize grouped dimensions, making it unable to use the cleaned up and aliased album names that you’ll see in the next chart.)
Examining the chart above, you can see that Barnett’s album was on heavy rotation throughout the spring, following her March 2015 release. This is also after KEXP hosted not just an in-studio performance, but also a VIP concert for donors:
Top Track: “Let It Happen” by Tame Impala
Tame Impala rounds out their trifecta by also having KEXP’s most played track of the year. In a show of their commitment to the northwest, Portland’s Unknown Mortal Orchestra claims the second spot with their track “Multi-Love”
How well does the taste of KEXP DJs match that of their listeners? Keep reading on to find out.
DJ Tastes vs Listener Tastes
How listener powered is this radio?
An annual end of the year tradition is for KEXP to ask their listeners to vote for their top 90.3 (rounded up to 91, as the bottom of this year’s list, Lemolo’s Red Right Return, is definitely good for more than just a third of it) new albums of the year for the station to count down in December. For this chart, the album’s rank among the listener’s top list is compared with what these albums would be ranked according to how many plays they received on KEXP. The chart is divided into four quadrants, splitting the albums into high plays/high listener rank, high plays/lower listener rank, lower plays/high listener rank, and low play/low listener rank. Take the usage of the word “low” with a grain of salt, considering that these are the top 91 albums out of a total of 26,752 unique albums played.
Tied up in the top right corner are Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett, the two most popular albums by plays and also by lister rank, albeit swapping positions as Sometimes I Sit and Think... took the number one spot in the popular vote.
For the most part, the majority of albums are grouped in the high/high or low/low categories, indicating a fairly consistent opinion of the albums between the listeners and the DJs. In the lower plays/higher listener rank quadrant, we see artists at the edge of the indie spectrum with a lot of commercial and mainstream appeal like Florence and the Machine and Ryan Adams. KEXP has a tendency to play these kinds of artists less, instead focusing on up-and-comers. KEXP also places a large focus on playing local Seattle artists, as demonstrated by the outliers in the lower listener rank/higher plays quadrant of THEESatisfaction and Beat Connection.
Other Data Tidbits
A few more interesting findings...
Play counts for tracks, albums, and artists aren’t the only pieces of data to draw interesting inferences from. Here’s a few rapid fire observations.
KEXP is a listener powered radio station, with the majority of it’s funding (around 45%) coming from listener donations. Twice a year, KEXP holds fundraising drives to support it’s efforts and expand it’s offerings. For one of the fundraising drives, neighborhoods compete to see who can donate the most money. The winner gets a free KEXP Hood to Hood Day in their neighborhood, complete with bands, DJ sets, and a beer garden.
KEXP keeps it's rotation pretty fresh.
Just over 33% of the music KEXP played in 2015 was released in 2015 (and potentially more since a fair number of the “Year Unknown” records are due to shoddy data entry). They played more music from 2015 than from the entire 20th century combined. Certain programs and DJs draw a lot from the older decades, but when it comes to the bread and butter of KEXP programming, the fresher the better. It even plays songs from the future!
KEXP plays a lot of unsigned artists
Being an independent station means that KEXP is not beholden to the interests of commercial labels and they exercise that freedom by playing a large number of self-released titles. The actual label they play the most is the legendary local outfit Sub Pop, the label made famous by their success promoting the Seattle grunge scene in the 1990’s. Today’s Sub Pop is more diverse, with KEXP playing Sub Pop releases from folk’s bad boy Father John Misty, veteran alt-rockers Sleater-Kinney, local hip-hop outfit THEESatisfaction and more. Another thing to note, KEXP doesn’t quite have their own label, but they do label tracks as such when it was an in-studio or other live performance produced by KEXP.
Sometimes KEXP is just in the mood for a particular artist...
KEXP DJs like to have fun with their programming choices, whether that’s play 6 Degrees of Sharon Van Etten, playing every song that was sampled in Paul’s Boutique, or declaring February 6 as International Clash Day.
Wednesday at 5pm is a great time to hear The Replacements
This chart is laid out to show the most played artist for a given weekday/hour combination. Some things stick out: Dr. Leon Berman’s program “Shake the Shack” on Friday evenings plays quite a bit of Elvis. And John Richards is notorious for playing Mint Royale’s song “Show Me” every Friday morning.
Explore the Data Yourself
Touch the data. Feel the data.
Have questions about how much a particular artist was played in 2015? Want to be able to drill down into the music taste of your favorite KEXP DJ? Here’s two dashboards that allow you to filter to the artists or DJs that you are interested.
(Disclaimer: These are designed for use on a desktop computer and will not fit well on a mobile device. )
Explore the stats and compare your favorite artists:
See what is your favorite DJ’s favorites.
Don't Forget to Donate!
You power KEXP!
Seattle is so lucky to have a station like KEXP supporting the local music scene and finding and curating the best new music from around the world. Keep donating so that they can keep doing weird and awesome stuff like this:
About the author
Who is this person with a lot of free time on her hands?
Jewel Loree is a data rockstar and occasional actual rockstar. She works at Tableau, helping journalists, bloggers, and anyone with cool data make awesome interactive data visualizations for free using Tableau Public. She also plays bass in Golden Idols and was played exactly 1 time on KEXP in 2015. She also is an infrequent podcast host.
If you’ve got questions about this KEXP data, want a band/gig recommendation, or play bass and want to be on her podcast, hit her up on twitter: @jeweloree.