Streaming and changing music consumption habits sometimes has unexpected effects, such as the renewed popularity of Christmas music and the resurgence of classics released in the last century.
By analyzing data from the most important American chart and barometer of the popularity of songs in the United States, the Billboard Hot 100, we have created a playful project, but rich in visualizations and information, just in time for Christmas.
Our project validated a common perception and made it possible to visualize a trend that had been building for a few years using data on the popularity of music. This can be a light subject, but highlighting it with a playful format made it possible to put into words and graphics a change that is taking place in our society. The music industry is turned upside down by the arrival of streaming, while album sales are at an all-time low (with the exception of vinyl sales) and even the sale of digital tracks has been superseded. But, aside from decreasing income for artists (widely reported in the media over the past few years), streaming doesn’t just have negative effects.
Our project demonstrates how songs released years or even decades ago can regain in popularity, and even reach unexpected heights during the holiday season. It also immortalizes a phenomenon that we do not necessarily think about every day, but whose treatment lends well in this period of festivities (at the time of publication). The whole project is also supported by the testimony of experts in the musical field which sheds new light on this trend.
Our project opens with an oversized data visualization in which you have to scroll to observe the trend. It is also associated with the snow falling from the top illustration, since annual graphs on the number of Christmas titles charting on the Billboard Hot 100 take the form of snow banks, as if the snow was accumulating to construct the curves, year after year. You can even open each of them to consult the data. Our custom API allowed us to organize all the data needed and to return it to the web page.
All the elements of the project were developed using a variety of technologies, including Node.js, React.js, D3 and Material UI. It is designed to be as easy to use on a computer as on all mobile devices. Everything has been imagined, designed and illustrated by our own team with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, to offer an inviting, colorful and instructive environment. The main visualization is then followed by a series of other graphs, created with Datawrapper, which help to learn more about streaming trends related to Christmas music. The story is also punctuated with various quiz questions, allowing interaction with Internet users and ensuring that they keep their interest throughout the course of the article.
Context about the project:
Few data on the popularity of music, cumulating figures on purchases, radio broadcasts and streaming, are available online. We had to opt for an analysis of American data, with the Billboard Hot 100, since they were the only ones publicly accessible and over a historical period. Canadian data is only available in free access for the current week. It was therefore impossible for us to go back in time to have access to all the data necessary for our project. The data was even more difficult to find for Quebec, but our approach made it possible to identify the needs.
Our many exchanges with the Observatoire de la culture et des communications du Québec lead us to believe that improvements in the delivery of the data they obtain will be made in the coming years to facilitate analyzes of the popularity of music. Our project has also demonstrated the difficulty for the media and researchers to have access to data on music, for free. This kind of data is often held by private companies, which sell it at high cost to the industry. However, we managed to tell a story and multiply the relevant visualizations with the data we had at hand. We opted for a series of custom graphics developed by our team, but also other graphics made using an external tool. This combination allowed us to publish quickly, since we had a time issue : we had to publish before Christmas.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
Access to historical data can sometimes be difficult for free, whether for their availability or for their consistency over time. This is why we had to create our project on Christmas music, and build all our analysis, from American data. However, it was possible to observe a similar trend in Canada, thanks to the few data we had on hand and the observations of the experts we consulted.
We managed to build our project thanks to the data we got, and to highlight both the trends illustrated by the figures and some facts about popular culture that the data came to support. We offered a wide range of visualizations from the same database, in order to cover the many aspects of the same subject and draw different conclusions. Our project has also shown how to deal with a seemingly playful subject in a rigorous way.