Galaxy of Covers - Critique

by Abdullah Aleem









Introduction

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato

Music is an art form and a cultural activity that has been around for years. Every artists has his own style and genres and every listener too prefer a specific style and genre. New or even establish artists sometimes cover songs by their favourites artists in their own style and end up entertaing a differnt set of audience. This visualization honors the evolution of 50 most popular covers songs of all time.

View Visualization

About the visualization

This visualization shows the 50 top cover songs in a very unique, appealing and a relatable way i.e. a galaxy. Each song here is analogus to a solar system, with the original song as the sun and all its covers versions orbiting around it as planets. Each planet's appearance indicates characteristics including genre, popularity, tempo, valence, energy, and speechiness. The radius of its orbit around the sun shows the years between the publication dates. This intersting overview allows us to compare the structure and density of the constellation of different songs from a high-level perspective

Selecting a song give the detail view (attached below) that lists the versions of one song in cross section. This view allows you to compare different versions of the same song individually and allow using to visualze the evolution of the song.

At the bottom of the page is the timeline, starting from the orignal and ending at the latest cover available at the time of creation of visualzation. The color bar at the top summarized the genres of the songs and can be viewed by hovering over each genre. Other charactersitcs of circle e.g. size, height and orientation etc describe features as popularity, pitch and valence etc. describe below in detail. This is detail can be accessed by the "Legend" button of the top right. Legend also summarized the division in genres in numbers

The features and their meanings are:-

  • Popularity:- The measure of popularity of the song.
  • Tempo:- Speed of the song.
  • Valence:- A measure of the attitude of the song - high valence means a positive attitude, and low means a more negative one..
  • Energy:- A measure of the energy and force of the music.
  • Speechiness:- A measure of how close the song is to ordinary speech..

Data Sources

This visualization integrates data beautifully from following five sources:-

  • BBC: List of 50 most popular cover songs.
  • Echonest: Information on tempo, valence, energy, and speechiness.
  • Spotify: Information on popularity.
  • Secondhand Songs: Information on cover version, artist, and date.
  • Whosampled: Information on music genre.

Made For

This visualzation can mainly be used two purposes, Personal and Analytics:-

This visualization is great the music lovers who looking different versions of their favourite songs. A version of the with high tempo or energy might be good fit for the gym and a low tempo version might be good for causal listening. Another situation when such a visualization can come in handy is when you like some features of the song e.g. lyrics or genre but not the another feature e.g. valence. Using this visualization you can find a version of the song thats the best fit for you. E.g. I really like Hallelujah but both original version by Leonard Cohan and most popular version by Jeff Buckley have a very low valence and kinda makes me sad sometimes. I found a version of this song by Willie Nelson using this visualization whilist writing this and have been playing it on repeat.

This visualization can also be use for analytics purposes. e.g. to see the breakup of songs by genre or see how features compare to each other, or see trends over time. More in Insights

Answering questions

A few questions the can be answered using this visualization

Most popular cover songs?

We can compare the density of the constellation on the homepage to see the number of covers for each song. Most popular cover song is:

Song cover summary?

The number of covers and years are mentioned below the song. The break colour bar on the (can be expanded using Legend) give the genre breakup

Detailed properties of the song?

The clicking on the song and then the legend we can get the expanded properties of the song.

Mosts Popular version of the song?

We can compare the size of each song to see which is the most popular. Jeff Buckley version of Hallelujah is more popular than the orignal Leonard Cohen Version. Can use the above technique to get exact value for popularity.

Insights

We can see the progession of the song through the years

Over here we can see that the song was very popular in the early years with many cover coming out in the early years with most of them being popular songs. It kind of slowed down then with just one popular song but towards the end there were more covers and most of them very fairly popular. Also note that the song wasn't orignally sung by the beatles."

Over here we can see that altough the song "Tainted Love" version by Gloria Jones and Softcell was popular but most of cover were made after the famous version of the song by MariLyn Manson. It suggests that he had a greater influence towards the popularity of the song.

Over here we can compare the features amongst themselves. We can see that rock version of Hallelujah has started to covered by artists with higher energy. Also we can see that rock is not the genre of the orignal song. Most popular rock version of the song is by Rufus Wainwright and the popularity this genre of rock version could be creditted to him.

Conclusion/What I Like

This is a very well designed visualization. Everything is very neat and easy to differenciate

What strikes the user at the very beginining is analogy drawn towards the galaxy. This is a very beautiful way of summarizing the data.

The are very smartly choosen by the designer and are also described very well. Most listeners aren't aware of the valence or speechiness of the song but the designer had designerd the visualization in such a way that it gets the message though.

In the detailed summary of a song you find not only numerical values but word description that helps understand those value for a layman. Also the designer has very cleverly used the symbols to define the feature. I particularly like that he has used the color only for genres and the way he used size for popularity and height for energy.

It is easy to subset the data based on the genres

Overall, I really like this visualization. Its simple and easily conveys its message. Its fun to use and the users can find interesting thing from the visualization. Even I have found some great cover of songs just while writing this critique. I'd recommend all the music lover to must try it out.

Improvements

  • The visualization is only done for 50 most popular cover songs, most of them classics. The data size should be expanded to include more songs. This could become the goto website for finding the best version of any song.
  • Altough its easy to see the most popular/most energetic version of the song due the method choosen to display these features, but its hard to see the song with the highest valencce or most speechiness. There should be way to sort the songs using the features available.

  • Some of the data is cluttered in one region of the time. There should be an option to zoom in the timeline to cater for the overlapping.

  • The colours used should be colour blind friendly

Credits

Galaxy of Covers has been created by Interactive Things, a digital product design studio based in Zürich, Switzerland. Research, concept, design, and development was done by Tania Boa, Ilya Boyandin, Mark Hintz, Jan Wächter, and Benjamin Wiederkehr.


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