Entertainment Music The story of our love affair with music in one simple app
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The story of our love affair with music in one simple app

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Creating new and, on the whole, simple ways of how we package and ingest information seems to be Google’s stock-in-trade. Be it photos, social media or personal data; if they don’t invent it, they simply buy the company that does.

Of course, one area of culture that brings out as many hard-core fans and zealots as it does happy followers of a current trend is music.

We’ve all been at a dinner party gone sour when the merits of artist/band X are speed debated in the throes of semi-inebriation. Before we know it, fists slam down on the table, cutlery bounces into the air, and someone storms out, bleating, ‘Why can’t people leave Taylor Swift alone?!’ under their tears. The horror… the horror.

Google’s Music Timeline will help you (partly) put paid to these, and similar, awkward conversations, by presenting an aesthetically pleasing visualisation of the history of music popularity. Basically, it’s a music nerd’s dream research project, with one or two caveats.

In a word, it’s neat. It could be a fantastic way to discover an artist or band you’ve never heard of before. It could also be simply a great way to burn an afternoon at work.

The main overview displays a multi-coloured river of music genres, which you can mouse over to extract a little more info. Yes, we all know death metal should be represented in black, or blood red, but it gets a lovely shade of green instead.

Drill down (in the parlance of our time) on any genre, and watch it expand into sub-genres, creating dense layers of artists and movements. Highlight acts are then displayed, along with relevant album covers, which you can click on to have you whisked away to Google Play to purchase, or simply sample, the material.

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Bear in mind, this visual representation is based on the ‘popularity’ of music, from 1950 to today, drawn from information contained in Google Play user’s lists, now.

Think of it as a visual filter of the current collective mainstream appraisal of history’s music acts; from well known chart stormers, like The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, U2 and Miles Davis, to less popular – though no less influential on their area – acts, like Rancid, Matisyahu, Jamie Callum and The Reverend Horton Heat.

That said; the data has been normalised to take into account the vast amount of music published today, as opposed to 60-something years ago.

Digital music production and distribution methods give us the ability to consume an enormous amount of music these days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the next YouTube sensation is any more popular than a radio-dominating act from the ‘60s.

In a word, it’s neat. It could be a fantastic way to discover an artist or band you’ve never heard of before. It could also be simply a great way to burn an afternoon at work.

Just remember that the data is not drawn from a universal source, and so does not truly reflect music taste outside of Google’s domain, which, let’s face it, and as much as they’d prefer it otherwise, is still vast.

Mark Gambino is an accomplished music and technology writer.