Google’s Music Timeline: A Visualization of 60 Years of Changing Musical Tastes

google music timeline

The state of music has changed rad­i­cal­ly in recent years. Of course, the largest change that springs to mind is Nap­ster, the pro­gram that made col­lec­tive musi­cal shar­ing pos­si­ble and trig­gered the inex­orable decline in record sales in the ear­ly 2000s. Busi­ness mod­el aside, how­ev­er, the music indus­try has also weath­ered tremen­dous­ly volatile changes in taste over the past half-cen­tu­ry.

To see just how dra­mat­ic the changes in musi­cal fash­ion have been, check out Google’s new Music Time­line, pic­tured above. This sim­ple, col­or-cod­ed chart dis­plays the pop­u­lar­i­ty of var­i­ous gen­res from 1950 onwards (pre-50s sales data is just too spot­ty and incon­sis­tent). While jazz record sales held the lion’s share of the mar­ket through­out much of the 1950’s, the advent of rock and pop acts such as the Bea­t­les in the 1960s rel­e­gat­ed jazz to the minor leagues.

metallica timeline

The time­line also allows you to look at the pop­u­lar­i­ty of var­i­ous bands through­out the course of their careers. Metal­li­ca, the liti­gious crit­ics of Napster’s file-shar­ing ways, are an inter­est­ing exam­ple of the wax­ing and wan­ing of a par­tic­u­lar band’s suc­cess. Ini­tial spike of pop­u­lar­i­ty aside, as is clear from the image right above, the band had been rel­a­tive­ly suc­cess­ful with each of their stu­dio albums. After the release of their cov­er album in 1998, enti­tled Garage Inc., things quick­ly head­ed south. Whether it’s because of the Nap­ster deba­cle of 2000, when the band’s law­suit effec­tive­ly shut down the com­pa­ny, or a regret­table change of direc­tion, many for­mer fans sim­ply weren’t inter­est­ed any­more.

Before fans come to the defense of whichev­er bands were slight­ed by Google’s visu­al­iza­tion, a few caveats: the data used to judge rel­a­tive suc­cess is derived from Google Play user libraries. The more users have an album, the more suc­cess­ful it’s deemed by the algo­rithm. Addi­tion­al­ly, if you’re a clas­si­cal music fan, you’re out of luck. For var­i­ous logis­ti­cal rea­sons, Google decid­ed against its inclu­sion in the time­line.

For more infor­ma­tion about Google’s Music Time­line, click here. For a Michael Hann’s first look review over at The Guardian’s music blog, which dis­cuss­es the pos­si­ble skews in the data, head this way.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Music Told in Sev­en Rapid­ly Illus­trat­ed Min­utes

100 Years of Rock in Less Than a Minute: From Gospel to Grunge

The Sto­ry of the Bass: New Video Gives Us 500 Years of Music His­to­ry in 8 Min­utes

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