Pop Viz: What Music Matters Most to KEXP, Revisited

January 15, 2015

Last year, I made a series of visualizations based on playlist data from my favorite local radio station: KEXP. Well, it’s a new year and there’s new data, so here I go again! First, let’s start with the classic viz I made last year. This view shows the top artists, albums, and tracks of the year. The color denotes which DJ played them. You can use the dropdowns to view specific DJs or toggle between artist, album, and track.

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Our big winner here was Spoon, not surprising as they released one of the best new albums of 2014. However, DJs must’ve been drawing from their back catalog a bit to get them up to all those plays because their new album was in 5th place when it comes to top albums. The top spot actually went to what was probably my favorite album of the year, “Sun Structures” by Temples.


I mean…that hair + that awesome psychedelic sound….what’s not to love?

By the way, if you look at the top albums and tracks, you’ll often see an asterisk for artist. This is because the DJ assistants at KEXP who input all the playlist data can’t agree if it’s Alt-J or alt-J. Capitalization irregularities actually plagued this whole dataset, so some of the numbers may look a little lower than they should be. Another issue is when bands have song titles with the same name. For example, a track named “Feel” appears to be the second most played song, when in actuality that’s a combination of plays for songs by Bombay Bicycle Club, Ty Segall, Big Star, and a few others. Unfortunately, you can’t use combined fields in parameters in Tableau, so there was no way for me to fix it on this particular dashboard.

The number one song is “Red Eyes” by The War on Drugs. I was especially tickled by the high placement of the song “Queen” by local hero Perfume Genius. This song is amazing and deserves the number spot for the line “No family is safe when I sashay” alone. The video is pretty weird and rad:

The whole album is amazing and I couldn’t help but use intoxicants and lay on the floor and listen to it when I put the vinyl on for the first time.

My new Perfume Genius record is the color of vanilla ice cream. One of my favorite colored vinyl acquisitions yet. The album itself is pretty gorgeous, too.

A photo posted by Jewel Loree (@jeweloree) on

I wanted a couple dashboards that people could go into and make insights about their favorite bands and DJs. First, an artist explorer. You can use the dropdown to choose a couple different artists to compare. There’s a text search, if you don’t want to read through the whole big list. As a starting point, I compare my two favorite Seattle bands, La Luz and TacocaT. They seem to be pretty even in plays.

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Next, here’s a dashboard that looks at what DJs like to play. I’ve started out with infamous morning DJ and tastemaker John Richards. Man, that dude loves Strands of Oaks’ newest album. Especially on Tuesday mornings at 6 am. In fact, he actually said himself it was his favorite album of the year. It’s pretty fun to click on one of the artists on the right and see what time they are played the most.

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This year, I really wanted to do something with the top 90.3 albums of the year. KEXP had a form up on their website in December for their listeners to vote for their five favorite 2014 album releases of the year. They tallied up the votes and ranked the albums and did a fun countdown at the end of December. I wanted to compare the ranks by listeners to how often those albums were actually played. That’s how I got this nifty quadrant chart:

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I’ve divided the chart into 4 sections. “High Listener Rank, High DJ Plays” means that the listeners and DJs were in agreement that these albums fucking rocked and should be considered to top honors. The listeners and DJs are also in agreement in the “Low Listener Rank, Low DJ Plays” quadrant. The interesting stuff is really in the other two quadrants. I noticed that in “Low Listener Rank, High DJ Plays” there are a few more local bands and just generally less known bands. This section is showing our taste-makers at work. I’d bet that a lot of people voted for these albums after hearing them first on KEXP. The “High Listener Rank, Low DJ Plays” section is interesting because it’s filled with indie favorites: The Afghan Whigs, Jenny Lewis, Aphex Twin… these are some heavy-hitters. These are all pretty well-known artists outside the college rock scene, which is maybe why KEXP plays them a little less than some other bands.

Last up, I just wanted to make some quick points of things I thought would be interesting to know. For example, did you know that the artist with the most distinct albums played on KEXP was Johnny Cash? It probably helps that he made a buttload of them. Click through these story points if you want to see more stuff like that.

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I think the third story point is especially interesting. I filtered the list to only show artists that only have one song played on KEXP and than sorted it by number of plays. So you can think of it as the ultimate 1-hit wonders on KEXP in 2014.The song that ended up in the top spot on that list was actually pretty cool:

Dig into those dashboards if you feel so inclined. And be sure to tweet me and interesting tidbits you find in there!

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#Pop Viz
1 Comment
Joe D'Elia
January 21, 2015 @ 5:23 am

This is great work! As a lover of data visualization and KEXP myself, I just love this and will use it to inform some music purchase decisions. I don’t listen to KEXP as much as I used to, now that I’ve moved out of Seattle, although I still donate and still listen online sometimes, so this is just super helpful!

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