Lee Byron’s ‘Listening History Visualization’


Most avid music listeners sense that their taste for different genres and artists can morph over time, subject to a fleeting emotion or change in the weather. It can be difficult, though, to keep track of all those zigs and zags.

Indiana-born Lee Byron steps in where a listener’s memory leaves off, using computer imaging software and the powerful music cataloging tools available at Last.fm to create a visual representation of listening tastes.

A music fan attending Carnegie Mellon's School of Design, Byron created his “Listening History Visualization” so that he could graphically see the course of his listening habits over the span of a year.

The visualization is basically a time graph and looks something like a cross-section of sedimentary rock. "Moving left to right, the graph is a timeline of what you were listening to and when," Byron said. "The first time a new artist is heard, a layer is created for it along the edge of the graph, the thickness of which corresponds to how popular they are in your playlist. The warmer the color of the layer, the more recently it had been discovered."

More specifically, the listener can see what he or she listened to the most at a particular point in their life. Byron points out that interests in music often correspond to major life events and emotional changes. In a way, the visualization tells not only a listening history, but a personal history as well. As Byron explains, "This is a more intimate application of information visualization: a virtual mirror which reflects back something uniquely you, full of stories and emotions just like your own face."

Byron’s project has been widely acclaimed online: Type in "Lee Byron Last.fm Visualization" in a Google search and you'll receive over 1,000 results. Most hits lead to blogs and personal Web sites, but the project recently landed on the radar of major-media outlets like “Wired” magazine.

Byron never thought his creation would generate so much attention. However, he says that most recognition has been from "a specific community online of information visualization enthusiasts and hardcore music lovers. It's interesting to see the reactions and attention the project gets outside of these niches."

Byron will show off his project for the first time in the terrestrial world at an art and design exhibition in February. Students and designers from the area will be able to see his project, as well as other pieces of his work. He is also working on other projects to represent different kinds of data.

Byron would still like to see more press for his project, as well as a little academic recognition. "I would love to see it better documented, visualizing more than just music trends, and potentially take it along to some academic conferences," he said.

Graphs are made unofficially for friends and family. You can find his contact information at http://leebyron.com/who/, and if you're lucky, you might get your own custom-made visualization.

Music collection sites

Byron uses the information collected through the Web site Last.fm as the raw data for his visualizations. Last.fm is a music Web site that tracks all of the songs you listen to on your computer, and compiles weekly and monthly lists of your most listened to artists. Here are some other Web sites that can help you make sense of your record collection.

www.pandora.com: Create a radio station with artists similar to your favorites.

www.imeem.com: Discover new music on this online community through playlists and other users.

http://mog.com: Create personal pages with your listening history at this social networking site.

www.anywhere.fm/player: Upload your music collection and play it anywhere online.

www.deezer.com: Stream music through this music-on-demand service.

Download the sample listening history visualization.