Bob Marley Discography Analysis with the Spotify API

Please check out my GitHub Page Sam Brady’s GitHub for all of the code and a bunch more visualizations from this project!

Bob Marley was one of my first great musical influences, and I still listen to his works almost exclusively to this day. So after deciding to take on some musical data projects, his catalogue seemed like a great place to start. I had recently made some visualizations from my old band’s data (The Big Takeover) and wanted to see how I could customize it for the dread himself. Good music data is hard to come by but the Spotify API hosts a number of interesting features that you can easily obtain and play around with. Most notably, they have analyzed every song in their warehouse and have generated a list of audio features for each song consisting of the song’s popularity, energy, danceability, instrumentalness, acousticness, loudness, tempo, valence, speechless, and liveness. Honestly the API is so awesome you probably already know about it. If your language is Python than the easiest way for you to access the API is through the spotipy wrapper – equally awesome and easy to use!

What I wanted to accomplish with this project: 

After setting up an account with Spotify to access their API, you can easily search and access data on any artist, album, playlist, song that you would like. They even have information available for their new podcasts. My main focus for this project will be his albums, and with Spotify you can easily access Studio/Live albums, Singles, Compilations, and even Albums the artist appears on. With Bob Marley and The Wailers Discography having such a huge catalogue I narrowed the project down to just the Studio albums, Live Albums, and Compilations. Here’s a list after accessing the database. 

Immediately you can notice how many different versions of each album Spotify has to offer. Versions were a staple in Jamaican music, they often out several and re-recorded/ re-mixed songs and albums often. In this case there are many Deluxe Editions, 30th and 40th Anniversary editions, that have been remixed with more modern sound frequencies, and augmented with Live songs and versions. The first thing to do was check out each albums popularity. 

Matplotlib has a nice color palette “RdYlGn” which lends itself to the reggae vibes. Nothing too surprising on this list. The album B is for Bob had a nice score, so they may want to consider another album geared toward the younger generation. I can already tell you that my one year old loves his tunes! Live at the Roxy is my absolute favorite album (Willie Nelson’s too! According to a Rolling Stone interview a few years back.) so it was nice to see that it ranked pretty high up considering it’s a live album. Sometimes I think I hear sirens in the background toward the end of the concert – so cool!

There are a lot more visualizations I have done for this project, that you can see in my notebook on GitHub, but for a while I will focus on just the original studio albums. Above you can see them ranked for popularity. I can tell you that the 40th Anniversary Edition of Exodus is so awesome and also ranked much higher than the original album. Below you can see each original studio album track for track, showing how all of the audio features change throughout the album. This is a great way to quickly compare them, get an overall feel for what kind of album it is. You can also easily pick out acoustic tracks. Again, I was going for a reggae feel here, there’s a tutorial you can follow in the links below or simply have a look at my notebook on GitHub if you are interested in making a graph in this styling. 

Next up I thought it would be interesting to look at the Loudness dB for each album compared to the next. I’m sure the contrast is much greater for the newer versions of these albums as they have much more advanced audio recording and mixing equipment these days. Rastaman Vibration stands out here.

Comparing Tempo is a great way to understand the type of album at hand. Especially in reggae music where there are several sub genres like roots reggae, ska, dancehall, etc… It’s a great way to match an album to the mood you are looking for as well. If you want to dance maybe something faster, or if you are feeling… contemplative, maybe something a bit slower. Below you can see the spread of each original studio album. I’ve heard people say that all reggae sounds the same, but by looking at the spread of these beats per minute; how can that be?

Now I repeated the same analysis for Live albums as well as Compilation albums, and if you are interested in seeing more album to album comparisons please stop by my GitHub and have a look in my notebook. But to keep it short lets have a look at some version to version comparisons. 

Re-releasing an album 30 or 40 years later can certainly have some benefits. The audio quality has changed so dramatically. Also the ownership of songs can change quite a bit. Here you can compare the different versions of the same album, some which now contain re-mixed and more modern sounding songs. Some now contain live songs or even a whole live set. Have a look below, these types of polar graphs that I’ve decided to use can be really insightful, and are based off of the averages of each album. You can easily see the Deluxe Editions typically have more live tracks tat have been added to the list. 

There you have it, that concludes my analysis. Even having a deep understanding of Bob Marley’s catalogue, I feel that I’ve learned so much more by putting them to graphs. There’s plenty more visualizations in my notebook, but I’ll post some here after the links below – enjoy!

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