How did this all start?
Well it’s good to have a hobby…
It also came conversations with friends and work colleagues about music and which locations we felt overachieved or under- achieved. I particularly remember a conversation about the West Midlands and whether the Manchester or Birmingham should be considered the ‘second city’ of the UK. I would stress that I do actually like Birmingham; however, my contention was that Manchester has contributed more to economy, sport and culture, despite having a smaller population than ‘Brum’. But how do back this up?
I remember a programme on the BBC a while ago called, ‘Comedy Map of Britain’, which had a cartoon map of Britain with interviews and clips of comedians/sitcoms from or links to different places in the UK. Which besides the typical disparaging remarks on my hometown, I thought they should do a similar programme about music. They didn’t but I decided to make an interactive map myself, and it all began there. Then the world…
What’s the criteria to get onto the map?
So I had to introduce a ‘cut off’ for what artists to include, which isn’t easy given the subjective nature of music tastes. The best compromise was to use the UK Official Singles and Albums chart. To qualify, an artist has to have had a single or album to have made an appearance in the UK Top 40.
This means the map hopefully captures both commercially popular artists, but also the less commercial but critically acclaimed artists, while not being overly obscure. I.e. “why isn’t my mate’s pub band on your Music Map?”
When recording the data, I also count the number of total weeks an artist has had the UK Top 40, as well a count of number 1 singles/albums, top 10s and top 40s. Additionally, a date of when they first entered the charts in top 100 and when they produced any new material to chart the top 100.
I do acknowledge that there is an issue that I currently use only Official UK Charts data. This is partly as a legacy of starting off with just an UK and Europe level map. I have and am considering using charts local to the country the artist from, or at least US Billboard Charts.
One prohibiting factor is that the accessibility and depth of data is variable by country, often unavailable. Also, it would create a lot more labour and scope for an already large project, to consider every top 40 charting artist (or another figure) from every country in the world. It is something I’m not completely ruling out in the future.
How do you define location, i.e. ‘where’ an artist is from?
This is perhaps the hardest element in producing this map and dataset. For some artists, solo or bands, there is little biographical information which doesn’t help. But there is also an element of precision too – you can nail some to a street, others to just a city or neighbourhood. Some bands, the members may come from many places, but form at one location. Some form from the remnants of another band.
It can’t also always be tied to a birthplace – they may have only lived there for a year, but grown up elsewhere. Some move around a lot. It can be a minefield of uncertainty. I try to make the process as objective as possible, but sometimes a subjective judgement must be made. I do however, try to record evidence used, level of confidence, and a precision scale field.
So I try to define location, both accuracy (is this correct place) and precision (what scale of location can we map it to) by either:
- where artist/band members grew up, or spent most time growing up; and/or where the original members met (e.g. school, university)
- if you can tie it to a street, building (church, school) this helps with precision, but if not a neighbourhood and/or where they ‘hung out’
- if not possible to define either the above, where the artist played their first gig, ideally linked to where living/growing up etc. Even where they recorded their first music or discovered, if it is not divorced too much from where they are ‘from’
It is important to note, collaborating artists will be included at a separate location, and there are some rare occasions (often with electronic artists using an alias), where there is such limited information that a charting artist cannot be mapped.
There may be contention with some decisions, but I try to go with a philosophy of being as accurate as possible, and getting as close to the location an artist has spent the most time and most ‘spatially’ influenced by.
How do you go through the artists and go about the research?
So initially I went through artists by different location and highest record sales via the old Wikipedia route. I did manage to get a list of all charting artists up until 2012 from a website, which I won’t name as they have already come under pressure from the Official Charts Company. It is then a case of picking an artist at random from this list, but also any (particularly recent artists) which come to mind.
It is then a case of Googling artists for biographies and searching the figures of chart appearances on the UK Official Charts Company archives and database. A legal disclaimer I would mention is that I am not replicating the same data records in from this site – the majority of the figures I capture are calculated from their data. For full records of chart history, their website should be used – my data focuses on a geographical interpretation of music artists.
How many artists are there on the map?
Currently 2,087 artists!
Surely this must need updating all the time?
I didn’t fully appreciate the size of the task before I started, but new artists and updating of figures need updating. The latter of these I’ve held off on, for the time being, but I will do in the future. I’d refer to my earlier answer of going to UK Official Charts Company website for more up-to-date data. Much of date and number attributes are used to give a general idea of timescales and artist (and an area’s) musical success, rather than up-to-date accuracy. I’m sure Ed Sheeran will release another new album which will screw up my chart figures, rightly or wrongly!
What are the future plans for the music map?
I believe this ongoing data project has a lot of potential. I believe this is the most comprehensive dataset of its kind, as far I am aware of course. I hope to use this data to produce individual city musical history stories and analysis into the geography of music/culture. The timelines and geography of the different genres/sub genres recorded, is one with particular potential.
Using Spotify API, there is the opportunity to create a ‘true musical map’, even having a playlist creator for a journey or holiday based on local music history. Though I’m mainly using Mapbox GL JS API, and can really recommend it, I may also use Carto, Leaflet JS, QGIS and Esri suites too in the future, depending on needs.
I may even produce a separate data service for local music artists (not charted) for promotion and local music events (though this has already been done). There’s also cartographic and artistic opportunities, both with interactive online maps and hand-drawn ones based on this data.
Any thoughts, ideas, help and or interest – please let me know on here or directly on Twitter @TheAgermeister
I believe there are great opportunities for collaboration and ideas with this, so please let me know.
Also, I’d prefer it if you didn’t steal my data or ideas as well ;).
I disagree with one of your artist’s locations, can I challenge?
Yes, of course, if you can provide evidence, especially if it’s not available online, please get in touch. I can’t guarantee that I will change it, I’d advise to read the criteria I have mentioned previously (i.e. just because an artist I born somewhere, doesn’t define their ‘origin story’.
Any other questions please let me know.