Google has launched a brand new feature called Music Timeline.

The timeline charts the rise of different music genres over time, highlighting specific album releases and key artists specific to that time and musical styling.

This visual representation of music history uses data from Google’s own music download service Google Play, delving into the many preferences and downloads of its users.

Click on the image below to be taken to the new toy.

As you can probably tell, the thicker the line, the more popular the music. Underneath these undulating forms are images of the key albums from the genre, which click-through to their respective Google Play download pages.

Clicking on the genres themselves reveal even deeper insight on that style’s sub-genres.

Here in metal you can trace the roots of hair metal, doom metal and death metal in as much detail as the data from Google Play allows. Which is where we realise the constraints of the timeline.

Limitations:

What we’re seeing isn’t necessarily representative of what was popular at the time. It’s what modern listeners are enjoying from that period now. Which may explain the inexplicable modern spike of Fleetwood Mac’s popularity. 

It’s only Google Play users who are providing this data. This is a history of popular music according to users of Google Play, the demographics of which have yet to be revealed. Adding iTunes users, Spotify subscribers or the Discogs community would likely warp and mutate these charts significantly.

This data comes from albums that are sat in Google Play user’s libraries. Not what they listen to via any other means on any other device. Personally speaking I have many albums sat in my iTunes folder that wouldn’t even remotely reflect what I play everyday on my record player. (Quickly swaps browser windows to delete Ke$ha back catalogue.) 

The timeline only starts in 1950.

There’s no classical music, even though Google Play offers downloads from a full range of classical composers.

So to conclude, this is a deeply anachronistic, slightly off centre tool that chooses to highlight music from its own narrow set of data, over curation and common sense. I take great umbrage with Police being given such weight over The Cure and Talking Heads in the New Wave/Post Punk timeline. But then who am I to argue with Google Play’s own ‘Big Data‘?

For more on trends in digital music, read this piece on the launch of Beats Music and its possible effect on Spotify.