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25 November 2013 · matching U2
Paul Lamere wrote a post on Music Machinery yesterday about deep artists, where by "deep" we mean the opposite of one-hit wonders, artists with large, rich catalogs awaiting your listening and exploration. Paul and I both work at The Echo Nest, trying in one way or another to make sense out of the vast amount of music data the company collects.  

Often there is more than one sense to be made of the same data. Sometimes many more than one. I liked Paul's intro about one-hit hits as "non-nutritious" music, with "deep" artists as the converse nutritious music, but after that statement of concept, it seemed painfully ironic to me that his calculations resulted in the #1 score for depth going to the Vitamin String Quartet, which I think of as the artificially-fortified sugar-coated cereal of music. Their catalog, like that of the Glee Cast at #3, is certainly vast and consistent. But I wanted to measure a different kind of depth.  

So I ran some different calculations, and made a different list. For this one I took 10k or so reasonably well-known artists, and for each artist calculated an inversely-weighted average popularity of their 100 most popular songs excluding their top 10. If Paul's list is the opposite of one-hit-ness, then mine is the opposite of ten-hit-ness. I'm trying to find the artists whose catalogs are not necessarily the most vast, but where the vastness has been explored most rewardingly, artists where their 100th (or 110th) hit is still empirically world-class.  

The good news is that this worked. The bad news is that the resulting list is more than a little boring. We might not have been able to guess this ordering, exactly, but very few of these artists below stand out as fundamentally surprising. Yes, yawn, the Beatles at #1. Eminem at #2 hints at a novelty that the rest of the list doesn't really continue to deliver. I hadn't heard of Argentine singer Andrés Calamaro at #33, but he has won a Latin Grammy and sold millions of records, so that's my ignorance. Conversely, I love Nightwish and Ludovico Einaudi, but didn't fully realize how many other people do, too. Otherwise, yeah, you probably knew about these people already.  

But sometimes data reveals new truths, and sometimes, like this, it confirms existing ones. And revealing new truths is cooler, but only if the new truths actually have truth to them, and the best way to confirm our ability to generate true truths is to sometimes generate predictable true truths predictably. Anybody who presumes to do data-driven music discovery ought to have to show that they know what the opposite of "discovery" is. If purported math for "nutritious" doesn't mostly start with vegetables you already know you're supposed to be eating (like Paul's has Bach, Vivaldi and Chopin at #2, 4 and 5), don't trust it.  

So the occasional boring is OK, even good, and in that good boring spirit, here's my good boring version of the deepest artists:

  1. The Beatles
  2. Eminem
  3. Pink Floyd
  4. Iron Maiden
  5. Red Hot Chili Peppers
  6. Radiohead
  7. David Bowie
  8. Metallica
  9. Depeche Mode
  10. Bob Dylan
  11. Muse
  12. Coldplay
  13. Green Day
  14. Korn
  15. Tom Waits
  16. Rihanna
  17. Kanye West
  18. Megadeth
  19. Daft Punk
  20. The Smashing Pumpkins
  21. Nine Inch Nails
  22. The Cure
  23. Madonna
  24. Linkin Park
  25. AC/DC
  26. Beyoncé
  27. The Rolling Stones
  28. Queen
  29. Britney Spears
  30. The National
  31. Jay-Z
  32. Bruce Springsteen
  33. Andrés Calamaro
  34. Johnny Cash
  35. John Mayer
  36. U2
  37. blink-182
  38. Placebo
  39. Christina Aguilera
  40. The Offspring
  41. The Black Keys
  42. Foo Fighters
  43. Taylor Swift
  44. Michael Jackson
  45. Lady Gaga
  46. Moby
  47. Marilyn Manson
  48. Nightwish
  49. Mariah Carey
  50. Jack Johnson
  51. Black Sabbath
  52. Nirvana
  53. Motörhead
  54. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  55. Avril Lavigne
  56. Arctic Monkeys
  57. Bob Marley
  58. Judas Priest
  59. Oasis
  60. Blur
  61. Queens of the Stone Age
  62. Beastie Boys
  63. Death Cab for Cutie
  64. Céline Dion
  65. Gorillaz
  66. Slayer
  67. R.E.M.
  68. Jimi Hendrix
  69. Rise Against
  70. Parov Stelar
  71. Dream Theater
  72. The White Stripes
  73. The Doors
  74. Bad Religion
  75. In Flames
  76. Maroon 5
  77. Beck
  78. The Killers
  79. Michael Bublé
  80. Modest Mouse
  81. Hans Zimmer
  82. 2Pac
  83. Massive Attack
  84. Elliott Smith
  85. Bon Jovi
  86. Robbie Williams
  87. The Ramones
  88. Ludovico Einaudi
  89. Aerosmith
  90. The Who
  91. Sting
  92. Scorpions
  93. Sufjan Stevens
  94. Lou Reed
  95. Ayreon
  96. Rush
  97. NOFX
  98. Paul McCartney
  99. Neil Young
  100. Nas
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