The SongData Project is drawing on information science tools to develop a new research methodology to facilitate quantitative analyses of musicological questions. We are building infrastructure to curate a comprehensive dataset of country music performers, songwriters and producers, which will permit large-scale analysis of genre-based questions.
Adopting methods for Big Data research in the humanities and social sciences, the SongData Project is collecting and organizing music data in order to study how an artist’s biography shapes and is shaped by genre constructs. The project dataset is currently being augmented with biographic information about the broader network of artists involved in the creative process in order to facilitate queries about the relationships between the songwriters, performers and producers involved in the creation of country music.
This work is influenced by the concept of prosopography – a term drawn from historical studies that focuses on what data about individuals can tell us about broader socio-cultural and institutional frameworks over a period of time. Prosopography brings together all relevant biographic information about a group of people in order to understand connections between them and patterns that influence underlying historical processes. Prosopography lends itself to Big Data research in the humanities, which leverages digital technologies to discover and analyze complex relationships over long periods of time.
This project will go beyond basic questions about country performers to interrogate the intersection of complex parameters that influence the success of a hit song. For instance, the approach will lead to a better understanding of the geographic origins, gender, race, identity and roles of the individuals writing the songs and the producers shaping the genre’s sound—roles often ignored in the broader discussion of the genre’s community.
There are three active research programs in SongData, two of which are funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. These prosopography for these projects is currently under development, with sample portions used in case studies presented at conferences, and published in Popular Music & Society and in the Journal of Popular Music History. Once developed, a searchable biographical database of the more than 3,000 musicians, songwriters and producers responsible for the records that charted on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.