Last.fm users send tiny bits of information about the music they’re listening to to their Last.fm profile, and we call each piece of data a scrobble. What users get out of scrobbling is music and live event recommendations. What we get out of scrobbling is enough data to drown in.
Our Music Information Retrieval (MIR) team turn all that data into meaningful connections for the people who use Last.fm; chart data, radio algorithms, data-visualisation tools. The guys in MIR are respected scientists; they are much cleverer than you, and have a tremendous capacity for booze.
But sometimes people need paragraphs. My job is to humanise the numbers, to turn that huge quantity of data into stories, the kind of mini-narratives that could surface anywhere. I turn the facts and sinew into simple blog posts, into ticker-tape copy running beneath celebrity gossip shows, and into audio scripts broadcast to 9 million listeners every single day.
I can’t see in scrobbles alone. If I’m reading the numbers and not fleshing out the context I am not doing my job. I have to see through the 98,000 people screaming “Baby I was born this way” last week and look at how badly they want to feel liberated. I have to find out why witch house has given way to yacht bounce has given way to cloud rap will give way to hazy beach. I have to instinctively know how differently an Xbox listener behaves to an iTunes die-hard.
On the good days, with the charts pointing in the right direction, I see the grins of listeners spinning Kendrick Lamar’s “Ronald Reagan Era” on repeat. And on the bad days I see the booted foot of Sir Paul McCartney stamping on humanity’s headphones, forever.