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Political campaigns have always conducted polls and focus groups to learn more about the electorate and target specific groups. But as Election 2012 enters its final stretch, both parties are experimenting with new data sources -— like music preferences or web searches — to glean insights about potential voters. As Democrats converge on Charlotte, N.C., for the first day of their national convention, Tech Tuesday explores the links between what we like and how we vote.
- Scott Goodstein Founder and CEO of Revolution Messaging, LLC; External Online Director, Obama for America (2008); Co-founder Punkvoter.com and Rock Against Bush (2004)
- Brian Whitman Co-Founder & CTO, The Echo Nest
- Lois Beckett Reporter, Pro Publica
Paul Ryan talks about his musical preferences, which he says include AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, and how they compare to Mitt Romney’s playlist:
In this Obama campaign video, DJs of varying celebrity explain why they support Obama’s reelection:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. What does a song say about a political candidate? When Barack Obama takes to the stage at campaign rallies, the campaign blasts Bruce Springsteen's song, "We Take Care of Our Own." When Mitt Romney hits the campaign trail, he enters and exits to "Born Free" by Kid Rock. The two campaigns didn't just arrive at those songs on their artist merits. They chose them because they project something about their candidacies. Springsteen celebrates our collective responsibilities to each other.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIKid Rock celebrates American individualism. They were also chosen based on cold, hard data. The two parties are locked in a furious competition to better understand and target specific groups of voters. And many data crunchers believe that musical preferences attract closely with voting patterns. In other words, what you listen to may very well predict how you'll vote. So what is the link between music and politics?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIRejoining us to have this conversation is Scott Goodstein, founder and CEO of Revolution Messaging and former online director of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. He co-founded two organizations at the intersection of music and politics, punkvoter.com and Rock Against Bush. Brian Whitman joins us from studios of WGBH in Boston. He is co-founder and chief technology officer at the The Echo Nest, a music intelligence company.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIEcho Nest compiles and analyzes data about music and provides the backend analytics that drive popular automated radio services like Spotify and iHeartRadio. Brian Whitman, thank you for joining us.
MR. BRIAN WHITMANThanks a lot. Great to be here.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from New York is Lois Beckett. She's a reporter with Pro Publica. Her work has focused on the ways new data is transforming Election 2012. Lois, good to talk to you again.
MS. LOIS BECKETTGreat to be back here.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, you can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What does the music you listen to say about your politics? 800-433-8850. Brian, you are not a political operative. To the best of our knowledge, you're not aligned with any campaign. You're a computer guy who works in the field called musical intelligence. But what exactly is musical intelligence?
WHITMANSure. Music intelligence is sort of the study of what computers can learn about music. And we've been around for seven years, and this happened after Ph.D. of myself and my co-founder at MIT. And what we study is what people in music have in common and what they can do for each other. More or less, we power everything you can see on the Internet doing with music, recommendations, radio streams, playlisting, all that kind of stuff, recommending to you a song when you wake up in the morning, that kind of stuff.
WHITMANBut we've been also looking at what people do with music and what their preferences and demographics and relationships have to do with their music preference.
NNAMDIYou recently conducted an interesting test to see whether our politics align with our musical taste. Tell us how you went about measuring this and what you found.
WHITMANSure. So as part of our work, you know, we power services such us Spotify, Clear Channel, MTV, Rdio, all of these guys. We look at people's -- individual's preferences. And a lot of these services, people tell us a lot about them. So they might tell us how old they are or where they live, or the service might know this through some other way, and a lot of them also now are doing self-reporting of their preferences, what kind of movies they like or, again, what politics they have.
WHITMANAnd so we've been looking at is, can we figure out -- based on someone's music preferences alone, based on all the data that we've collected and the correlations that we've been putting together, could we predict someone's politics based on just their music preferences?
NNAMDILois, we live in an era of big data and this election cycle, there's a secretive arms race going on between the two political parties to glean new insights about the electorate through non-conventional data. Where does music fit in to that conversation? Lois, can you hear me? We seem to have lost Lois Beckett for the time being.
NNAMDIBut, Scott, until now, we've been asking you to wear you hat as a campaign operative and tech guru, but you started out in the music scene. And you came up listening to music that comes with distinctly left wing tilt, hip-hop, punk bands that speak truth to power. So I suppose you see this link between politics and music through different kinds of lens, good kind of lens. Can you talk about that?
MR. SCOTT GOODSTEINSure. In 2008, we were on a Rock Against Bush tour going all through, you know, mostly the battleground states. But then, every once in a while, you get to a place like Riverside and Orange County, Calif., where voter registration is clearly the opposite way for my side and, you know, clearly getting boos, you know? The joke of all this stuff to me is you don't need a, you know, a degree in computers or technology to really just read the lyrics.
MR. SCOTT GOODSTEINAnd the fact that, you know, Paul Ryan is not reading the lyrics to Rage Against the Machine "Guerilla Radio" and can't figure out how -- what he's listening to -- the majority of the bands that I work within the punk and the hip-hop world, you know, they're excited to be reflecting on society and what's going on. And that reflection is very clearly written by their front person or their lyricist.
NNAMDILois Beckett is back with us. Lois, can you hear me now?
BECKETTHi again. Thanks.
NNAMDILois, I was asking about the kind of arms race that's kind of secretly going on between the two political parties about gleaning new insights about the electorate through the use of non-conventional data. I'm asking you, where does music fit into that conversation?
BECKETTSo we don't know a lot about this because campaigns really don't share their data collecting tactics. They keep them out for the most part. But we have heard a little snippet from the Romney campaign. I'm talking earlier this year to The New York Times about how -- what kinds of people they were targeting online. So the Romney campaign is working with a online data firm, Lotame, which tracks what kinds of sites people visit on the Web, whether they're music sites or other sites, and sort of builds up a profile of their interests, things they like and things they don't.
BECKETTAnd the Romney campaign told The New York Times that when they put out online ads and sort of track what kinds of people click on them and what kinds of people ignored Romney ads, they found that people who listen to jazz tended to ignore Romney ads and that they could -- they use that information to send their online ads only to the kinds of people who didn't like jazz or bowling or martial arts, which are also correlated with jazz in the don't like Romney category.
BECKETTSo you see that, you know, music is one of these factors that's being used to try to pick apart, you know, the electorate into groups of people who might be persuadable to vote for Romney or, you know, donate to Romney, might be persuadable to vote or donate to Obama and people that they think will definitely be opponents.
NNAMDIWhat did you make of the point you just mentioned that apparently jazz fans are not a target demographic for the Romney campaign?
BECKETTI mean, it's hard to say whether the fact that somebody likes jazz, you know, is a direct factor in their political choices. Or whether -- like jazz is just correlated with some other factor about them that might be, you know, something we would more commonly associate with being a Democrat or being a Republican. Unless you have the numbers in front of you and sort of can see what are the true variables and what sort of just go along with it, that's hard to say.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. What kind of messages do you feel the campaigns are sending with their musical choices? 800-433-8850. We're talking with Lois Beckett. She's a reporter with Pro Publica who's work has focused on the way new data is transforming election 2012. Brian Whitman is co-founder and chief technology officer at The Echo Nest, the music intelligence company. And Scott Goodstein is founder and CEO of Revolution Messaging and former online director of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign.
NNAMDIHe co-founded two organizations at the intersection of music and politics, Punkvoter.com and Rock Against Bush. I mentioned the musical preferences of the two candidates at the top of the ticket, but the person who seems to be getting the most attention for his musical taste this election cycle is Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan. He even used his speech at the Republican National Convention to make some musical references. Let's take a listen to the clip.
REP. PAUL RYANWe're a full generation apart, Gov. Romney and I. And in some ways, we're different. There are the songs in his iPod, which I've heard on the campaign bus.
REP. PAUL RYANAnd I've heard it on many hotel elevators.
REP. PAUL RYANHe actually urged me to play some of these songs at campaign rallies. I said, look, I hope it's not a deal break, Mitt, but my playlist, it starts with AC/DC and ends with Zeppelin.
NNAMDIRyan has also said that he's a big fan of Rage Against the Machine. Scott, you're actually friends with Tom Morello, one of the leaders of Rage Against the Machine. You worked with him to mobilize organized labor in Wisconsin. So I guess it's pretty safe to say that Tom Morello is not a big fan of Paul Ryan?
GOODSTEINYeah. And he put out a nice little op-ed in Rolling Stone a couple of weeks ago, basically saying that, you know, if you're listening to Rage's lyrics, you know, he's not even sure what Paul Ryan was thinking. You know, at some point, certain bands talk about age-old things -- love and relationships -- you know, and, you know, country Western singers talk about their dog and their pickup. You know, it's no wonder that their fans are -- you know, may or may not be politically motivated.
GOODSTEINBut if you're listening to a band like Rage Against the Machine, where every single song is basically turned into an anthem and an outcry -- the band set up a nonprofit foundation to fund countless forms of revolution and organizing efforts, and Morello is probably one of the most popular and prolific partisan figures and outspoken musicians in the last 15 years -- you know, you got to wonder what was on Congressman Ryan's head when he put that out.
NNAMDIWell, Brian Whitman, we heard Lois Beckett tell us that apparently the Republicans don't think that jazz listeners are among their primary demographic. You told us how you conducted your study. Tell us what the results were. What kind of music tends to be associated most with Republicans and what with Democrats?
WHITMANSure. So what we've done here is looked at sort of the artists on both sides that can -- are really good predictors for either voting Democrat or Republican. And a little different from Lois' side, these are people that have self-selected, not looked at an ad or whatever, decided not to click on an ad. These are people that say, I strongly believe in one side or the other. And on the Democrat side, you know, it's obviously pretty, pretty obvious.
WHITMANThere's a lot of Top 40 radio. The list looks just like what's on Billboard Top 10 right now. You got a lot of hip-hop, Jay-Z, Rihanna, and then your superstars like Madonna, Lady Gaga trending, you know, younger audiences, obviously, dance, pop, happier. On the Republican side, a little obvious there as well. The top most predictive artists are very country. Kenny Chesney is number one. It gets down -- near the end of the top 10 list, it looks a little bit more classic rock. Pink Floyd was a very surprising one I saw. I'm a fan of some earlier Pink Floyd, so it kind of shocked me to see that.
WHITMANAnd I'm not going to reveal my politics, but I do live in Cambridge, Mass. So, I mean, there are some interesting things there. And the most -- but the most interesting list on my side, actually, was the artists that were the most unpredictable, the ones that -- given knowledge that someone likes these artists, we don't know who they're going to vote for. And this list, to me, is fascinating. The number one was the Beatles. Now, this is obvious just because everyone loves the Beatles. There's no one who would say, I don't like the Beatles.
NNAMDIThey cross party lines, yes. Yes.
WHITMANYeah. But the rest of the list is much more interesting, and this speaks to what Scott was talking about with Rage Against the Machine. They're mostly very big metal bands. Pantera, Alice in Chains, Moonspell are in the top 10 there, and these are all artists that are very -- we call them death metal or, you know, doom metal or something. And for me, it's interesting to know that we can't really tell, based on liking these artists, whether or not they're Republican or Democrat.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on Tech Tuesday, Mining New Political Data: Music And Politics, taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What does the music you listen to say about your politics? What music do you listen to? We'd be interested in hearing. 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, making sure you use the #TechTuesday, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're coming to you from Charlotte, N.C. with a Tech Tuesday conversation about music and politics and mining political data using music. We're talking with Brian Whitman, co-founder and chief technology officer at The Echo Nest, which is a music intelligence company that compiles and analyzes data about music and provides the back-end analytics that drive popular automated radio services like Spotimy and -- Spotify and iHeartRadio.
NNAMDILois Beckett is a reporter with Pro Publica. Her work is focused on the ways new data is transforming election 2012. And Scott Goodstein is founder and CEO of Revolution Messaging and former online for Barack Obama's -- online director for Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. He co-founded two organizations at the intersection of music and politics: Punkvoter.com and Rock Against Bush.
NNAMDIYou can join our conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Scott, Tom Morello isn't the first musician to take umbrage at his music being used by politicians. Tom Petty once asked George W. Bush to stop playing "I Won't Back Down." Bruce Springsteen was not happy when Ronald Reagan or Gov. Chris Christie professed their love for his music. Sam Moore from that iconic R&B group Sam & Dave asked Bob Dole and Barack Obama to stop playing his music. This seems like the controversy that never goes away.
GOODSTEINSure. And there's also countless numbers of U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races that get sideways with musicians from time to time on these things. And, you know, the music that Barack Obama comes out to each time, you know, is scripted. The music that I'm sure Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are coming out to is going to be scripted. But for me, you know, I've always wanted to see, you know, politicians coming out to music that makes sense and digs deeper into, you know, people's psyche and core values.
GOODSTEINAnd so, you know, you going off to a commercial break and playing a couple of, you know, riffs from Rage Against the Machine, people know exactly what that is. It's fitting to the moment. It feels right. And so those long intros of U2 feel right. Muse was used for the Olympics to try and engage, you know, a lot of power and passion towards British music, you know? And for me, you know, I've always wanted to see a politician come out to a song like "Revolution Get Down" instead of some boring, old-timey country Western song. It doesn't really jibe with what I'm working with.
NNAMDIHere is Mike in Fairfax, Va. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEHi, Kojo. Like many people this time of year, I've been under an onslaught of campaign advertising. And I had listened to a lot of my music on YouTube, and I was wondering if your guests could recommend any genres of music that are not being targeted at all so that I don't have to endure this advertising anymore.
NNAMDIYou can start with the theme music from this broadcast. We created it ourselves using Democrats, Republicans, independents and radicals of the far left and right, so you won't get targeted by anybody.
NNAMDIBut let me get a more expert answer from Brian Whitman.
WHITMANSure. So as far as I know -- I mean, obviously, Pandora, I know that a lot of the campaigns have been buying ads both ways. I don't know how that's working on YouTube right now. What I would just recommend is the more independent the music you listen to, the better for everyone, including the political campaigns won't be able to track you. So hopefully you're pretty safe if you stay towards the indie side of things.
NNAMDIMike, thank you very much for your call. Any advice for Mike, Scott?
GOODSTEINYeah. I mean, quite frankly, they're targeting you based on where you live, not the music that you listen to right now on YouTube. And even to my knowledge, Pandora said that they're not going to be able to do, you know, genre-specific targeting. It's mostly just geo-targeting. So if you're living in a battleground state and you're trying to watch YouTube of, you know, Beyonce, Rihanna or Ken McChesney, (sic) you're still seeing whatever ads are showing up there for right now.
GOODSTEINAnd, you know, hopefully, we will be able to target more and different types of genres. In other areas of social networks, you can definitely target based off of different types of self-selected music that you like. And I know that, you know, we've been doing that with a number of our clients for a long time now.
NNAMDIMike, thank you very much for your call. Lois, the campaigns are trying to use data to isolate small portions of the electorate. Within some cities and regions, music may actually thrive very closely with specific communities. So if they're targeting Trinidadian immigrants, for example, it may make sense for you to reach out to DJs who play soca music. If you're targeting Jamaicans, you'll want to reach out to DJs who play reggae music, correct?
BECKETTI mean, yeah, there are all kinds of targeting. And, you know, certainly targeting certain language radio stations, that's an old kind of targeting tactic 'cause you can go to the station and say, oh, I think WB's listeners are from a certain neighborhood or for a certain group. And that's a kind of targeting. You know, what's interesting here is that you can go on a generic platform like Pandora. And, in fact, Pandora told me that they actually do have the capability to do targeting by artist or by musical preference.
BECKETTBut the question is, you know, as Scott noted, if you're really trying to reach people in battleground states, do you want to narrow that just to country music listeners so that, you know, you really think you're reaching Republicans? Or is it better just to, you know, hit everybody in North Carolina? And I certainly spoke with a woman in North Carolina who was listening to Garth Brooks on Pandora -- a very strong Democrat -- and got a message popping up from Mitt Romney saying, you know, Mitt Romney campaign would like your email.
BECKETTCan Pandora share it with Romney for President, Inc.? And, you know, she was really upset by this. Whether or not Garth Brooks factored into whether Romney targeted her, we don't know. The campaign won't say. But it's really, you know, it's hard for you to escape these things even if you're not on a platform, like you said, that might hit a certain neighborhood or groups.
NNAMDIAnd we have at least two callers who would like to talk about jazz. I'll start with Frank in Washington before I go to Jim in Annapolis. Frank, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
FRANKHi. Yes, I'm Frank DeBenedictis. I'm from Fort Lauderdale. I'm up here right now for the time being. I'm a jazz fan, and especially I like jazz guitar by Wes Montgomery and George Benson and Django Reinhardt. My father was a guitar player, too. Right now, I'm undecided. You know, it's kind of funny, I guess. I listen to my -- I used to listen to my father. He was kind of old school, and he didn't like music to be, you know, with politics that much. Although I don't know if he knew about the Jazz Ambassadors program that they had during the Cold War, you know, with...
NNAMDIYeah. (unintelligible) Louis Armstrong, people like that. Yeah.
FRANKLouis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis was involved with that, you know, a number of people.
FRANKI think I tend to think like my father a little bit in that respect. I'd like to see jazz promoted around the world more. And I think people that want to -- that have wanted to suppress it in the past, like in -- you know, the Nazis, you know, the higher ups didn't like it, although they ran into a problem when they went into France because Django Reinhardt was playing guitar there. And some of the German officers liked Reinhardt, and Hitler had to more or less bite the bullet on that one because, you know, he had a war on the eastern front.
NNAMDIBut the bottom -- the bottom line here, Frank, is that you are both a jazz lover and undecided at this point.
FRANKRight. And I like music to be music. Of course, the musician has their right to express their views, too. I respect that.
NNAMDIAll right. Thank you very much for your call. We move on now to Jim...
NNAMDI...Jim in Annapolis, Md. Jim, your turn.
JIMThanks, Kojo. Yes, I think this is primarily for Brian. I'm a jazz aficionado, and I love Miles and Coltrane. And I'm probably a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. And I wonder whether a broad spectrum like jazz can be shaded into more distinguished -- distinguishable areas.
NNAMDIOK. Here's Brian Whitman.
WHITMANYes. So it's important to note that we don't just look at jazz or rock or whatever. We actually have tons of data about every artist and song down to, you know, the note of each solo and the kinds of instruments and the tempo and all of that. So we definitely, you know, wouldn't just say, because you like jazz, you're -- actually, jazz artists don't appear on the top lists up to 100 or 1,000 for either Republican or Democratic.
WHITMANSo it's great to know that, you know, that we can go down deeper in there, and so, yeah, we can see that certain kinds of jazz, say, free jazz, for example, you know, John Zorn Fans are probably Democratic, you know, for example, because we know more about how that sounds. So you're safe as far as, you know, not calling jazz one terrible big blob of a genre, you know.
JIMRight. Thanks. Thank you.
NNAMDIHey, Jim, thank you very much for your call. On now to Mike in Alexandria, Va. Mike, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MIKEYeah. I wanted to know about something that I saw a while -- I was watching the Republican convention, that a lot of the music that they used was by noted liberal artists, specifically Black Eyed Peas. You know, will.i.am made the video for Barack Obama last time around. And they played that, I think, when Marco Rubio was coming out. And I understand it's high energy music, but how do they square that, that they're playing music that's specifically tied to a political ambition or a political party with the wrong party?
NNAMDII don't know. Scott or, Lois, care to answer that?
GOODSTEINYeah. Look, by doing that without actually talking with any of the artists -- sure, you don't have to talk to the artist. The music is in, you know, public domain. You know, they can buy the rights to the music. But, ultimately, you know, they're going to have to worry about Black Eyed Peas or one of the members from Black Eyed Peas putting out a press release directly against them.
NNAMDIYeah. But -- and thank you very much for your call, Mike. But, Scott, you've also said that a lot of musicians have a more savvy understanding of how to craft a compelling message than many politicians. So, apparently, the politicians find the message fascinating whether or not they feel the musician shares their own philosophical orientation. But what do you mean by musicians having more savvy about crafting a compelling message?
GOODSTEINYou know, it's something that I said back when I was working with Punkvoter and Rock Against Bush where I was trying to explain to musicians in a punk band, NOFX, the importance of writing, you know, a 30-second speech or a 15-second ad, you know. And then you look back, and you realize, wait a minute. All of these punk rock musicians -- for Punkvoter, we had over 200 artists and musicians involved -- were all punk rock, were all writing 30-second expressions of their song.
GOODSTEINThese are not, you know, long-winded jam artists that, you know, go on for 40 minutes. They want to say something. They want to have it impactful, and they want to say it in under two minutes, and sometimes under 30 seconds. So, you know, keeping it short, sweet, thinking it through and then delivering a message is something that, quite frankly, musicians do just as well as any media consultant in this town. Oh, yeah, and, by the way, they're business owners and are very successful at what they do.
NNAMDIAnd this final email we got from Shawna: "I honestly think people are thinking too much about this. I'm very conservative, but two of my favorite bands are Rise Against and Bruce Springsteen. Sometimes people just like music, the sound, the rhythm and even the vocals. Lyrics, while important, do not make or break a band for me."
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Brian Whitman is co-founder and chief technology officer at The Echo Nest, a music intelligence company. Scott Goodstein is founder and CEO of Revolution Messaging. He's former online director of Barack Obama's 2008 campaign. And Lois Beckett is a reporter with Pro Publica. Her work is focused on the way new data is transforming Election 2012. Thank you all for being our guests. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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