Bruce Springsteen Discography – An Infographic

A Tableau Infographic – The Discography of Bruce Springsteen’s Studio Albums

Bruce Springsteen live in Munich 2009 - Photographer: Lord_Henry (flickr.com)After six months without any new blog posts (please accept my apologies) I felt totally out of practice. Hence, I thought starting with a fun post and an infographic would make my comeback to blogging easier than an article on a more serious data analysis or data visualization topic.

4 weeks ago I received an email from a guy (pen name: Chorizo Garbanzo) who runs together with 2 friends a music blog and podcast called Trust The Wizards.

Chorizo stumbled across a post I have written back in November 2010: Wordle Tag Clouds in Microsoft Excel, where I used the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen songs to demonstrate how to embed Wordle in a Microsoft Excel workbook. Chorizo took the lyrics out of this workbook and created a blog post showing screenshots of Wordle Clouds for a selection of Springsteen albums: Trust The Wizards – Bruce Springsteen Lyric Art.

Chorizo’s post and the fact that Tableau Software included Word Clouds in version 8 gave me the idea for today’s article: I completed the lyrics in my Excel workbook, added some additional information on the albums and created an interactive infographic on Bruce Springsteen’s Discography (studio albums only) in Tableau 8.

The Data

The limitations first: in order to keep the size of the database reasonable (and to minimize my efforts to prepare the data, of course) I restricted myself to the studio albums. Live albums, Best Of albums, EPs, DVDs, “The Essential Bruce Springsteen” and “The Promise” are not included.

I took the lyrics and some other facts like the release dates, the label and the producers from The Official Bruce Springsteen Website and added the peak chart positions in different countries from this Wikipedia article: Bruce Springsteen discography.

Sounds easy, but – as usual – the data preparation was the time-consuming part. After having my ducks in a row, creating the infographic using Tableau was a walk in the park and a lot of fun, too.

The Infographic – The Bruce Springsteen Studio Album Discography

How to use this Infographic

I know, a visualization should be self-explanatory and I did my best to fulfill this requirement. Having said that, I would like to describe the main functionality and interactivity in a few bullet points especially for those readers who are (not yet) familiar with Tableau:

  • The top left view shows all studio albums by decade as thumbnails. Hover over the thumbnails to see additional information in the tooltip and click on a thumbnail to select the album.
  • A bigger image of the cover at top right of the visualization shows you at a glance which album you are currently looking at.
  • Right below you see the release date, the producers and the all time peak chart position of the selected album. Use the drop down to select a country. Can you believe “Darkness on the Edge of Town” was only ranked 5 in the US and didn’t even make into the charts in Germany? Even the epic “Born to Run” never made it to number 1 of the US charts.
  • The next part of the visualization shows all songs on the selected album including their duration. Click on one song and the view at the right will update and display the lyrics of the selected song.
  • It’s
    like Elvis Costello once said, “writing about music is like dancing about
    architecture—it’s a really stupid thing to want to do”, so you can also listen
    to most of the songs directly from the viz: after you clicked on a song, a menu will pop up including a link. Click on “Play song on last.fm” and your browser will (hopefully) open a new tab with the according site on last.fm providing the option to hear a track preview and / or watch a video. Please be advised that not all songs are available on last.fm. Of course it would have been possible to embed this directly into the visualization (see here for more details: Web Page Objects on Tableau Dashboards), but since the real estate on my blog is very limited, I decided to open the link in the browser.
  • Last but not least, the view at the bottom shows a Word Cloud of the lyrics. Hover over the words to see the exact numbers. Play around with the word count filter and limit the cloud to show only words with at least the defined number of occurrences.

A short insight into the engine room

Most of the techniques in this Tableau visualization are the usual suspects: data blending, a couple of calculated fields, one URL and two filter actions. That’s pretty much it. Nothing new under the sun except for the Word Cloud. I will cover the details on this in the next post.

Thus, today I will point to only one trick: if you have the entire lyrics of the songs in one dimension in your database, the SQL will only return the first 255 characters to Tableau. I used a brute force method to solve this issue: I simply split the lyrics of the songs into 15 dimensions in the database (fields [Lyrics 1] to [Lyrics 15] each of them with a maximum of 255 characters) and created a Calculated Field in Tableau to concatenate those 15 strings to one. There is probably a more elegant way of doing this, but it did the job.

Acknowledgement

Many thanks go to Chorizo Garbanzo over at Trust The Wizards for the idea.

What’s next?

As mentioned above, this was just a small fun post to get started with blogging again after a very long break. The next article will cover the new Tableau 8 feature Word Clouds in more detail, including a how-to and my 2 cents on the question whether Word Clouds should be used at all.

Stay tuned.

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