ShuffleComp Postmortem: Song Demographics

When people were submitting tracks to ShuffleComp, one question I got was about the age of the songs. Some people were using classic songs to illustrate some point or other, and, well, the IF community is, as gaming communities go, not super-young; would the music all correspond to the Infocom glory days?


Graph excludes a scattering of pre-1940s outliers.

Not really. Overall, accounting for noise, it looks like a pretty smooth curve. The only real discontinuity is that dip around the mid-90s – which you might be able to overread as corresponding roughly to the space between the Decline of Infocom and the Rise of New-Schoolism, but it might also represent the gap between music regarded as New Cool Stuff and The Canon, or maybe the mid-90s just sucked.

The other thing that struck me when I was going through the songs: damn, this is some white-people music. I thought about compiling stats to back up this hunch, but, well, the complexities of determining race for 370-odd artists was a bit much. But in thinking about this I also noticed that there were a lot of male-fronted acts. For all its complexities, gender is a whole lot easier to read than race, so I felt more comfortable doing some back-of-a-postcard calculations. (Still, this shouldn’t be treated as hard data; someone else’s methods might have produced slightly different results. The list of songs is here, if you want to count yourself.)












First thing confirmed: whoa that’s a lot of male-fronted acts. Close on three-quarters, if you discount the unclear/mixed cases. This, I note, corresponds quite closely to the gender distribution of entrants, who were 24% female-named. (Pseudonyms used by authors, for what it’s worth, were split near-evenly between male, female and ambiguous).

The other thing is that male-fronted acts tended to be groups, at a rate of about 2:1, while female artists tended to be solo. (For a while, during the data-collection process, it looked as if the 2:1 ratio was neatly inverted among women. That turned out to be too tidy for reality, though.)

I initially wondered whether the data might be skewed by some isolated group within the participants: there were a fair number of people who submitted an all-male lineup. Were they an unusual, distinctive group, distorting the averages? From the looks of it, the answer is no. It’s tricky to present the data neatly at this point, because not everybody submitted the same number of tracks, but: 15 people submitted 1 or 0 female-fronted or mixed acts, and only 5 submitted even a majority of female/mixed. Nobody submitted fewer than two male-fronted acts. There wasn’t a neat gender divide between participants, either; female participants probably skewed a bit more towards female artists, but not massively. Some of the most male-preference participants were female, and vice versa.

What about the songs that actually got used in games?


It looks as though there isn’t a big difference here from the total-submitted list; within both male and female categories, groups lose out a bit to solo artists, and mixed-gender duets get a bit broader, but given the sample size this is basically a wash. To me that suggests that authors were basically inspired by whatever they received – if their method here was gender-skewed it would have amplified the distribution, not replicated it.

I had a great many paragraphs here about possible factors behind this – is this more to do with the IF community, the music industry, or the event? – but this developed into so many speculative possibilities that I felt it’d be better to leave off.

One final bit of anecdata, which I don’t think is the whole story but seems relevant nonetheless: a number of people expressed anxiety, either in public or privately to me, about whether their songs would be cool enough, or fit in, or things along those lines. Expressing this kind of anxiety had almost nothing to do with the songs that this group submitted; they generally had tastes about as eclectic as the norm, and they weren’t the people submitting songs from super-well-known artists or Totally Embarrassing Music Your Dad Likes or whatnot. But the great majority of them were women.

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