ListenBrainz Year in Music 2022: Coming in 4 January 2023

As you might know, here at MetaBrainz we’re rather picky when it comes to data. And we’re not exactly thrilled when Spotify’s Wrapped reports appear in December and then only contain data from the first 9 months of the year. Shouldn’t that be Spotify Three Quarters Wrapped?

We prefer properly baked solutions, and for that reason we’ve decided that we will wait until 4 January 2023 before we release our ListenBrainz Year in Music (YIM) reports. This way we can have one comprehensive report that includes all of your listens and all of the report data we derive from those listen.

If you are interested in getting your own version of our fetching Year In Music reports, we encourage you to sign-up and import your data before the year is done. Then in the first few days of January we will process this data into your complete report and publish it on 4 January.

In the meantime, have a look at last year’s YIM report. If we generated one for you in 2021, you can find that report from the Explore menu on listenbrainz.org!

This year’s report will be even better based on the feedback we’ve received from you!

We’re looking forward to getting these reports to you and we wish you happy holiday and a pleasant end of the year!

Summer of Code: But wait, we have another participant!

This year’s Google Summer of Code participant selection process created a situation that we’ve never encountered before: Two participants put in excellent proposals for the same project and both participants did a very good job of engaging with the community. But there was one difference between the two — one participant had engaged with us months earlier, written a whole new feature, saw it through the release process and got the feature into production.

This compelled us to accept the participant with whom we had already built a rapport. But collectively we felt really really bad about the fact that the other participant, Chinmay Kunkikar, would be rejected from Summer of Code and not work with us.

Fortunately we had recently earned 15,000GBP from our participation in the ODI Peer Learning Network 2, which we decided to spent on contributions to Open Source and musicians that our team loves. When the suggestion came up that we could create an internship on the spot that more or less follows the concept of Summer of Code, and that we could take on Chinmay and knock out yet another project during the summer, we jumped on the idea.

And with that I am pleased to announce that Chinmay will take on the “Upcoming and new releases page” project for ListenBrainz. This project will show a timeline of upcoming music releases and releases that have been recently released, complete with the ability to play these releases in the page.

Our team feels strongly about Chinmay as well as this new feature, so we’re excited that we’re taking on this 8th participant for this summer.

Welcome Chinmay!

Stepping up on our UX: Welcoming Simon Hartman to the team

Hello!

I am pleased to announce that long time contributor and complainer about our UI/UX, Simon Hartman, AKA aerozol has joined our team as a part time designer!

While we are starting with a very modest 3 hours of his time per week, we feel that this marks a rather important step forward for our team. While we now have two team members who have UX/design skills (Monkey and Akshat), they also carry a significant load of engineering tasks working on their respective projects.

Having Simon as part of our team will allow us to carve out concrete design tasks for him to focus on. Simon and Akshat will also revive our long dormant design system, which lets us create UI components that are intuitive and consistent. Our engineering team will be able to re-use these components across our sites, simplifying the future development of new pages. We hope that this shared design system will improve the user interface across all of our sites, with a strong focus on bringing the MusicBrainz UI into the modern age.

Having concrete help on the design front has been needed badly for a long time, which makes me very excited to welcome Simon to our team. Welcome!

ListenBrainz presents: Your Year in Music

The ListenBrainz team has been wanting to provide a retrospective for its users for a few years now and this year we finally had enough resources to make it happen!

The Year in Music report includes a list of your top 50 releases for 2021, presented with cover art:

It also includes top lists, such as Your 50 most played songs of 2021 and Your top 50 artists of 2021 and spiffy map of your listening activity for 2021:

We also created 4 playlists for you to enjoy a retrospective of 2021. Three of these playlists aim to be playlists that feel comfortable for you, made up of tracks that you listened to this year. The Top Missed Recordings playlist, however, is a discovery playlist made from popular recordings that users similar to you listened to, but you didn’t. We make no guarantees that this playlist won’t give you at least little bit of iPod whiplash, which is why we’re presenting it as a discovery playlist that will require a bit more of your attention. However, don’t be discouraged—we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this playlist!

And, this is not all yet—there are more things in the report for you to discover!

We invite you to head over to ListenBrainz to see if we were able to generate a Year in Music report for you. If not, please consider signing up for an account and sharing your listening history with us, so we can create a report for you next year! (You could also take a look at the reports generated for our team: akshaaatt, alastairp, amCap1712, mr_monkey, rob)

Happy listening and happy holidays from all of the MetaBrainz team!

Welcoming Akshat Tiwari to the MetaBrainz team!

I’m pleased to announce that we are continuing our long tradition of hiring our best Google Summer of Code participants — I’d like to warmly welcome Akshat Tiwari to the MetaBrainz team!

Akshat has been working on our Android App, continuing the work from last summer to improve the app and to add new features. He has been doing great work and demonstrating the fact that he understands user interfaces and has an eye for design as well as coding. This is a rare combination of talents and since we’ve been in dire need for improving the UI/UX for the MusicBrainz web site since forever, this was the time to finally get this project moving seriously.

Akshat has joined us on a trial contract through the end of the year with the goal of creating a new home page for MusicBrainz (and more hopefully) — the current home page is still stuck in the early 2000s and hasn’t evolved as our projects have evolved.

Our hope is to have Akshat become a permanent member of the MusicBrainz team and once the home page is completed, that he will continue on the UI/UX revamp that Chhavi started several years ago.

Welcome to the team Akshat!

ListenBrainz will soon require a valid email to submit listens

Starting with today’s update of the ListenBrainz server, we now require new account sign-ups to provide a valid and verified email in order to submit your listens. Existing accounts have until 1 November 2021 to meet this requirement, with users being reminded to add their email addresses when they log in. To avoid losing listens come November, we urge you to add an email address to your account now.

We dislike taking this step, but sadly we’ve seen an uptick of spam listens (why???) being submitted to ListenBrainz. Having a verified email address will deter some people from submitting spam listens, but most importantly it allows us to contact users about their listen histories. Sometimes it can be hard to judge if someone’s listening history is not particularly diverse or if they are a spammer.

Having an email allows us to contact users whom we suspect of spamming, ensuring that we don’t delete valid user profiles.

Thanks!

Kendraio Bounty: MusicBrainz integration

Our friends over at Kendraio want to integrate the MusicBrainz API into their app and are offering a bounty to a developer to help them do it. Kendraio App is a low-code bi-directional dashboard data browser. The aim is to enable Kendraio App users (including music artists) to search and browse, and also upload information to MusicBrainz. Here’s a ready-made example of how easy it is to create Kendraio Flows that connect to our API.

And within Kendraio App they’ve built Kendraio Player, a proof-of-concept for a multi-service music streaming player using web monetisation technology, funded by Grant for the Web.

The timeframe is about 2 weeks — start any time from now. The bounty is $500 USD (paid out via https://opencollective.com/kendraio – so you need to have an account there to be paid – but that’s easy). Please answer their bounty by replying to their GitHub issue.

See how their first bounty went at Kendraio Player Audiotarky integration. And see Radhy’s writeup of his experience at Afterthought on integrating Audiotarky API into Kendraio App.

Kartik Ohri joins the MetaBrainz team!

I’m pleased to announce that Kartik Ohri, AKA Lucifer, a very active contributor since his Code-in days in 2018, has become the latest staff member of the MetaBrainz Foundation!

Kartik has been instrumental in rewriting our Android app and more recently has been helping us with a number of tasks, including new features for ListenBrainz, AcousticBrainz as well as breathing some much needed life into the CritiqueBrainz project.

These three projects (CritiqueBrainz, ListenBrainz and AcousticBrainz) will be his main focus while working for MetaBrainz. Each of these projects has not had enough engineering time recently to sufficiently move new features forward. We hope that with Kartik’s efforts we can deliver more features faster.

Welcome to the team, Kartik!

Incident report: January 27th service outage

On January 27th, starting at 4:31UTC we were hit with increasing amounts of traffic from what appeared to be hundreds of different IP addresses mostly belonging to Amazon Web Service IP addresses. At 8:46UTC the inbound traffic overwhelmed our systems and brought nearly all of our services to a standstill.

After investigating the situation and receiving no meaningful assistance from Hetzner (our ISP who advertises DDoS mitigation services as part of their offerings) we blocked three subnets of IP addresses in order to restore our services. At 13:14UTC we put the block in place and our services started recovering.

We reported the issue to Hetzner and to AWS shortly after restoring our service. The next morning we received a friendly email from Andy, who works for one of our supporters at Plex, stating that they received a complaint from AWS. What happened next and how this matter was resolved is told by Andy himself:

Overnight on Wednesday, first thing Thursday morning, we received an abuse report that our servers were flooding an IP that corresponded to musicbrainz.org. We scrambled to investigate, as we are happy MusicBrainz partners, but it was a strange report because we run our MusicBrainz server and hit that instance rather than communicating with musicbrainz.org directly. And the IPs mentioned were specifically related to our metadata servers, not the IPs that would be receiving data updates from upstream. Just as some of our key engineering team members were starting to wake up and scrub in, it started to seem that it was a coincidence and we weren’t the actual source of the traffic and had simply been caught up in an overeager blocking of a large IP range to get the services back up. Never trust a coincidence. We continued to stay in touch with the team at MusicBrainz and within a few hours we had clear evidence that our IPs were the source of the traffic. We got the whole engineering team involved again to do some investigation, and we still couldn’t figure much out since we never make requests to musicbrainz.org and we had already worked to rule out the potential of any rogue access to our servers. By isolating our services and using our monitoring tools, we finally discovered that the issue was actually our traffic to coverartarchive.org, not musicbrainz.org, as they happen to be serviced by the same IP address. And this made much more sense, as we do depend on some API calls to the Cover Art Archive.

The root cause was an update to the Plex Media Server which had been released earlier in the week. There was a bug in that update that caused extra metadata requests to our own infrastructure. We had noticed the spike in our autoscaling to accommodate the extra traffic and already put together another update to fix the bug. That extra traffic on our infrastructure also translated to a more modest increase in requests to some of our metadata partners, including CAA. While the fix was already rolling out to Plex Media Servers, this provided a good opportunity to evaluate the CAA traffic and put our own rate limit in place to protect against future issues. We wrapped up that change in the afternoon on Thursday.

Throughout the ordeal, we appreciated the communication back and forth with our partners at MusicBrainz so that we could work together to investigate and follow leads to find a timely resolution.

Andy from Plex

While this whole situation was very stressful and frustrating to us, in the end it was resolved by a very friendly and technical detective game to identify and resolve the issue. It is always nice when geeks talk to geeks to resolve issues and get services working again. Thank you to Andy and his team — let’s hope we can avoid an issue like this in the future.

We’d apologize for the trouble caused by our IP address block and for our services being unavailable for several hours.

EDIT: We should also mention that all of our services are served from one single gateway IP address, so coverartarchive.org and musicbrainz.org have the same IP address.

MetaBrainz Projects in the news

During the summit this past weekend we talked about posting more updates to our blog. In the spirit of that, I wanted to share two articles where MusicBrainz and AcousticBrainz were recently mentioned in the news: In July the BBC wrote an article covering research from UC Irvine in California:

They found a significant downturn in the positivity of pop songs. Where 1985 saw upbeat tracks like Wham’s Freedom, 2015 favoured more sombre music by Sam Smith and Adele.
The UC Irvine research team analyzed the publicly available data from AcousticBrainz to arrive at this and several other conclusions.

This wasn’t the first time that our project was used to analyze music trends over time and we’re proud that researchers can carry out this kind of work on our public data. In October Insead Knowledge wrote about the gender gap in the music industry:

We also used song credit information from crowdsourced database MusicBrainz to determine how many women and men worked on the writing, production and performance of each song. . . . At first glance, our overall results appear quite simple. In line with past research on creativity, we find no baseline relationship between the novelty of the songs in our sample and the gender identity of the artists involved. Men and women appear to be equally capable in terms of creativity. But when we controlled for genre and, importantly, the gender composition of artists’ genres, the picture changed. Our methods were guided by an awareness that women in music work in a different context than men do: By a kind of gender-slanted gravitational pull, the music industry drives women into certain genres (e.g. pop) and collaborative networks.
We’ve long known about gender imbalances in the music industry and while we’re happy that people are using our data to demonstrate this, we’re dismayed at most of the findings in this article. What is more concerning is that we have a general impression that our community has a slight bias towards adding more information about music created by women, which means that the overall situation may actually be worse than what one can deduce from our data!

As a reminder, all data in MusicBrainz is contributed by members of the community. If you see any situations where women or minorities are being mis- or underrepresented, we encourage you to add this content to MusicBrainz. And if you get stuck, don’t hesitate to ask for help on the forums.