Homemade videos by U2 fans could help online music providers use emotions to suggest playlists

A study of homemade videos by U2 fans could help online music providers use emotions to better suggest and personalise playlists.

U2 rock Vancouver last year. Picture: Canadian Press via AP

The Irish band invited fans to create their own videos for ‘Song For Someone’, from U2’s 2014 album Songs Of Innocence, in order to make it “your song”.

A team from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow looked at 150 YouTube videos of the song including covers and slideshows, and found “a range of methods, both visual and musical, used to convey emotion, through location, style of music, and video content”.

The researchers believe online music providers need to take account of emotions inspired by songs rather than just keyword and genre searches. Allowing users to describe their emotional state could lead to more accurate searches and also contribute to music therapy, according to lead researcher Diane Pennington, a lecturer in Strathclyde’s department of computer and information sciences.

She said: “Although music holds no emotion in itself, it can elicit very deep emotions in listeners and performers.

“The emotion music evokes is the main reason people listen to it and many would like to be able to search for music videos that meet an emotional need, such as a desire to be cheered up. However, information retrieval systems, such as those used in video streaming sites, don’t currently support this well. To advance these systems, new systems need to be envisioned that go beyond traditional keyword-based or subject-based queries and process information requirements in new ways.

“I chose the ‘Song For Someone’ clips as a case study after U2 called for fans to make them. This was because it would be a rich source of information and because, for their fans, U2’s songs and concerts are highly emotional; this is reflected in the content of the ‘Song For Someone’ clips and the reactions they produced.

“Many of the cover versions were personalised by people recording their own versions in their houses or bedrooms, or including images of their loved ones. Others signified their devotion to U2 by using their original version to accompany the clip or by including U2 paraphernalia, such as T-shirts, posters, and photos.

“Emotions are difficult to define tangibly and describing them in a way which could benefit information retrieval presents a challenge. However, this research could inform commercial music service providers on how they might include emotional factors in their recommendations and automatically created playlists.

“Allowing retrieval system users to search, browse, and retrieve by positive emotions could also have a contribution to make to music therapy.”

Ms Pennington’s research has been published in the Journal of Documentation.

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