Declining songwriter ratings with age

Posted to Statistics  |  Tags:  |  Nathan Yau

Do singer-songwriters age well like a fine wine, or does quality decline with age? Kyle Biehle analyzed fan ratings by age.

I understand all of the reasons for not comparing artists in this way. Despite twenty-one Academy Award nominations, Woody Allen never attends the Oscars. His reason is that art isn’t competition — judging art is so subjective who’s to say who or what is best? After all one man’s Poison is another man’s Cream. Similarly, Elvis Costello (featured in the viz) is famously credited with saying: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture – It’s a really stupid thing to want to do.” I agree that using ratings – whether from fans or critics — to judge artistic merit is at best flawed and at worst a fool’s exercise.

But I wanted to do it anyway.

Most peak in their 20s and either stabilize later on or continue to decline. Occasionally, as in the case with Bob Dylan, there’s some see-sawing. Take a look at the Tableau interactive for a closer look. [via Waxy]


  • regression to the mean and sampling bias?

  • I was under the impression that Laurie Anderson said that, not Elvis Costello. At least, when I was publishing my “Chaos Review” print mag (book + music review), my research back then (about 94-95) showed it was her. Maybe she got that from Elvis Costello, but despite my being a fan of his old punk days, I never read anything about him making that comment.

    As for the question of songwriter decline, it’ll be interesting to note how some of the just-released or upcoming albums by some of these older artists fare:

    David Bowie — #1 just about everywhere, in just a few short weeks
    AC/DC – upcoming
    Richard Thompson
    and others

    All of these artists have diehard fans.

    • Good catch, raja. While Elvis Costello did say it in an interview in Musician magazine in 1983, apparently he borrowed it from Martin Mull. Here’s a website dedicated to chasing down the orgins of that one quote.

      And regarding, David Bowie. You’ll notice that his record “The Next Day” is included in the analysis (even though it was only out for a couple of weeks prior to the posting). It is the only record he released after turning 60, and accounts entirely for the bump in average scores from his 50’s to his 60’s.

  • Oh, I think I missed the link to the longer visualization and thus didn’t know Bowie was included.

    Very interesting. I was always a fan of Martin Mull, and I never realized he’d said that – but somehow it sounds like something he might say


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