Killer music technology

We’ve been head down here at the Echo Nest putting the finishing touches on what I think is a game changer for music discovery.   For years, music recommendation companies have been trying to get collaborative filtering technologies to work.  These CF systems work pretty well, but sooner or later, you’ll get a bad recommendation. There are just too many ways for a CF recommender to fail.   Here at the ‘nest we’ve decided to take a completely different approach.  Instead of recommending music based on the wisdom of the crowds or based upon what your friends are listening to, we are going to recommend music just based on whether or not the music is good.   This is such an obvious idea –  recommend music that is good, and don’t recommend music that is bad – that it is a puzzle as to why this approach hasn’t been taken before.  Of course deciding which music is good and which music is bad can be problematic. But the scientists here at The Echo Nest have spent years building machine learning technologies so that we can essentially reproduce the thought process of a Pitchfork music critic. Think of this technology  as Pitchfork-in-a-box.

Our implementation is quite simple. We’ve added a single API method ‘get_goodness’ to our set of developer offerings.  You give this method an Echo Nest artist ID (that you can obtain via an artist search call) and get_goodness returns a number between zero and one that indicates how good or bad the artist is.    Here’s an example call for radiohead:

The results are:

<response version="3">
    <parameter name="api_key">EHY4JJEGIOFA1RCJP</parameter>
    <parameter name="id">music://</parameter>
    <instant_critic>More enjoyable than Kanye bitching.</instant_critic>

We also include in the response, a text string that indicates how you should feel about this artist.  This is just the tip of the iceberg for our forthcoming automatic music review technology that will generate blog entries, amazon reviews, wikipedia descriptions and press releases automatically, just based upon the audio.

We’ve made a web demo of this technology that will allow you try out the goodness API. Check it out at:

We’ve had lots of late nights in the last few weeks, but now that this baby is launched, time to celebrate (briefly) and then on to the next killer music tech!

  1. #1 by Dale on April 1, 2009 - 12:46 pm

    I see Coldplay got a 0.02 on the goodness scale! Was this mandated by Brian? But DMB got a 0.44?? Vanilla Ice is 0.73?

    I don’t understand how an artist can have a “goodness” score? It depends a lot on the person, no?

    • #2 by plamere on April 1, 2009 - 12:59 pm

      @dale – there is a clear objective criteria for music goodness. This is science. Don’t argue.

  2. #3 by Zac on April 1, 2009 - 1:03 pm

    Seriously. Thank God somebody thought of this.

    Additionally, if you guys just want to send me an e-mail, I’ll tell you whether or not something is good.

    Not as robust as an API, but I’m up pretty late and check my e-mail pretty often.

    It would be quick too. If you say “Is Neko Case good?” I’ll say “Hell yeah” but if you ask “Is Deerhoof good?” I’d say “Not many sane people like them, but you could give it a shot.”

    • #4 by plamere on April 1, 2009 - 1:06 pm

      @zac = thanks for the offer. Is the new Decemberists album any good?

  3. #5 by Bethor on April 1, 2009 - 1:07 pm

    This is clearly broken. I tried “Loof Lirpa”, which everyone will agree is the best band anywhere, ever, and not only did it not award it a perfect 1.0 but it didn’t even know the band !

    • #6 by plamere on April 1, 2009 - 1:10 pm

      @bethor – if we don’t consider the output of an artist to be music, we don’t add the artist to our database. Consider a result of ‘don’t know about this artist’ to mean that we don’t consider what that artists produces to actually be music.

  4. #7 by Zac on April 1, 2009 - 1:13 pm

    @Paul “Not many sane people like them, but you could give it a shot.”

    (Sort of just kidding. I liked their other stuff but this one is *really* hard to get through)

  5. #8 by Bethor on April 1, 2009 - 1:16 pm

    Ok, I’ll admit it (shamefully) : due to the limitations inherent in textual communication, I have no idea if you noticed I was pulling your leg in response to this (very funny !) announcement and pulled right back, or if my attempt at humor was a complete failure :D

    (if its the latter : the artist Loof Lirpa would be a perfect candidate for ‘back-masking’, so to speak.)

    Either way, of all the amazing announcements I’ve read today on various blogs, this was definitely the best ;)

  6. #9 by jeremy on April 1, 2009 - 2:37 pm

    recommend music just based on whether or not the music is good. This is such an obvious idea – recommend music that is good, and don’t recommend music that is bad – that it is a puzzle as to why this approach hasn’t been taken before.

    C’mon, Paul.. I’ve been saying this to you for years :-)

  7. #10 by plamere on April 1, 2009 - 2:48 pm

    @jeremy – I know you have. And I was thinking of you when I wrote that. I was going to cite you, but then I thought that if I didn’t, I’d be sure to get atleast one comment from a reader ;)

  8. #11 by jeremy on April 1, 2009 - 2:56 pm

    Oh, wait, no.. I’ve just been April Fooled, haven’t I?

    D’oh, and double D’oh!

    My fault for not reading the comments first, eh? [wipes egg from face]

    I still stand by my desire, foolish or not, to have music recommended to me not based on whether it is similar to music I already like, or similar to music my friends like, but whether it really is.. good.

    Sandra Uitgenbogert had a very early Music IR paper.. I think it was published at ACM Multimedia in 1998.. in which she used a number of heuristics to estimate the “interestingness” of music. Things like repetition, entropy, etc.

  9. #12 by Dale on April 1, 2009 - 3:00 pm

    Paul, I was hoping for a complete description on the theory of goodness! I thought this was my chance to finally understand the inner workings of Brian’s musical tastes.

    Now that goodness is defined, the music mixes running at the Nest must be completely conflict-free!

  10. #13 by Latrell White on April 2, 2009 - 5:54 am

    At least music criticism is more exciting, such as having more options to gauge whether a particualr song is good or bad.

  11. #14 by Afront on April 2, 2009 - 6:41 am

    So good it was bad.

    Suitably Suckered (until Nitzer Ebb gave me “This one makes me cry every time”)

  12. #15 by Tinyfolk on April 2, 2009 - 7:31 am

    What did you use for artist names? Because my band came up and some of my friends’ bands came up, but others’ didn’t.

    • #16 by plamere on April 2, 2009 - 9:08 am

      We crawl the web for artist and band names. A good way to ensure that your band gets coverage is to make sure that it has an entry at

  13. #17 by debcha on April 3, 2009 - 3:34 pm

    That was hilariously deadpan. Nicely done.

    And Zac, you win the comments.

  14. #18 by steved on April 8, 2009 - 9:20 am

    Argggh- I hate going over items a week later in my reader and then realizing they were posted on april 1st. The april fools hangover affect always gets me.

  15. #19 by monk on April 9, 2009 - 5:59 pm

    “good” vs. “bad” = subjective… i think this is science the same way leggos are construction materials.

    • #20 by plamere on April 9, 2009 - 6:08 pm

      It is science but only on April 1. ;)

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