Thursday, January 30, 2014

Music Data Firms to Collaborate on Internet Radio Platform


Gracenote, a digital music data service that the Tribune Company bought last month for $170 million, is quickly moving forward with its plans for a customizable Internet radio program that would let consumer brands, car companies and anyone else have their own music app.

Gracenote announced on Wednesday that it would work with another music data company, Next Big Sound, to finesse the way it analyzes listeners’ habits and make recommendations about what to listen to. Gracenote, which says it has data on 180 million songs, is used by Apple, Amazon, Spotify and other companies to identify and organize digital music tracks. Next Big Sound specializes in the social-media chatter around music, looking to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Wikipedia and other sources to see what songs fans are paying the most attention to.

“This is all about understanding what consumers are doing,” Stephen White, the president of Gracenote, said in an interview. “We’ve got good information about parts of that, but with streaming becoming more popular, and the rise of social networks, Next Big Sound will pull together additional types of signals to help understand what’s trending.”

Internet radio, while dominated by Pandora, has become one of the fastest-growing species of digital music, which is often free and supported by advertising. Apple introduced iTunes Radio in September, Spotify has its own version, and various smaller players like Slacker and Songza have their versions.

As Mr. White envisions it, Gracenote’s system, called Rhythm, could be used by virtually any company to create a radio service tied to its own product or websites on a global basis. Car companies, he said, might be most interested, because they could develop a system to be used in all of their cars around the world; because of licensing restrictions, Pandora is not available in Canada, Europe or in most other countries.

Next Big Sound has become one of the leading providers of social-media data for the music industry, parsing billions of streams, tweets and searches to tell a picture of how fans are interacting with music they like. In 2010, it began working with Billboard on its Social 50 chart, and this month the company released its analysis of online music in 2013, which found, for example, that 0.2 percent of all musicians account for 53 percent of Facebook page likes among artists and 65 percent of the Twitter followers.

The value of computerized recommendation programs — as opposed to expert programming by humans — has become a debated topic in the music industry. While computer algorithms are used by virtually every digital service in one way or another, some, like the new Beats Music subscription service, have heralded the human touch behind their computer process.

Mr. White said that Gracenote’s system used both man and machine and that the use of algorithms was essential in building a large-scale service.

“There’s only so much that human beings can do,” he said.

Alex White, the chief executive of Next Big Sound (and no relation to Stephen White of Gracenote), described how his company’s data could be used to improve the music recommendations on Gracenote. By culling social-media data, he said, Next Big Sound has a finger on the pulse of the most current music, allowing it to separate new songs and artists from last year’s hits.

“What was popular in 2013 might be wildly unpopular in 2015,” he said. “When a user is interested in hearing an emerging artist, if they’ve broken already, then it’s out of date.”

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