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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Music Recommendation Service Makes Friends Obsolete

Half of us rely on friends to help us find new music. Orpheus Media Research aims to change that.

  • March 23, 2011

If you’re like me, you used to rely on your friends to tell you which movies were good and which books were worth reading. But now if you talk about such things at all, it’s to lament the length of your Netflix queue or Amazon wishlist. In other words, to declare your free time unequal to the tasks put before it by the sophisticated recommendation engines employed by the internet’s cybernetic arbiters of taste.

If there’s one area from which the last vestiges of human interaction need to be expunged in the name of profit, it’s music. AmIRight? Music discovery, after all, is littered with media that aggregate the opinions of insufferable young people. (Blog names like My Band Is Better Than Your Band pretty much sum it up.) These are then meta-aggregated by services like Hype Machine. (Which, god willing, will finally put Pitchfork out of its misery.)

But this just isn’t enough for finnicky consumers of music. Maybe it’s that music is so personal, so accessible – so vast. A study commissioned by Orpheus Media Research, makers of music discovery software Myna, declares that “the accuracy of available [music] recommendation tools is lacking, with 40 percent [of survey respondents] saying that the results are accurate 50 percent or less of the time.”

Which means most users of services like Pandora are happy customers. But in the age of the Internet there’s always room for optimization – people will pay scalpers up to $2000 for a marginally lighter and faster iPad, after all.

That’s where Myna music comes in. I’ve been slagging their survey up to this point, but all in good fun: the service itself is quite impressive. Built by a classically trained musician, it claims to be able to use both the raw characteristics of a track as well as human psychology – aka music cognition – to automatically determine traits of a song as ephemeral as mood.

It’s a service that, like Pandora, uses music to find music. But as anyone who has used Pandora can tell you, the service can feel a little limited at times – bound by the conventions of genre and devoid of those serendipitous moments of musical connection that characterize the best human-generated mixes. I for one can’t help wonder if this is a product of Pandora’s human-dependent system, in which music is matched by tags determined assigned by trained musicians.

If Myna can transcend the limits of its human-augmented predecessors it will be no mean feat. Unfortunately, a consumer-facing version of the service has yet to go live. In the meantime, check out this demo, which looks promising:

Follow Mims on Twitter or contact him via email.

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