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Echo Nest takes wing with music data

Integration with Twitter opens new paths for connectivity

Historically speaking, widescale data analysis technology and the music industry haven’t always been the best of friends. It wasn’t until the 1990s, after all, that SoundScan replaced more anecdotal methods for tracking album sales.

But judging from a number of recent deals and partnerships, the gold rush in music data appears to be in full force.

One name that continually emerges in such discussions is 6-year-old music intelligence platform the Echo Nest, which earlier this week announced a partnership with Twitter to allow app developers to include Tweets from musicians’ “Verified Accounts” within music apps. Though the partnership’s most obvious benefit at the moment is simply one of convenience, it points to the increasing utility of data-mining in music, and the potential for companies who ensure that the many applications available online all speak the same data language.

Based in Massachusetts, the Echo Nest has been busy forging such partnerships. In December, the company climbed onboard with Spotify to power the site’s radio function, enabling listeners to use the streaming service as a “lean-back” music player. Clear Channel used the company’s API in launching its iHeartRadio online platform over the summer, and the company had previously forged partnerships with the likes of MTV, Island Def Jam, Rdio, MOG and EMI.

Those projects represent diverse aims, but they’re all a product of the platform’s same broad objective: to process and understand large amounts of music data, and to help translate that data from one context to another.

In many ways picking up from what Pandora’s Music Genome Project started, Echo Nest’s proprietary technology uses machine listening to automatically extract musicological data from sound files and classify them accordingly, essentially teaching machines to process music the same way the human ear does. (The project had its origins at MIT, from which co-founders/CTOs Brian Whitman and Tristan Jehan both received doctorates.) Combine that data (encompassing more than 30 million songs), with that collected from web crawling, and the available information becomes immense.

As for the Twitter project, with the wide range of artists releasing music through links on Twitter feeds, there’s vast potential for developing a more frictionless exchange between Twitter and media players.

“A lot of artists are using Soundcloud or Bandcamp (to release music),” said Whitman. “And someone could easily make an app that takes your Twitter feed and automatically shows you a playlist of music from these third-party services, and that can start from Spotify or Rdio down to Soundcloud and things like that. So imagine a radio player that plays your Tweet tree for you automatically.”

There are also larger possibilities for Twitter as a whole.

“What Twitter needs to do is open up more about the context of Tweets,” Whitman said. “If someone is talking about a musician on Twitter, which quite a lot of people do, something should be automatically understanding that Tweet. …If someone is talking about Kanye West, it should be: Here’s the new album, here’s some news about him, and here you can hear samples or watch a video, using Twitter as the jumping-off point for much more context and discovery.”

Such creative application of musical data has become an increasingly in-demand resource.

In December, concert giant Live Nation acquired data measurement service Big Champagne, pioneers in the quantification of online music activity. Music database company Gracenote also announced a deal similar to the Echo Nest’s with Twitter this week, shortly before unveiling new details of its tube-oriented Gracenote Entourage platform at CES, which will use audio fingerprinting technology to enable users to access information and additional content on particular TV programs and movies through smartphones, operating much like Shazam does with music.

For now, the Echo Nest plans to retain a music focus, though its cross-media potential is not lost on Whitman.

“We were started by musicians, and run by musicians,” Whitman said. “But knowing as much about music as we do, you really get to know about people. Knowing a person’s music taste, there’s a lot you can infer about what kinds of movies they like, what books they read, and so on.”

Music bits

Speaking of Pandora, the online radio player this week announced it had broken through the 125 million registered users mark, with listeners logging an average of 18 hours of music-listening per month. … With Sundance preparations entering the final stretch, performing-rights org ASCAP unveiled the lineup for its annual Sundance ASCAP Music Cafe, with David Gray, Flying Lotus and the All-American Rejects among the scheduled performers.

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