Google Music* Got Smart

Anyone can google “It’s Like That” and find out that it’s a 1983 song by American hip-hop group Run-D.M.C.

That’s the second result I get for it. The first is a video for the 1997 Jason Nevins remix of the song.

Suppose I ask Google Music to “Start radio” for that song. Since it doesn’t have that song, I have to Start radio for the original 1983 version. What does “Start radio” actually mean? You can find the vague answer here.

Google should know that I like the 1997 version — after all, YouTube’s data is their data. If Google Music were interested in clever music discovery, it wouldn’t just use Wikipedia facts (American hip-hop, 1983) and build a playlist of the top 40 songs that more or less meet that description. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s exactly what it does. I’m pretty sure that every one of these songs was top 40 American R&B in the 1980s.

Non stop hip hop

Wouldn’t it be nice if it included, say, some “electro-hop“?

When I did “Start radio” on my phone for Farbwechsel by Myrone Aiden, something strange happened. Check this out:

PlayM

This radio station contains music that cannot be grouped together by era nor, therefore, by genre. That’s a funny thing about popular music: its genres are very specific to decades. Maybe that will change now that our corporate overlords are less in charge of defining them than they used to be.

There’s a thread running through these tunes. I’m not sure what it is, but the fact that Todd Terje is making light-touch remixes of Roxy Music and collaborating with Bryan Ferry to do covers of Robert Palmer suggests that it’s there.

This playlist contains music from a bunch of different decades/genres/styles/countries. It is even largely weighted towards artists that I’m familiar with and like. I see only one song that I’m sure I won’t like, having listened to its album on a road trip recently. There’s even some songs where I want to cast a sly glance in Google’s direction and wonder how it knows me so well. (I know how it knows me so well, and the answer is exactly as creepy as you’d expect — it watches us.)

Google is a company that is defined by “being good at things that you need crazy amounts of data to be good at.” The technical term for ‘crazy amounts’ is ‘web-scale data.’ Their strengths at search, advertising and translation (among many others) are defined by their effective use of web-scale data.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if Google Music’s discovery tools always made such effective use of web-scale data? Of course, all data mining/machine learning algorithms need to be tuned by someone knowledgeable.

Google, here’s my suggestion: if you haven’t already, hire the folks at Soma.fm to do quality assurance for music discovery on your service for a while. They are in the (not-for-profit) business of defining new genres.

Right now their website says they need $940 by the end of the day. You can afford that, right?

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Google Play Music All Access is a terrible name for a service. I wonder what Apple would call a similar service?

 

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