Thursday, September 11, 2008

iTunes Genius?

iTunes 8.0 incorporates a new feature called "Genius." Select a song, click the "Genius" button, and iTunes automatically constructs a playlist of songs that are similar to the song you originally selected. Or that's the idea, at any rate.

Pandora, of course, has been doing this for years. The music genome approach, if someone ever really gets it right, will revolutionize the music industry. And right now, Pandora has got it far more right than Apple. Select an Elvis Presley song and click that "Genius" button. What does iTunes recommend? Buddy Holly. Umm, no. Other than both artists' undeniable place in the Rock 'n Roll Pioneer pantheon, just what do Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly have in common? Not a whole lot.

Aside from the glitches in the recommendation, this isn't really what I'm looking for in "Music Recommendation" software anyway. I already know what the music on my iPod sounds like. I put it on there. I've already played it, most of it many times. And I've got ears. I don't need some unhelpful algorithm to figure out that Boston is classic rock, and Peter Frampton is classic rock, so if I like Boston then maybe I'd like Peter Frampton. Wrong, vocoder breath. I suspect my own ability to make musical connections is far more finely calibrated than anything Apple or Pandora will ever come up with.

What I'm looking for, and will probably never find, is software that will help me make thematic connections. When I select Sufjan Stevens' song "A Short Reprise for Mary Todd Lincoln," I'm not looking for more music that sounds like Sufjan Stevens. I can find that using my own brain just fine. I'm looking for other songs about Mary Todd Lincoln. Why? Because I'm weird that way. Because I used to spend hours making Gloria mix tapes featuring Vivaldi, Van Morrison, and Patti Smith. Because it's a kind of puzzle, and I like puzzles.

That's what I really want: an easy way to make a Pop Songs That Mention Mid-to-Late Twentieth Century Literary Figures playlist. Okay, we've got Rhett Miller with his mention of Don Delillo, Simon and Garfunkel with Norman Mailer, that stupid Deep Blue Something song about Breakfast at Tiffany's, which at least contains a veiled Truman Capote reference, and what else? I'm telling you, I'd pay big bucks for that kind of musical software.


Mike G said...

I haven't tried the Genius feature yet, but I'm kind of looking forward to it. Why? Because I tend to be lazy. All too often I just hit the same old albums (yes, albums), or the one playlist I've bothered to create (all 800+ songs: Emmylou Harris & Friends--anyone remotely connected to Emmy).

With Genius, I may see some different groupings, and maybe some of the newer music I put on my iPod, like the Paste CDs, but never seem to get around to hearing.

Of course, it may totally stink, in which case I'll continue being lazy with out Genius.

Someone Said said...

10,000 Maniacs - Hey Jack Kerouac.

Anonymous said...

I actually like Genius, the little bit I have used it. Seems fairly intelligent to me, and supposedly will keep getting better.
I had a cousin die this week, and today was the funeral. I wanted something more melancholy. I picked an EverybodyFields song, and this is what Genius spit out:

For the most part, it really fit. And, as mike g mentioned, it mixed in a lot of the Paste sampler tunes that I never check out either.

This is another playlist that I thought fit together pretty well, based on "Alice" by Tom Waits:

Sorry for the links, not sure how to post these as pics.

Pilgrim said...

I'm having a hard time getting a play list of welsh music or music sung by welsh singers on pandora. This seems like an obvious gap. Welsh traditional is seeded eith teo or three albums, and throws many other non-welsh in.