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Music Recommendation Engines Compared 126

An anonymous reader writes "The music recommendation/music discovery space seems to be heating up this year. Two big recent features on music recommendation engines: ExtremeTech has a round-up and reviews of eight leading services. Of the eight, emerges as the winner: " is by far the best out there, possessing a huge library of music, a great community, and a recommendation feature that will blow you away." Meanwhile, just ran an in-depth feature about the hows and whys of music recommendation software, that tells the story going back to the '90s, and interviews people at, Pandora, MusicIP, and the startup Echo Nest: '"Our hope is to answer every possible question about music that ever existed. If we can pull that off, then I think we're doing very well," says [Brian] Whitman.'"
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Music Recommendation Engines Compared

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  • by yagu ( 721525 ) * <<moc.liamg> <ta> <ugayay>> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:02PM (#15447571) Journal

    I've tried the two top recommended music recommend-ers:, and Pandora. Love them both.

    I had to futz with the ergonomics, and find if I haven't used it in a while, I have to re-figure some of the stuff out. I find that annoying. But, it has great features, great recommendations, and features.

    Pandora, I found to be easier to use, simpler and more elegant in design. I especially like the "sharing" of your personal stations, and love the "most popular" station feature. This is a great site, and a great experience.

    For Pandora, though they've talked about fixing it, and I don't know where they are on this, I was disappointed to not be able to create a Classical Music station. That's a pretty big negative for me.

    (Also, if you try Pandora, an odd behavior: if you click the "Minimize" button in the Pandora window (not the browser minimizer), it pops out into its own independent window. That's hardly "minimizing", though I find it convenient.)

    And, while these may be free services, they've ended up costing me a small fortune. I've been exposed to so much cool music I'd not heard, I've ended up buying about 20 CDs I'd never have otherwise bought.

    • I agree - Pandora's library doesn't seem to be as big as's, but the ease of use is second to none. I've found myself several times being captivated by music I never knew existed.
    • What I've found with Pandora is that it seems to work best if you just tell Pandora what music you like and not what you dislike. I just seem to get better results that way.
    • by stuffduff ( 681819 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:17PM (#15447731) Journal
      Pandora can get stuck in a rut when it doesn't understand why you listen to what you're listening to. I'm a big fan of Progressive Rock. Say you start with PFM's (Premiata Forneria Marconi) 'Celebration.' After a few songs it tends to pick some kind of Indy Rock. Progressive Rock may be grandiose, but that's what I like about it, that it continues to change during a piece of music. In essence it, by it's very nature seems to escape the definitions given to it. So I'm not sure that any of these engines will ever get that kind of music right. If I "Don't like' enough songs in a row it will go back for some classic prog, but if left alone it just keeps wandering away from it instead of leading me to new prog like Wobbler or Kenso.
      • by gunpowda ( 825571 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:59PM (#15448133)
        However, what I've found to be excellent about Pandora, apart from its uncanny ability to play relevant music based on the few clues I've given it, is that the service tells you *why* it's chosen a particular track if you click that button. It's a great insight into some features of the music you may not have consciously picked up on before.

        It is true that if your taste is for a niche genre then it won't be too useful, but if you're in that position then you probably know better than any software what you ought to listen to next!

      • One of the things I like about Pandora (although it probably won't solve your problem) is that you can have it tell you why it chose a particular song. If you're really looking to outsmart it, you can take a look at those and try to finetune your preferences.

        My one gripe is that it pulls multiple similar songs -- I have one station with all my likes tossed together, and it always plays fou or five dancehall songs followed by four or five hair metal songs followed by.... I suppose it's some sort of optimizat

        • Otter, you can edit your station and the songs that you've chosen to like or dislike (take a look at the dropdown menu.) You could also start from scratch and separate out your genres into different stations.
          • Thanks! I know that (and have some more specific stations, as well) but I like to have one giant station because a) I like the variety and b) I'd like to give the algorithm as much to work with as possible to try to find new genres of interest. (Essentially, the opposite of the OP's desire.) Thanks, though!
        • Pandora doesn't have advertising now, but they are investigating it, as they have determined that advertising supported is more likely to succeed than subscription.

          This is based on comments from founder Tim Westergren, who recently toured the country having little "town hall" sessions with Pandora users. I attended in Chicago, where about 50-75 folks turned up to hear the story of Pandora, ask questions, and offer suggestions.

      • Yeah, I've found that when I listen to Sparks, Pandora can't seem to suggest anything else that's remotely appealing. Either Sparks can't be explained by Pandora's categories, or there's nothing else like 'em.
      • My Pandora prog rock station works fine. Try basing your station on more than one band: Dream Theater, Angra, Rush, Cynic, Opeth, etc.

        e.g. []

    • I want to like, but the player hardly works for me. Half the time it can't connect to the server, if it does it crashes within an hour. Maybe it's just the Mac version, or something particular to my computer, but it is completely unusable for me.

      In addition, the fact that you are required to install software, as opposed to Pandora which uses flash, creates an obstacle for many people who would like to use it at work, but need prior approval before installing applications.
  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:09PM (#15447631)
    Can you answer "Why do radio stations predominantly air really bad, overhyped crap nobody wants to hear?" without using the words "bribe" or any synonyms?

    Or rather, will they actually recommend music? Or just the hypecrap?
    • by mypalmike ( 454265 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:31PM (#15447856) Homepage
      Results of your query:

      We found no entries in our database for the artist 'hypecrap'. May we suggest Mariah Carey, Hoobastank, or Celine Dion?
    • by leonmergen ( 807379 ) <lmergen&gmail,com> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:50PM (#15448032) Homepage

      You obviously aren't familliar with the sites recommended, Pandora and ... the trick with these services is that you decide what you listen to (for example, in's case, you can listen to similar artists of, for example, Britney Spears - they will probably serve you a nice mixture of Christina, Destiny's Child, Shakira, etc... they do this based on data mining, which only works if you have a subscriber base as large as one point which Pandora seems to lack a bit (chicken or the egg problem)

      And well, as far as I'm concerned,'s radio service is pretty high quality.. they offer you an option to subscribe to, among other things, get a guarantee for being able to listen to a radio station (if a server is full, a non-subscriber gets kicked off to make place for you)...

      You should try it out... everyone who enjoys music recommendations and discovering new music will like these services...

    • Can you answer "Why do radio stations predominantly air really bad, overhyped crap nobody wants to hear?" without using the words "bribe" or any synonyms?

      Simple ... customer demand. To a lot of listeners, that's what they want to hear. To them, it's not bad, overhyped crap. They want to listen to top-40, or pop stations, and listen to what everyone else is listening to, and what's cool.

      It's worse than them not knowing better, they really do believe that is the kind of music they like, and they really pre

  • and now new and improved
  • I don't know about a Music Recommendation Engine, but I know a Merlin in a Mustang sounds like music.
    • That reminds me, got 'Battle of Britain' on the TiVo. My own way of celebrating the Spitfire's 70th. ;)
    • I know a Merlin in a Mustang sounds like music.

      How about two Merlins in a Ford Mustang? :)

      I'm partial to a Hispano in a Jenny, or a Ferrari in a Dino 156 myself.

      . . . answer every possible question about music that ever existed. . .

      You hint at the fundamental question, don't you?

      "What is music?"

  • "Our hope is to answer every possible question about music that ever existed. If we can pull that off, then I think we're doing very well," says [Brian] Whitman.'"

    Brian, repeat after me, "correctness before speed."
  • The reason Pitchfork is popular is because of the TOP 50 set downloads on Oink and other bittorrent sites. They are always the most popular downloads and is how I first heard of Pitchfork. Who says bittorrent doesn't make anyone money.
    • I don't even know what oink is, but pitchfork's been turning up in my music searches for years. They're well known on the internet as being a bunch of pretentious music snobs (that also happen to align pretty well with my tastes :P).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "When we tuned into "artist fan radio" for Johnny Cash, the first song that played was from Megadeth, a huge contrast from Cash."

    That's just a feature. It obviously does that beacuse Megadeth kicks ass.
  • My review.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:20PM (#15447749) Homepage Journal
    I suggest they rate these music recommendation services based on how rarely they recommend Brittany Spears, Jessica Simpson and Celine Dion. It'll be too soon if I don't hear one of them sing their guts out ever again.

    An inverse metric would work nicely for ranking a video recommendation service.

  • the first one to recommend a Brittany Spears or N'Sync song/album to me I'm blocking the IP address on my home network forever.
  • I've tried a few and so far I agree with the article - is the runaway winner. I have a few custom radio stations and have discovered a few bands that I've never have known about without it.
  • by 'aspies' are retards ( 958036 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:25PM (#15447796)
    Ok, so I've had it with the musicians who have sold their souls to the corporations. With the advert of the Internet, they don't need anyone else to publish and distribute their music to the world. So now I want to get my music from independent artists. The problem is: I know what kind of music I like, and I know which mainstream bands make this kind of music, but I don't have time to go listening to every indie artist to find out what they make.

    What I'm looking for is a site where I can enter or select names of bands or songs that I like, and get independent music recommended to me. You like Alanis Morisette? Try Jen Pitch. That sort of thing. Does anybody know of such sites?

    By the way: the example above is just an association I know from the top of my head; I'm not very much into the kind of music at all.

  • is nice (Score:2, Informative)

    by SubRosa ( 976527 )
    Any service that supports not only FreeBSD, but native amd64 binaries of their client deserves some major kudos. When I get tired of my regular playlists, I tune into for some fresh stuff, and it does a mostly decent job.
  • by lucifig ( 255388 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:30PM (#15447845)
    I'm sitting here listening to Pandora at work and just as I notice a new Slashdot article, it craps out.

    Curse you!
  • It would be awesome if I could export a playlist from iTunes and upload it to a site and have it make recommendations based on that, rather than having to manually type in artists & songs. Anyone know of any services that accept that kind of input?
    • Yeah, the iTunes music store...

      Bottom right corner of the iTunes interface has a button that opens the 'mini-store'. It does exactly what you describe, except you don't have to send them the playlist: they read it automatically.
      • Isn't that just based off the current selection? I'm talking about exporting 100 songs and have it give recommendations based on the collection, not the individual settings. Just because I like Keane doesn't mean I'm going to like Beck.... and that could be deduced by the other selections in the list...
    • Re:iTunes playlists (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      It would be awesome if I could export a playlist from iTunes and upload it to a site and have it make recommendations based on that, rather than having to manually type in artists & songs. Anyone know of any services that accept that kind of input? Well, kind of. If you use the Audioscrobbler plugin, it send the details of the tracks you play in iTunes to the servers to use when determining your personal station and when giving recommendations.
    • It would be awesome if I could export a playlist from iTunes and upload it to a site and have it make recommendations based on that, rather than having to manually type in artists & songs. Anyone know of any services that accept that kind of input?'s recommendations are based on the music you listen to. You just install the audioscrobber plugin for your media player (or, in my case, enter your login info in amaroK), and it submits your listening habits to Pretty cool IMO.
    • Re:iTunes playlists (Score:3, Interesting)

      by adpowers ( 153922 )
      Musicmobs [] does something similar. I'm not sure about now, but before you were able to export your whole iTunes library (or just one playlist) to XML and upload it to Musicmobs to get recommendations.

      I think they got rid of the direct upload feature because it was extremely slow (the iTunes XML file is huge, but can be highly compressed) and they now have a client - Mobster [] - which will upload your stats. I'm not sure if Mobster allows you to upload just one playlist in place of your library. You can upload
    • (Score:2, Interesting)

      by gnurb ( 632580 )
      Yeah, I wanted this too, so me and a buddy created [] (free download for mac and pc)
    • try MusicStrands []. It has a cool Instant Recommender, that works with iTunes and WMP to give recommendations while you listen to songs. It also let's you upload your iTunes and WMP playlists to the service, and then gives you recommendations based on all the tracks. It's also got THE BEST community tools. If you're like me, I prefer to get recommendations from other real life people.
  • Clinko (Score:3, Interesting)

    by clinko ( 232501 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:40PM (#15447930) Journal
    I've been using Clinko for years. []

    In fact, I wrote it :)
  • by presentt ( 863462 )

    I like using because it's player is open-source and available for both Linux and WinXP. For me, that's critical, because I dualboot my PC between those two OSs, and have my music on a separate partition that's accessible by both.

    I'm not sure if that's the case with the other services, but I've been happy with

  • Hello from (Score:5, Informative)

    by captainclever ( 568610 ) <rj.audioscrobbler@com> on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:52PM (#15448054) Homepage
    So, seeing as I work at (I founded audioscrobbler), I feel obliged to pimp my journal [], which has some interesting stats (imo) about which media players are most popular, and some graphs of artist popularity. I intend to do a "google trends for music" interface after the next site update (see below).

    The KDE player Amarok [] is getting increasingly popular, which is nice to see. I use it myself; the built in support means no plugin is required. The next version of amarok adds lots more integration too.

    Coming up - we'll be running a beta test of a fairly major update to towards the end of june, and going live with the new version 1st July.

    And a random stat: we currently recieve on average 104 submissions per second from audioscrobbler plugins.
  • Biz Model..? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by suv4x4 ( 956391 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @03:53PM (#15448074)
    Can someone explain to me wha is the business model of those services?

    From what I see I download a player where I can play commercial music of the sort I like for free, with CD quality and no ads...

    There are Google Ads on the site, but I can just not go on the site and play free music forever... The player doesn't seem to contain ad/spy ware.

    Where's the "catch" :)?
    • Shhh (Score:3, Insightful)

      by idonthack ( 883680 )
      Don't talk so loud, somebody will notice.
    • I'm not sure about the others, but I know that Pandora [] has side advertisements on their website, and there is a limited number of songs you can skip.
    • Can't speak for all of them, but on Pandora it's really, really easy to buy the CD associated with the currently-playing song. Really easy. I figure they must get a piece of each CD sold through them.
    • They sell their (anonymous) user data to 3rd party marketers and advertisers.

      Pandora also has a subscriber service, which offers a few insider-ish advantages to its users for fairly cheap. But their real money comes from selling user data.
  • we're reading an article recommending a service that does the best job recommending music to us. Bit o' irony? I'm waiting for an article analysing this article's recommendation.
  • vs Pandora (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Supersonic1425 ( 903823 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @04:12PM (#15448247)

    I'll start by saying that I'm a huge fan of, and have been for years. I'm addicted to the place, and my music collection would be nothing without it. While does have a feature where artists are automatically recommended to you, I rarely use it. It's the social aspect of that sets it apart. The best way of getting recommendations is just simply asking for them [].

    I've used Pandora a few times before, and was always disappointed with what it recomended. Results are mixed to say the least—it clearly works better for some types of music than others—and some of the recommendations can be, quite frankly, laughable.

  • Don't forget the simpler Gnoosic [], the music section of the Global Network of Dreams.

  • by Kozar_The_Malignant ( 738483 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @04:57PM (#15448628)

    >Our hope is to answer every possible question about music that ever existed. If we can pull that off, then I think we're doing very well,

    What is the brand of guitar string that you can hear break in the mono lp version of "Help Me, Rhonda"?
  • I am a huge fan of the MusicIP MusicMagicMixer application discussed in the pitchforkmedia article. MusicIP does a fantastic job of helping me navigate my own collection since I ripped it into a couple hundred gigs of files. Coupled with SlimServer, I feel like I have the best of everything: Offline, I use MusicIP to create mixes from my own collection and transfer them to my portable player or make a CD. Online, I can stream my own collection with SlimServer playing MusicIP mixes, and when I want to dis
  • I must be missing something here...I entered "The Cure", and came up with a list of just about every popular '80s mainstream band, from Led Zeppelin to the Stones to David Bowie (even the Doors made an appearance). What's so innovative here?

    • Given one band, the best they can do is match you up to what other people who like that band also enjoy. The real show is supposed to start when you begin entering more bands you like/dislike into a user profile and it can plug all those bands into its algorithm and spit out something you might enjoy.
  • by guyjr ( 180613 )
    Pitchfork??? Are those whiney snobs even relevant anymore?
  • Can anybody point me to a service that features the recommendation power of these great sites, but also provides an easily accessible link that allows me to instantly start downloading the song in the background? I don't mind if it is free music as I'm sure there are no legit services out there that would provide this functionality with copyrighted music.

    My biggest problem is that I love discovering new music but when I find something I like I always have to write it down and then go hunting for it on Soul

  • iRATE (Score:3, Informative)

    by McDutchie ( 151611 ) on Thursday June 01, 2006 @05:53PM (#15449065) Homepage
    Anyone else using iRATE []? For some reason it isn't listed in the article, but I've been using it for years and it's the best way I've found to (legally) get free tracks from the web and get new ones you like based on how you've rated previous ones.
  • I like That said. I use Yahoo!'s unlimited music service. That's proablly because it's the first one I'd been exposed to. But I have a clarification to make. Yahoo! doesn't only let you rate songs, artists, genres and albums from 1 to 5. They let you rate them from 1 to 100. This allows you so much better control when you're telling the music engine what you like it's not funny. It's slow to start but once you rate more and more, the radio station gets better and better. I assume when they
  • A difference about this one is that it looks at the songs you've already played--not like which only looks at songs as you play them. Hence the recommendations are generated alot faster ---instant satisfaction...well assuming it works for you []

  • is on the right track, but incomplete. Registered users submit the tracks they play, and the algorithm considers how many plays each artist got. But it doesn't look at a per-song level, just artists. There's no way to tell it which songs you dislike.

    This is bad because many of us have bought an album and realized we only liked a few tracks. Yet the big fans of that artist like all the songs, or different ones. Jamiroquai - Virtual Insanity got lots of airplay, but the rest of the album is much slower and disco-y. Consequently, is highly unlikely to recommend the artist and of course that song to listeners who missed it six years ago. thinks I should like lots of Radiohead, Coldplay, and The White Stripes because other users who listen to the same artists I do have also listened to those bands a lot. Well I only like a few songs from the first two and really dislike the last band. Too much whining in the vocals. If only let me tell it the songs I like and the ones I don't. Then it could find users who also dislike the same music as I. Consequently, it would recommend just songs I'm probably going to like; certain Ska songs by Reel Big Fish and others, certain Rock/Swing by The Cherry Poppin' Daddies and The Brian Setzer Orchestra.

    Then I don't have to skip through albums getting annoyed with how much of them I don't like because I'm not a huge Ska or Swing fan.

    When I listen to Best of albums by Garth Brooks and Clint Black, along with select Shania Twain, and the Black Dog soundtrack, I should get song recommendations for Travis Tritt that only include the few tracks I'll probably like.

    If could increase their computing power per user by about 30x, I think it could be recommending all kinds of obscure hits and tracks that users would never think of otherwise and human community members couldn't think of either. After all, I like a bunch of hip-hop and techno too. In fact I have extremely varied musical interests, but probably most people do and they're too stuck in a few genres because there's too much chaff among the wheat to branch out and find the select songs they'll enjoy.
  • k, don't hit this hard.. because i like it, but it makes pandora stupid. []

    this is the most genius piece of music recommendation I have seen. It uses like blogs to link (and play, download ) like music. Enter a band and find 10 blogs which contain similiar music. Its great.
  • Pandora?
    It's good.

    Pandora + Pandora's Jar?

  • I've used yahoo for a while now and it's clear to me that they really didn't spend much time setting it up or trying it out. After configuring your genres and actually rating music for more than a couple minutes you can tune it to be anything you want.

    First off, they have one of the largest libraries available so, already it was a clear winner for me because of the selection.

    No community? I get recommendations from friends "influencers" all the time and I can listen other users customized stations.
    All main
  • I use, but not so much for getting recommendations on new music as for getting some insight into my listening habits.

    There's a recent startup that has caught my eye, though, that I haven't seen mentioned in this discussion: []
  • There is still one more music recommender system left, named FOAFING THE MUSIC []. And, if you have a account, it can import all the info from there! I bet you'll discover a bunch of new artists (even coming from,, and lots of more cool music sites!). Enjoy!
  • Hmmm... [] "Open Source, Open Data for Digital Music" powered by MusicIP.

One can't proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.