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Going Head To Head With Genius On Playlists 174

Posted by timothy
from the put-that-man-down dept.
brownerthanu writes "Engineers at the University of California, San Diego are developing a system to include an ignored sector of music, dubbed the 'long tail,' in music recommendations. It's well known that radio suffers from a popularity bias, where the most popular songs receive an inordinate amount of exposure. In Apple's music recommender system, iTunes' Genius, this bias is magnified. An underground artist will never be recommended in a playlist due to insufficient data. It's an artifact of the popular collaborative filtering recommender algorithm, which Genius is based on. In order to establish a more holistic model of the music world, Luke Barrington and researchers at the Computer Audition Laboratory have created a machine learning system which classifies songs in an automated, Pandora-like, fashion. Instead of using humans to explicitly categorize individual songs, they capture the wisdom of the crowds via a Facebook game, Herd It, and use the data to train statistical models. The machine can then 'listen to,' describe and recommend any song, popular or not. As more people play the game, the machines get smarter. Their experiments show that automatic recommendations work at least as well as Genius for recommending undiscovered music."
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Going Head To Head With Genius On Playlists

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  • So, not at all? (Score:5, Informative)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Thursday November 05, 2009 @06:33PM (#30000854)

    It's well known that radio suffers from a popularity bias, where the most popular songs receive an inordinate amount of exposure. In Apple's music recommender system, iTunes' Genius, this bias is magnified. An underground artist will never be recommended in a playlist due to insufficient data. ...
    Their experiments show that automatic recommendations work at least as well as Genius for recommending undiscovered music

    So, not really so much at all...?

    • Exactly. The summary poses a problem that this new program is supposed to fix, then says the new program works just as well as the old one. If it isn't better than what I have installed already, what is the point? I suppose if you couple "Their experiments show that automatic recommendations work at least as well as Genius for recommending undiscovered music" with "As more people play the game, the machines get smarter." then this program might be worth something someday. But that day isn't today.
  • The article links to apps.facebook.com/herd-it/?refcode=slashdot

    So I'm thinking this is payed advertisement disguised as an article. That's just low.

    • by Toonol (1057698) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @06:41PM (#30000960)
      Very possibly, but even if it's totally non-commercial there's still valid reasons for wanting to track where your traffic is coming from. It's probably marketing of some kind, but maybe not sold and paid for.
      • by tool462 (677306)

        Yup. This way the folks who created the app can find the most effective place to put their free advertising-disguised-as-news.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by AdamPee (1243018)
        The difference between a marketing department and a PR department is the quality of the work they do. A PR firm gets more press for free than a marketing firm gets for pay. It's important to know the difference, this isn't marketing, it's public relations.
  • When are people going to realize that unpopular music is unpopular for a reason. Sure the music execs try to push their own artists more than others, and they try to target the largest cross section of the population as possible, but why wouldn't they?

    Trying to bring 'unpopular' must to the masses because that will suddenly make it popular is stupid. Music becomes popular because someone hears it and likes it, not just because they hear it.

    Throwing Timmy's garage band onto every radio station in the world

    • I dunno about that . . .there's been more than a few times where a new song came on the radio and I didn't like it, but then after hearing that song a few more times over a few days, I start thinking I like it...
    • by hansraj (458504) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @06:51PM (#30001092)

      Are you generally this obtuse?

      The idea is not to popularize shitty bands. Given perfect AI, this program is supposed to do the following:

      1) Listen to all popular music (for various classes of popular).
      2) Figure out why that music is popular (for its class).
      3) Listen to any *new* track and figure out if it is like those popular tracks (and any popular class).

      Now of course we don't have that kind of AI and hence all this research.

      The idea is to promote good bands that would have been popular except for the fact that they are not already popular and hence might go unnoticed.

      • by joh (27088)

        1) Listen to all popular music (for various classes of popular).
        2) Figure out why that music is popular (for its class).
        3) Listen to any *new* track and figure out if it is like those popular tracks (and any popular class).

        But what if you like to discover *new* music and not music that is like the other music you like? I mean, before the crackdown on webradio there were gazillions of (private, run by an individual or small group) stations and when I tried a new station and liked the first two or three track

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by westlake (615356)

        3) Listen to any *new* track and figure out if it is like those popular tracks.

        The idea is to promote good bands that would have been popular except for the fact that they are not already popular and hence might go unnoticed.

        In this scheme, the no-name band that is most successful in cloning the big-band sound will score the highest.

        You might as well be hosting the Fat Elvis competition at the state fair grounds.

        • by radtea (464814)

          In this scheme, the no-name band that is most successful in cloning the big-band sound will score the highest.

          Which gaming of the system is trivially defeatable via a cut for bands that are clearly clones of existing big-name bands. If some random /. reader can spot the issue--and it will only be an issue with a system that can actually measure similarity accurately--then you can be pretty sure the researchers working on this stuff will spot it as well.

          Since, by hypothesis, they have a system that can accu

    • by Vahokif (1292866)
      The thing is that most pop superstars aren't actually very talented. People who write just as entertaining or better music generally don't make it because of pure bad luck.
    • by Urza9814 (883915)

      If they play a local show and people like to hear them, they'll get requested and more people will hear them.

      That's seriously how you think it works? People just get gig after gig and work their way up and eventually [major label] just starts throwing money and contracts at them?

      Where you live, who you know, and how much free time and money you have matters a _lot_ more than how good you are. Sure, talent can eventually get you there too, but for most bands it doesn't. Your options are either to have some contacts that can get you in front of someone important quickly, or to have a shitload of money so you can do

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        You do realize that movies & TV shows have to pay to *use* music, right? I realize that nowadays, with 'linked' TV/music production houses, the opposite is likely happening too. (e.g. the "For more info on the music played on this week's show" at the end.)

        Also, they can't legally pay for music to play on radio stations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Payola [wikipedia.org]

        • by Urza9814 (883915)

          Yes, I realize both of those. But it still costs money to get music to movies, TV, and radio. Advertising. Promotional material. Sure, they're not directly paying radio stations to play their music, but sending a CD out to every radio station in the country isn't exactly cheap. Sure, a small indie band could maybe get some local college stations to play their stuff, but they don't have near the weight that a big name studio has.

    • Let's try an example. Kings of Leon is enjoying some pretty good success right now with songs from their most recent album reaching the top 5 of Billbaord, Hot 100, and other charts. But the band formed in 1999. For for the better part of a decade they were only "good" to a small number as you put it. But then how did they suddenly jump out of relative obscurity to the top of mainstream charts?
    • Throwing Timmy's garage band

      Timmay, timmay timmay TIMMAY TIMMAY timmay.

      Timamy,

      Timmay.

    • Thank you!!!

      While I have no doubt a computer program could figure out that I like certain tempos and time signatures and musical patterns, none of it says whether it is any good.

      What I don't understand is the concept that it has to be 'fair'. There are thousands of wonderful singers, songwriters, musicians,and drummers out there. I can listen all day to great music, who cares if some unknown in Gary Indiana is better and is being ignored. Tell him to get off his fat ass and work to get noticed like e
  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @06:42PM (#30000968) Homepage Journal

    I tried Genius for awhile, but I recently disabled it for two reasons:

    1) The "recommendations" were not very good nor did they maintain a "common theme", by which I mean, I chose a rather edgy electronica/punk song by Crystal Castles... three songs down we get something by The Nationals... which is very mellow rock. If I choose a song that is edgy, electric, and with a faster pace, I want ALL the songs in that 25 song playlist to be at least within a similar genre.

    2) It takes up too much time when importing vast libraries to new machines. I recently centralized my 300+ GB music library on a Mac Mini Server, iTunes was unusable due to genius choking on the sheer volume of data it had to deal with.

    In the end, it's really nothing more than a way for Apple to try to get you to buy more crap from the Apple store.
    They lost my wallet years ago to Amazon MP3 store who had no DRM. I see no reason to go back to iTMS even now that their DRM is gone. Especially seeing what dicks Apple has been with their conduct around ACC, "fair play", and App Store lock-down.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by moosesocks (264553)

      I've made three observations with Genius:

      1) It used to be much, much better. Whatever Apple's doing to incorporate new data is having an adverse effect on the quality of the results.

      2) It doesn't work particularly well with large libraries. When I upgraded my hard drive, and merged my "archival" collection with the "everyday" music I carry around with me, I found that the quality of the genius results seems to have deteriorated, even though it doesn't necessarily choose any songs from the huge pile of jaz

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Rib Feast (458942)

      The biggest problem is that Apple is probably the closest internet-based distribution system to the record labels of old. Perhaps this is an "appeal to the masses" approach or to get onside with the labels.

      The downside of this is that a collaborative filter based on genre and sales will never go deep. I doubt they'd ever use pearson's correlation coefficient seriously enough to offset the "this is the new hit everyone listens to so you should too".

      I guess it comes down to musical integrity to the extent of

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by LordRobin (983231)

      Well, actually, yes. I use Genius. A lot.

      Look, it's not perfect, but for folks like me, who don't have either the time or the desire to craft a playlist for each mood I may happen to be in, it's a godsend. Before Genius came along, my options were either to listen to a specific album or artist, or shuffle the whole damn iPod. I'd do that occasionally, but the end result was heavy on Beatles and J-Pop. I obvious like both genres, or my iPod wouldn't be full of the stuff, but sometimes I'm just not in th

    • by dimeglio (456244)

      Funny but I've usually been quite pleased with the Genious selection. I'm more inclined to try Genious just because it makes it easier to put a list together. I can always manually 'improve' the list if a few songs don't fit. I'm not expecting perfection and neither should you. Although it would be interesting to see more obscure songs be suggested. Algorithms have to be based on something and that something contains some level of bias.

  • by lapsed (1610061) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @06:43PM (#30000982)
    More precisely, popular causes good. Norms [wikipedia.org] cause people to want to act the same way. Some people will listen to music because of its artistic appeal and others will listen to a specific type of music to distinguish themselves from the norm in some way. But the crowd will want to listen to what the crowd listens to *because* that's what the crowd is listening to. Nobody wants to take from the long tail exactly because there's nobody paying attention to the long tail.
  • The first track that played was a System of a Down tune. Which is about as pop as it gets. The ones after didn't get much better. If they really want to use this to push less played songs which have potential, they should actually better get some.

  • by antirelic (1030688) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @06:48PM (#30001046) Journal

    Capitalism: Hello there Academic. How are you?

    Academic: Hi... what they heck are you? You look so strange to me...

    Capitalism: I'm Capitalism. Oh, I'm really not all that strange, but I might be a little complicated to understand.

    Academic: Complicated!?! I am the master of complicated, I am an Academic for crying out loud.

    Capitalism: Ok then. Let me try to explain myself. I am a system that provides stuff via supply and demand.

    Academic: Nonsense! I dont hear music that deserves to be heard on the radio or on popular websites!

    Capitalism: Deciding who deserves what really isnt my thing... see... its about supply and demand...

    Academic: But who decides whats in demand!?! Certainly it cannot be the uneducated "masses", they... just aren't qualified!

    Capitalism: No no... its about what many individuals, smart or otherwise, want based on need or dozens of different other factors.

    Academic: Preposterous! How could they possibly know what they want or need if they havent been exposed to it?!? Foolish Capitalism!

    Capitalism: Well, there are a lot of musicians out there and only so many different ways to get them heard, and, well, there are people out there who spend their lives learning what people like and dislike, and even they arent always right... so the best at determining who does best succeeds...

    Academic: Rubbish! What we really need, is for the qualified, with a broad base of tastes to make an application for people to give them a view of all the music that is out there!

    Capitalism: I guess you can try, no one can stop you, but you might not succeed.

    Academic: Your so short sighted. I don't need to worry about succeeding, I receive public money to pursue my higher realm of thinking.

    Capitalism: Right on... so I guess you will compete and regardless if your product sucks, you dont have to worry about it because your really just spending someone elses money.

    Academic: Its progress my dear boy. Progress.

    • if your product sucks, you dont have to worry about it because your really just spending someone elses money.

      Pretty much the story of most equity-funded businesses (particularly venture-funded.

      And C-level agents.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dlwire (1224964)
      Academic: My product is aimed at the people who aren't into the banal garbage that ends up on the radio. While my target audience is smaller I hope to address a hole left by your model.
    • That was remarkably insightful.
    • Interesting theory, but I'd pay for a system that introduces me to songs I haven't heard before that I might like. I don't care if it's popular (or good) if I like it, I like it. For instance, this [google.com] is in my "a" playlist at the moment. Right next to "Waking up in Vegas" which was a top 40 hit not too long ago.

      Such a service actually fits within capitalism, if enough people are interested. I have to agree that Genius just doesn't seem to do that for me.

    • You make a compelling argument Mr. Capitalism,
      I'd just like to say;

      Pat Boone
      Grateful Dead (I think their following enjoys the flashbacks, and so the love of their music is more of a trigger -- if you never got stoned to the Grateful Dead, then you probably don't get the attraction to this elevator music).
      Jimmy Buffet (yes, I said it. God save us all from the popularity of Margarittaville and listening to another aging drunk doing his white man's overbite to this moldy oldy).

      >> And even more, economic

    • by kklein (900361)

      Academics drive Capitalism. High-level research is not done by corporations (anymore--there used to be places like HP that did, but Carly, being an ignorant capitalist, killed that off). Publicly-funded research is what hands ideas to the private sector. Sometimes academic research just breaks off and becomes private (Google).

      The point of making products/ideas without competitive accountability is to explore the possibilities that lie beyond what pays out in the short term. The slow death of American acad

      • KKline, you must be an academic... I can tell by your sense of humor and your sense of irony.

        The post is not saying academics dont contribute.... Its the shmarmy belief that they "know better than everyone else", even when it comes to things that are subjective (which is really a large part of the free market). The Academic fantasizes about the Technocrat that will eventually lead us all into utopia by prescribing us "plebes" the perfect formula to live our lives, which of course, has lead to the greatest c

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by weston (16146)

          The Academic fantasizes about the Technocrat that will eventually lead us all into utopia by prescribing us "plebes" the perfect formula to live our lives

          For example, the Chicago or Austrian Schools of Economics.

  • I wrote something earlier this week to do the same thing with the hashtags in the Twitter API and my music DB.

    If you're bored, check it out. The recommendations are pretty close (bottom left). Metallica [clinko.com] or Weezer [clinko.com]

    I found this one interesting Beatles [clinko.com] because it finds the singers names.

  • by ptaff (165113) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @07:05PM (#30001262) Homepage

    For possibly the great majority of the population, music can be compared to fashion; does not really matter if the art is good per se, what matters is the trend and popularity, on a local scale (what my friends listen to) and global scale (media).

    With the rock'n'roll revolution in the fifties, lots of teenagers liked that new music in part because it wasn't their parents' music. Same story can be said of disco, rap and grunge.

    Problem with the long-tail approach is that people mostly judge music by non-musical criteria.

  • Last.fm (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shadyman (939863) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @07:08PM (#30001290) Homepage
    Last.fm's "neighbor" system works similarly, except it looks at what each person listens to. Keep in mind that it takes a fair bit of training to find neighbors who are actually close to your likes, but once you've listened to enough music, it's pretty good at finding things I like but have never heard of. I.E. if I like song A B C and D, and you like song A, B and C, you might like song D.

    The neighbor system groups people with similar musical tastes, and allows each person to tune to his/her "Neighbor Radio", to listen to songs liked by your neighbors.

    (Disclaimer: I have no vested interest in last.fm besides being a paid member. [My Profile] [www.last.fm])
    • The neighbor playlist on last.fm is a really effective tool for finding stuff I didn't know about but like.

    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      Well somehow I feel that I must be an oddball in the specificity of my tastes, but while my best neighbours listen to a lot of things that I also listen to, the rest of what they listen to I already know and dislike. So in my case it's like the neighbour system can only identify the overlap, but can't find anyone who listens to things I may like but don't know yet. Although I suspect that due to the specificity of my tastes, there's perhaps no such thing as someone who likes what I like and likes what I wil

  • At least as well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    An underground artist will never be recommended in a playlist due to insufficient data. It's an artifact of the popular collaborative filtering recommender algorithm, which Genius is based on.

    Their experiments show that automatic recommendations work at least as well as Genius for recommending undiscovered music.

    At least as well as never recommending? That is astounding.

  • by lyinhart (1352173) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @08:48PM (#30002016)
    10 minutes with someone who works in an independent record store will help you find better music than any algorithm (or any Top 40/Adult Contemporary radio station for that matter). That is, if you can find someone friendly in one of these stores...

    Paraphrased from actual conversation in an indie record store:
    Record store owner: "Why do people keep coming back here?"
    Employee: "Well, it's not friendliness..."
    Owner: "WHAT?! I'm the most f***ing friendly guy there is!
  • at least 1 out of 5 times it says "sorry - can't make a list for you" - basically syin I listen to music that is too obscure for them or isn't in iTMS or whatever they use to catalogue stuff.

    I disabled Genius and just leave it on Random play. I have 35,654 songs, so I basically listen to the best radio station and rarely hear repeated.

    Heck, if I live to be 90, I'll probably only hear each song 7 or 8 more times anyway...

  • There are four in my household. I'll use itunes to make up a CD for a long car journey with the kids or a playlist for my wife to work out to. Then there's the music I like to listen to. I'm sure it believes I'm schizophrenic and if it were a real genius it would be giving me psychiatric advice by now.
    • by Monoman (8745)

      Genius is a relative term. Consider the average Mac user and well .... I KEED, I KEED.

  • by rwa2 (4391) * on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:01PM (#30002436) Homepage Journal

    I've played with Pandora radio a bit before, but it doesn't tend to work for my taste in music. I like songs with funny lyrics... Monty Python, King Missile, Nellie McKay... the algorithms that focus strictly on musical styles generate pretty hilarious results, but not what I'm looking for :P

    I've been pretty happy with some of the dj internet radio stations, though, like somafm.com and some of the ones on di.fm . Before I found some of those stations, I didn't really think there was much of any music that I liked. Certainly not on broadcast or satellite radio.

  • They're using people who play Facebook games to train their systems to be smarter?

    The mind wobbles.

  • If they ask you the question, "What color is this song?", and you answer "Green", but most of the other players answer "Black"..then they ask you that same question again...what are you going to answer THIS time? If they had more than 20 questions to cycle through, they might get useful data. As it is, I think it is just a cleverly designed advertisement for Frank Zappa.

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