Echo Nest: The secret weapon behind the new Spotify Radio

Spotify Radio

Last week, Spotify rolled out the beta version of its newly revamped Spotify Radio app, which takes direct aim at Pandora Radio. And today, the new Spotify Radio officially rolls out to all users. While many — including yours truly — focused on Spotify’s unlimited skips and unlimited stations features as the primary trump cards over Pandora, which limits free users to 12 skips per day, and 100 stations, we’ve now learned that Spotify Radio has a secret weapon.

It’s called Echo Nest, an algorithm-based music recommendation engine used to deliver each new track on your Spotify Radio playlist. And it could very well be Pandora’s worst nightmare.

Man vs. Machine

Like the much-talked-about Music Genome Project that powers Pandora, Echo Nest uses deep song analysis to pick which song to play next. Here’s where the two engines differ: Pandora has skilled musicians — actual people, not computers — who go through each and every song to catalog more than 400 specific musical traits. Those details, along with user input (i.e. thumbs up or thumbs down) are then used to determine which song plays next for each individual user. Echo Nest, on the other hand, relies heavily on computer analysis — things like “signal processing” and “machine listening” — to extract and record the determinant musical attributes.

“It’s literally based on the science of the song,” says Elissa Barrett, Echo Nest’s Director of Communications and Operations. “If you pick a track, [Echo Nest] will then pick similar tracks based on the beat, the tempo, the pitch, the era, the genre.” She adds: “Basically, we’ve mapped the Spotify universe of song IDs to the Echo Nest’s ID structure, through our API, therefore any song in the Spotify catalog generates a radio stream of relevant songs.”

Why computers are ‘better’

“If you have ever been at a cocktail party where people will stand in a room and argue what is a country song, and whether or not Johnny Cash falls into country, or if he’s rock, or if he’s 70s pop, or whatever, then you realize that you can’t have that human element, because everyone’s opinion will differ,” adds Barrett. “So when you throw scientific algorithms behind it, and true analysis of audio, mashed up with data points we have based on crawling the Web, by reading and listening to everything about artists, you’re going to come back with a much stronger result.”

By sifting through mountains of data on each artist, Echo Nest also adds factors like “hottness” of a song (it’s mainstream popularity), and geographic location (whether an artist is from a place near a certain user), to help craft Radio playlists for each user.

Slow roll-out

Echo Nest is slowly putting each of Spotify’s more than 15 million songs through its API, so you won’t necessarily see the benefits of its deep analysis for every track just yet. And the only way to know whether a song has been Echo Nest-ified is that a small Echo Nest logo appears next to the album artwork when a new song starts in Spotify Radio, but only for four seconds.

When we compared Spotify Radio and Pandora last week, our biggest complaint was that the tracks Spotify chose to play were not quite as perfectly selected as Pandora’s selection. If Echo Nest is all it claims to be, it seems Pandora’s edge in curation may quickly dull.

So, which is better, man or machine?

Mobile

Schubert left Symphony No. 8 unfinished. A smartphone’s A.I. just completed it

We all know computers can be used to make music, but can artificial intelligence be used to not only generate music, but complete one of the most famous unfinished symphonies of all time? Huawei has used its A.I. to find out.
Wearables

Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 Music adds Spotify support for tunes while you tone

After releasing Spotify for the Fenix 5 Plus series and Forerunner 645 Music last year, Garmin made good on its promise to bring the music streaming service to its Vivoactive 3 Music fitness watch.
Computing

Don't use streaming apps? Try the best free media players for your local music

Rather than using music-streaming apps, you may want something for playing your local music. Good news! There are some good alternatives. These are the best media players you can download for free on Windows.
Movies & TV

Bill and Ted 3 celebrates the franchise's 30th birthday with excellent teaser

As the Bill and Ted franchise turns 30, a third installment that the cast and creative team call Bill and Ted Face the Music is officially in preproduction, though there are big hurdles to overcome.
Music

The best new music this week: Robert Ellis, Golden Daze, and more

Looking for the best new music? Each week, we find the most compelling new releases just for you. This week: Brand-new music from Robert Ellis, Broken Social Scene, and Golden Daze.
Music

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which service is the streaming king?

Apple Music is giving Spotify a run for its money, but which service is best for you? In our Apple Music vs. Spotify showdown, we compare and contrast all we know about the two streaming music services.
Music

Spotify could terminate accounts of listeners using ad blockers

Bad news for those who block annoying ads on Spotify -- the company has updated its Terms of Service to explicitly ban ad blockers. Consequences for users found circumventing the rules include suspending or terminating your account.
Home Theater

Apple's new AirPods could arrive within months, pack health sensor tech

Apple may release new AirPods in the first half of 2019. A wireless charging case, health sensors, water resistance, and better Siri integration are some of the improvements rumored to be part of the new package.
Music

Donald Glover is (somehow) first rapper to win a Grammy for Song Of The Year

Donald Glover (AKA Childish Gambino) has become the first hip-hop artist to win Song Of The Year, an award that had illuded countless other popular rap artists for decades.
Home Theater

How to master your equalizer settings for the perfect sound

You may know what an EQ is, but do you know how to adjust equalizer settings for the best possible sound? We go through the basics of the modern EQ and lay out some guidelines for how to achieve tip-top sound from your system.
Music

The 25 best love songs on Spotify for your wooing pleasure

Valentine's Day comes but once a year, but love is forever. If you're hoping to impress your significant other -- or if you're trying to procure one -- we put together a list of the best love songs for your wooing pleasure.
Cars

Rock out in the carpool lane with Singing Machine’s Carpool Karaoke microphone

Carpool Karaoke fans can count down the days till summer. That's when Singing Machine's Carpool Karaoke microphone will be available. Connect the Carpool Karaoke Mic to your car radio to make your next road trip a mobile karaoke party.
Gaming

After Twitch ban for using homophobic language, musician Deadmau5 apologizes

Electronic musician Deadmau5 has been suspended from Twitch after using homophobic language during a PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds match. The musician later said he wouldn't be returning.
Computing

Switch your WMA files for MP3s with our quick conversion tips

The WMA codec may be great when it comes to multi-channel surround sound, but unfortunately, it falters in terms of compatibility. Check out our guide on how to convert WMA files to MP3 via web-based or desktop methods.