The Digital Connector

The Digital Connector

“If we can understand your musical identity and make connections with other people that have similar tastes then we’re doing a much better job of helping music discovery.” Shane Tobin, Director of Strategic Partnerships at The Echo Nest

What’s your musical taste profile?

Are you adventurous? Do you hop genres? Do you go outside your comfort zone? Shane talks about how The Echo Nest helps recommend music for Spotify, Vevo, Rdio, MOG, Clear Channel, MTV, Nokia, EMI and a community of over 18,000 independent app developers.

Hi Shane, thank you for talking with us today. You have an amazing perspective on the digital music revolution. Your databases help power most of the major streaming services and music apps. But before we get into that, can you please tell us exactly what The Echo Nest does?

There’s really two sides to The Echo Nest. There’s the acoustic analysis side which is basically understanding all the components that make up an audio track: beat, tempo, rhythm, time signature, everything that kind of makes up audio. And then being able to turn that into data points that you can then use to develop applications.

That’s one side of it. The other side is understanding music contextually; understanding everything that humans are saying about music online.  There’s a lot of talk out there about algorithms solving music but that’s the opposite of the way we look at it.  We’re trying to take a human approach and understand everything that humans know about music.   I think that’s an important thing to know about the company because a lot of times, people see an API and they just think ‘oh, this is just a  computer program to understand music’ and you know, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s really trying to take all the knowledge humans have and then turn that into building blocks that you can use to create really great compelling music products.

Got it. But why collect all that data? What’s the end goal?

The founders started The Echo Nest from an academic level. There was nobody else doing anything like this. There’s all this information out there —there are blogs, news, review, biographies that are happening around music, but nobody who’s taking all of it and processing it in a way where you can manage it and build whole applications that will help you discover more music. So they spent a lot of time understanding how to make this data more accessible to developers. The next phase for us is understanding people.

If I can understand you and your musical identity and your taste, I can do a much better job connecting you with other similar types of music fans. They could be DJs or celebrity musicians or they can be someone a thousand miles away from you who has similar tastes in music but also might be digging a little deeper into the catalog that you. Finding taste makers for you, we feel, is an important connection. If we can understand your musical identity and make connections with other people that have similar tastes then we’re doing a much better job of helping create a social music discovery layer.

I understand exactly what you’re saying and as a music lover, I hear the power in what you’re offering. To connect with somebody who has the same fingerprint or the same tastes without any boundaries or borders, well that’s just revolutionary.

Yeah, in the fall we released attributes for a taste profile to understand your music diversity; how much music you’re listening to across multiple different genres, are you adventurous, are you open to new music that’s outside your comfort zone? Do you want to hear new releases or are you more locked into specific time period. You might just be interested in jazz from the 50′s and so — if that’s your wheelhouse and you don’t really go outside of that — we can then take that and say here’s the type of music that you are interested in and here’s more releases that you may not know about with that exact criteria in that time-frame.

So not only are you collecting data about all the music that exists in the world, you can also collect data on everyone who is listening to music and interacting with it. So you’re able to really put the two sides of that database together and give listeners exactly what they’re looking for.

Yeah. That’s definitely the hope for sure.

Wow, so what’s the future look like? I mean once that’s possible, then what happens?

Well, I think you will start seeing the next generation of music services. As it stands now, I don’t think we’ve gotten to a place of personalization where music is just kind of popping up and being displayed exactly for you, that is perfectly suited to your tastes.

We’re getting there. I think a lot of services are working hard to empower this experience. Rdio is a good example. They have a very social component to the way that they present music and allow you to follow other users. I think that’s a step in the right direction. I think that we’ll see a lot more of that as these services grow and expand. Because at the end of the day if you think about it, everyone’s got the same catalog out there — they’ve got their licensing from the same places more or less— and so what’s going to become more and more meaningful as a user is how I experience that music and how I discover it.

There’s plenty of music out there. You’ll never stop discovering new releases, old releases, re-issues. It’s just a matter of how services make their users happy. One important thing I try to remember is that I’m a hard core music fan but I’m not the norm; most people are just looking for a very simple way to hear music they like —very quickly— and have a pleasing music experience as they drive to work or to pick up their kids or do whatever they’re doing. Services need to be as simple as possible for the everyday listener who just wants music to kind of make their day and yet deep enough for the people that are intense music fans who want to dig in and  get really nerdy about the whole thing.

Amazing. Simply amazing. And with that, thank you for sharing all of this Shane.

Shane has been an executive in the digital music business for over 14 years. Early on he produced concert webcasts and artist interviews for House of Blues Digital.  He then went on to manage Grammy Nominated Latin afro-funk band, Yerba Buena.

In 2006, he moved to San Francisco and was an early member of imeem where he was Director of Business Development and built out the music team.  In 2009 he was recruited by MobiTV to head up their Business Development efforts in music as well as handling licensing for NBA, UFC and Fox Sports.

Shane has been known to play golf, snowboard, travel with his camera and frequent the city of New Orleans as much as possible.

This interview was originally published by Mike Dias for Ultimate Ears


Share This

About the author

Mike Dias is a Sales Director for Logitech. He specializes in consumer electronics & pro audio with an expertise in headphones & portable audio. He has over 15 years of experience selling custom handcrafted in-ear monitors.

View all articles by Mike Dias