Why I Joined The Echo Nest: Discovery and Taste Profiling Done Right, by John Sierotko

January 23, 2013

The Echo Nest has a new chief revenue officer: John Sierotko, who joins us from Gracenote, where he headed all Sales, Marketing, and Services with annual revenues quadrupling during his tenure.  We’re thrilled to have John at the Nest. He has some great insights around why he decided to come on board….

I have worked in music technology for a long time, dealing with many of the world’s biggest device manufacturers, automakers, and music services. Last year saw a digital music boom, particularly in the evolution from downloading to streaming,  as large consumer electronics companies made significant bets on new players and cranked up their own internal initiatives. On top of that, record labels have mostly worked through their fears of music piracy and new business models, and now license their catalogs to a wide variety of companies that view music as paramount to their overall success as an industry.

The key now is differentiation.

The first way to do that is through “music discovery.” Most services have the same set of music, more or less, so they must seek to distinguish themselves, and there are plenty of ways to do that. Two such methods - playlisting and recommendations - traditionally apply some combination of editorially-created “similarity information” to large  catalogs, sometimes combined with “purchase data” or other collaborative filtering approaches (if available and/or meaningful). The results have proven mediocre at best, but the work that The Echo Nest has been doing to mix a deep understanding of how the music sounds (what the data guys here call psychoacoustic attributes like pitch, tempo, energy… and even whether a song is live or acoustic) with real-time cultural understanding, based on mining over 10 million documents on the web every day, to produce results that reflect what is really going on in music - right now.

Real-time relevance and music trend awareness provide playlisting and discovery results that represent a marked improvement over anything else in the market. That’s probably why The Echo Nest added about 25 new customers in 2012 alone, with a client roster that includes Clear Channel, MTV, Nokia, Rdio, Spotify and many others. It was obvious they have caught the attention of the market, and mine soon followed.

Smart playlisting and discovery features are the first steps towards a viable and compelling music streaming and/or download service. These features keep the user coming back, and they are crucial to any consumer driven business - and yet, to date, they have ignored much of the big picture: namely, the person doing the listening.

But by understanding everything a user does with music (purchases, likes, repeats, etc.), we can develop a sense of who they are as a person. Likewise, with a glance into a stranger’s grocery bag, I could probably tell you something about their lifestyle.  As they say, “you are what you eat.” I feel much the same way about music.

Music is a fabric of life, and we listen to it every day. It’s in our phone, our home, our workplace, and often functions as a barometer for the mood we are in - or want to be in. It elicits passionate arguments about what is popular, listenable, and why. 

The team at The Echo Nest has spent many years working to understand musical identity, and to develop an accurate, in-depth understanding of individual users based on their behavior around music. The implications are endless, and will allow services to customize themselves for and target each user through what we call a Taste Profile.

The future will bring smarter devices, more compelling interfaces, more personalized and social music experiences, and ultimately greater revenue for online music companies, through better user acquisition and targeted advertisements. The Echo Nest’s Taste Profiles are essential to all of these, and their ultimate result will be a happier, more loyal music consumer.

These Taste Profiles enable true differentiation. They are the “holy grail” that device manufacturers and content distributors alike have long sought.

So, like I said, I have been around music technology and strategies a long time (and some say you can measure time spent in music to “dog years,” so in a sense, I’ve been at it even longer). After paying close attention to what’s happening in the market, I believe The Echo Nest will continue to play  a vital role in the future of music consumption, and that Taste Profiles, the “next big thing” in music recommendation, will be a big part of that success. 

I also know that many of the major players in music - the companies that I have long been working with  - feel the same way. They are the ones who first directed me to these scientists in Somerville, Massachusetts as representing the future in music technology. I could go on about the enormous developer community here, the intuitive APIs, and best-in-class results - but invite you to sign up, give us a call, and discover why The Echo Nest is the best at what it does. I look forward to the conversation.

John Sierotko recently joined The Echo Nest as its Chief Revenue Officer, after running Global Sales & Marketing at Gracenote. He is now responsible for all sales, business development, and go-to-market strategy at The Echo Nest, and heads up our new San Francisco office.