The Future of Music Genres Is Here

January 16, 2014

We’ve always felt ambivalent about the word “genre” at The Echo Nest. On one hand, it’s the most universal shorthand for classifying music, because everyone has a basic understanding of the big, old music genres: Rock, Jazz, Classical, and so on.

On the other hand, those same basic genres — as helpful as they were for categorizing three rows of vinyl in a record store — are of little use to today’s music fans, as they stare into an abyss of 30 million songs from all over the world.

Asking for “Rock” is only slightly better than "Play me some songs that are music."

The Echo Nest API and playlist engine has long supported genre radio and the ability to browse music by “top terms,” which are the words most commonly used to describe a piece of music. They’re far more granular than the big, static genres of the past. We’ve been maintaining an internal list of dynamic genre categories for about 800 different kinds of music. We also know what role each artist or song plays in its genre (whether they are a key artist for that genre, one of the most commonly played, or an up-and-comer).

Today, we are opening up our genres through our API. Now, our customers and developer community can access a bunch of new genre-oriented features, including:

  • A list of nearly 800 genres from the real world of music
  • Names and editorial descriptions of every genre
  • Essential artists from any genre
  • Similar genres to any genre
  • Verified explainer links to third-party resources when available
  • Genre search by keyword
  • Ranked genres associated with artists
  • Three radio “presets” for each genre: Core (the songs most representative of the genre); In Rotation (the songs being played most frequently in any genre today); and Emerging (up-and-coming songs within the genre).

We’ll be offering these new genre features as enhancements to our Music Discovery & Personalization and Dynamic Music Data solutions, helping our partners deliver a better, more compelling music discovery experience to hundreds of millions of people.

Where did these genres come from?

First, it’s important to remember that The Echo Nest’s music intelligence platform continuously learns about music. Most other static genre solutions classify music into rigid, hierarchical relationships, but our system reads everything written about music on the web, and listens to millions of new songs all the time, to identify their acoustic attributes.

This enables our genres to react to changes in music as they happen. To create dynamic genres, The Echo Nest identifies salient terms used to describe music (e.g., “math rock,” “IDM”, etc.), just as they start to appear. We then model genres as dynamic music clusters — groupings of artists and songs that share common descriptors, and similar acoustic and cultural attributes. When a new genre forms, we know about it, and music fans who listen to our customers’ apps and services will be able to discover it right away, too.

Our approach to genres is trend-aware. That means it knows not only what artists and songs fall into a given genre, but also how those songs and artists are trending among actual music fans, within those genres.

About 260 of these nearly 800 genres are hyper-regional, meaning that they are tied to specific places. Our genre system sees these forms of music as they actually exist; it can help the curious music fan hear the differences, for instance, between Luk Thung, Benga, and Zim music.

These new genres are rolling out today. You can listen to them right now on Every Noise At Once, where we’ve been previewing them, or on Music Popcorn, which is also pretty fun:

To keep your ears stimulated, check out the "Genre A Day" web app, or subscribe to our brand new “Genre A Day” Twitter.

As fun as they are, Every Noise At Once, Music Popcorn, and Genre A Day are demonstrations. We can’t wait to put these new genres into the hands of the hundreds of millions of music fans who use the apps and services powered by our world-leading music intelligence, which now includes the best, most accurate genres available anywhere.

To find out how to implement these new genres in your service or app, head over here for more information.