curation

GigaOm gets a view of how Beats instructs human curators to program playlists for new service

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 1:10pm

Music subscription services have lately shown a greater understanding of the power and need for musical "gatekeepers" or curators to help users parse the oceans of music to discover that which they're likely to enjoy (just lately, see Spotify Browse  and Rdio Stations). In radio, of course, these wise sherpas have been called "programmers."

Beats Music (more in RAIN here) has stated that effective curation is its guiding principle as it rebuilds the Mog service (we've covered this here).

GigaOm got access to some Beats Music "internal guidance" for the musicians and freelancers who are creating playlists for the new service. These programmers are working with a web authoring system to sample songs and build playlists that Beats Music editors request (apparently focused on artists, genres, years, and listener activity -- and less than 70 minutes long).

"Beats Music definitely doesn’t want to sound like college radio. It wants human curation, but no strong DJ characters, with the exception of those well-known musicians asked to participate," writes Janko Roettgers for GigaOm. "Freelancers are told to 'beware of personal whims' and 'avoid overly clever transitions.' Oh, and 'talking down to listeners' isn’t desired, either. Record store clerks apparently don’t need to apply."

Read GigaOm here.

FastCo Labs article reveals how Pandora continuously experiments and tweaks programming

Friday, August 16, 2013 - 12:15pm

Fast Company Labs has a fascinating article that reveals the extent to which Pandora experiments and researches how its audience reacts to different variables in the way it creates its playlists -- with the aim of increasing the rate at which users return to the service.

[By the way, if this sort of thing interests you, please our coverage of Rhapsody VP of product-content Jon Maples' on the importance of music curation here.]

We really want to encourage you to read the entire piece, but we've pulled out some bits we found particularly fascinating.

According to the article, by John Paul Titlow, Pandora's data scientists regularly divide and subdivide its audience into test groups, then continually tweak how music is delivered to listeners. For instance, they might vary how often songs are repeated, or the ratio of very familiar tunes to new music. Perhaps they'll vary the concentration of artists that are "local" to a listener, or how many "live" or "acoustic" versions of songs a listeners hears. They even monitor how listeners react to music given their geographical location, or the time of day.

Pandora has run thousands of these tests over the years, some months-long, some taking just a few weeks. And they've apparently resulted in some very interesting insights. For example, the webcaster has found that listeners are less tolerant of unfamiliar music while they're at work. So the webcaster has adjusted for this, and now your personal Pandora channel may seem more familiar between 9 and 5, and a little edgier at night or on the weekend.

Or, fans of instrumental music (like most Classical and Jazz) are generally more receptive to new music discovery -- fans of vocal pop music, the opposite. Titlow writes, "The distinction is so pronounced that stations based on instrumental hip-hop will yield more serendipitous moments of discovery than those based on lyric-heavy rap tracks."

Pandora has even tracked how the same listeners may interact with the music differently based on which type of device they're using at the time -- on the web, or a mobile phone, or a Blu-ray player in a home theater.

While much has been made about the origins of Pandora's Music Genome Project -- hundreds of trained music expers dissecting each track and scoring it on dozens of characterists -- it's user data (skips, "thumbs up/down," etc.) that are training the system now. In fact, Pandora listeners create data far faster than its staff of human experts can. And to be able to more quickly ingest new music, Pandora has developed its own "machine listening technology." It merges the computer analysis of music with input from human experts "to create a deeper understanding of the music its service spins."

The article ends with a short bit about applying this intelligence to the dynamics of group listening, and how new technology could enable that. Again, we'd like to encourage you to check out the article here.

Rhapsody VP Maples finds expert-curation key to minimizing audience churn

Thursday, August 15, 2013 - 11:20am

We've read (and written) lots on the increasing importance of "music curation" (what radio pros call "programming") for music subscription services.

It's great to offer tens of millions of songs, but how does a listener start? Millions have grown up with the radio and developed the habit of "lean-back" listening -- flip a switch, and "music!" Music subscription services are doing more and more to offer customers effortless experiences of music they'll enjoy (we've recently covered Spotify's new "Browse," Rdio's "Stations" -- and Beats Music's very mission as a service "heavy on curation").

Jon Maples, who's VP of product-content at musis service Rhapsody, today shares some of what his company has learned about how music programming impacts customer usage.

Beyond solving what Maples calls "the catalog problem" for the user ("What do I listen to?"), good music curation can help maintain an audience by minimizing "churn."

Churn is that rate at which customers abandon a service. Since it's expensive to constantly acquire new users, business naturally want to minimize churn. Maples says the key is to keep listeners active -- give them reasons to keep coming back and using the service.

"It seems obvious, but if a customer uses the product more, they are less likely to leave. In fact, we've found if we can get a customer to play more than 50 tracks a month, the churn rate drops in the double digits," he writes. We've "utilized curation as a driver, so that every time our members fire up the service, they're going to get something new to play."

He points to Rhapsody's "Featured" section, and the prominence of the service's curated playlists, stations, and posts. And it's important to apply that expert programming across as wide an offering as possible -- "speaking to a wide variety of tastes and interests," as Maples puts it. "Our best customers listen to more than 200 subgenres a year."

Rhapsody SVP/Product Paul Springer will speak on the "Streaming Music Trends" at RAIN Summit Orlando on September 17. More information and registration is here.

Read more from Rhapsody's Maples in Hypebot here.

New Spotify "Browse" adds "programmed radio" style experience

Monday, August 5, 2013 - 10:55am

Perhaps acknowledging the importance of "aided discovery" and music programming -- as well as some customers' desire for "lean-back" listening -- Spotify has introduced a new feature called "Browse" to its mobile apps. The feature spotlights expertly-curated playlists designed to accompany specific moods or activities ("romance," "jogging," "commuting") -- similar to both webcaster Songza and iHeartRadio's "Perfect For" streams.

According to CNet (who spoke with Spotify VP of product development Charlie Hellman), a staff of 35 "musicologists," music editors, and writers not only create custom playlists, but monitor usage data for the more than a billion user-created Spotify playlists to find the most popular.

A traditional differentiator between on-demand music subscription services like Spotify and true online radio has been "programming" -- the human-created selection of songs that fit together to create a listening experience.

In the past, Spotify has offered both a "custom radio" feature (a stream of music similar to a listener-supplied artist or song based on data from The Echo Nest) and basic radio genre listening ("Country," "Classic Rock," etc.).

The new "Browse" feature is available on Spotify mobile apps now, and will gradually be introduced to other platforms.

Read more in CNet here.

Updated Rhapsody iOS app built around curated playlists and editorial content

Monday, July 22, 2013 - 12:55pm

Rhapsody's new update to its Apple mobile app is focused on "lean back" listening and print content that "bring(s) the full editorial experience to iOS devices," the company announced. 

Rhapsody editors curate both playlists and extra content like new artist recommendations, album reviews, artist interviews, and videos.

"We guide listeners through that massive catalog by introducing them to new music and old favorites via curated editorial programming. It's like the difference between shopping at Nordstrom versus Costco," said Brendan Benzing, general manager, Americas, Rhapsody.

Rhapsody redesigned the app's look and navigation, upgraded album and artist pages, and added new full-screen play and pop-up menus to add, download, queue, or "favorite" tracks and albums.

Spotify ups its "curation" game by acquiring app startup Tunigo

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 - 12:50pm

AllThingsDigital reported last week that Spotify has purchased Swedish music discovery startup Tunigo, makers of a popular Spotify app (the news source's Peter Kafka compares the app to webcaster Songza, in that "it is focused on mood- and theme-based playlists").

Kafka thinks it's a sign that "companies are starting to emphasize curation" (that is -- ways to tame the mass of millions of artists and tracks in order to find quality music that suits your tastes).

Last fall Twitter bought music discovery startup We Are Hunted (which also made a popular Spotify app) to help it build its music service. Spotify's move, writes Kafka, is "putting a renewed emphasis on helping people find stuff they like — which has the obvious benefit of keeping them on the service longer, and/or convincing them to pay."

Read more on Spotify and Tunigo in AllThingsDigital here. As we mentioned elsewhere today, Spotify's Benelux managing director Tom Segers will join us for RAIN Summit Europe, May 23 at Brussels' Hotel Bloom. Info and registration links are on the RAIN Summit Europe page.

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