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The Echo Nest Makes Pandora Look Like a Transistor Radio pandora raido

The Echo Nest Makes Pandora Look Like a Transistor Radio

More cowbell! Everyone from Christopher Walken enthusiasts to major record labels to Columbia University is excited about The Echo Nest. The many uses, frivolous and non-, of Echo Nest’s massive 30-million-song dataset.

The Echo Nest Makes Pandora Look Like a Transistor Radio

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You music lovers out there probably think we’re living in a Golden Age. iTunes, Pandora, Rhapsody, music distribution and discovery couldn’t get any better, right? With the proliferation of music sites and apps, we must be at some sort of saturation point, after all, the telos of digital music technology.

But spend a bit of time talking to Brian Whitman, cofounder of The Echo Nest, and you realize that we’re really in a digital music Stone Age. Sure, we’ve come a long way, but there’s still plenty we can’t do–our recommendation engines are limited, as is our ability to sift information automatically from songs (to tell the sex of a singer just from his or her voice, for instance). The Echo Nest, a five-year-old company devoted to aggregating, indexing, using, and sharing vast troves of music data, just announced a collaboration with Columbia University’s LabROSA (Laboratory for the Recognition and Organization of Speech and Audio) on something called the Million Song Dataset, free to use for non-commercial music researchers.

Let’s begin with music recommendation. What’s wrong with Pandora? Repetition. Even cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer Tim Westergren admitted recently that they’re working on the repetition. Pandora’s site declares that there are 800,000 songs and counting in its database. Not a negligible number, by any means. But Echo Nest has 30 million. “It’s great for a top 40 radio experience,” Whitman tells Fast Company, giving Pandora credit where due. “But if you want to dig deep down into a lot more music, you need some automated discovery platform.” Whereas Pandora proudly employs people to manually go through music and classify it, The Echo Nest, says Whitman, “understands the world of music automatically.” And not just how it sounds.

The Echo Nest crawls the web in search of music and writing about music; it also partners with major labels like Universal and aggregators like 7Digital. It then devours data about the music, on both the “acoustic side”–tempo, key, etc. (Echo Nest’s system crunches that sort of data in about 10 seconds for a song)–and the “cultural side”–what reviewers are saying about the music for instance. It crawls the web, Google-style, ravenous for new musical information. If you tweet about the band you saw last night, “we have that in our databases within the hour,” says Whitman.

What are the uses of data on 30 million songs? Broadly, there are two categories: commercial and academic.

On the commercial side, one of the most exciting uses of Echo Nest is that its data will empower the next generation of app-makers to make apps we can’t even imagine yet. About 150 apps have already been made using the application; they’re listed here. Some highlights include last week’s launch, “Pocket Hipster,” in which a mustachioed jerk with an ironic bowtie, suspenders, and a fixed gear bike scrutinizes your playlist, tells you how horrible it is, and recommends little-known gems. The Echo Nest has also partnered with MTV to power its Music Meter, which updates every 15 minutes or so with information about which bands are most talked about on the Internet. Music Meter just launched in mobile app form yesterday. The Echo Nest’s massive database makes it better at understanding “the long tail of music,” says Whitman, “stuff waiting out there to be discovered, but no one knows about it.”

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One of the first fun apps that came out using The Echo Nest’s data was inspired by the Saturday Night Live sketch in which Christopher Walken urges Blue Oyster Cult’s percussionist to go nuts on the cowbell.

Didn’t you think Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life” just was missing a little … something? Me too.

  Make your own at MoreCowbell.dj  

“It was a crazy thing I never would have imagined,” says a bemused Whitman. “This was my dissertation work, and people are now making joke apps from it.”

The other use category is academia, and that’s where the free-to-use Million Song Dataset comes in. Researchers in, say, physics, share the same reality, so they can replicate each other’s experiments and advance the science. But researchers in music information retrieval haven’t had the same reality to share, so to speak–they haven’t had a large shared data set. Until now. “This is me giving a gift to my graduate school doppelganger, 10 years younger than me,” says Whitman, a PhD graduate of MIT’s Media Lab.

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The world of academic digital music research is one many of us haven’t considered. Whitman identifies a few major research problems. Though the human ear can easily separate the sound of a guitar from the sound of drums from the sound of a voice, computers can’t do that yet, making full transcription of songs a hugely labor-intensive task. A program that can listen to a song and transcribe each instrument’s role would be a major leap forward. Others are trying to devise a program that could identify the year or decade a song was made, just from listening to it (sifting things like production values, whether the song’s in mono or stereo, and so on). There are already programs that are very good at identifying the genre of a song.

We can’t know yet what the full fruits of Echo Nest’s datasets will be. “Surprise us,” says The Echo Nest’s site, in a challenge to researchers and developers everywhere. In the meantime, crank up the cowbell.

  Make your own at MoreCowbell.dj  

 

Read More: Most Innovative Companies: Pandora

Follow Fast Company on Twitter.

 

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[Image by Art Renewal Center Museum & Andrew Hur

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About the author

David Zax is a contributing writer for Fast Company. His writing has appeared in many publications, including Smithsonian, Slate, Wired, and The Wall Street Journal.

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How much data does Pandora use?

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How much data does Pandora use?

Post#1 » Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:17 pm

I was an early adopter of Sirius satellite radio back in the early 2000's. I signed up not long after I heard about it because I hated the fact that I only got to hear a couple of songs on the FM radio during my 35 minute commute (each way) to/from work. So, I've been paying them for a long, long time. I have a long commute, and I loved the fact that I could listen to MUSIC on my commute, instead of commercials and DJ's (who all seem to think that they are the most interesting people in the world).

Lately though, I've been gearing up to replace Sirius Satellite Radio with Pandora (or something similar) using my smartphone as the driver. I don't want to pay Sirius $12.95 (plus tax) per month anymore! Honestly, I've been looking at this for more than 2 years. When I changed from AT&T to Sprint in October 2011 (with an unlimited data plan), I was looking at this. The problem, for me, was the inconvenience... The radio in my car does not have a Bluetooth audio module, and I am unwilling to pay almost $1000 for it from the dealer. I would really like to upgrade the radio to a new-fangled Kenwood unit that has navigation, bluetooth, etc, etc, etc. However, that unit (with the required Chrysler interface) is even more expensive than the factory upgrade... and there are other priorities in my life that prevent me from paying that much money for a car stereo (kids' education, clothing, and gifts come to mind).

When I bought my car in 2011, it came with 1 year of free Sirius. I transferred my (pay) account to the free 12-month subscription that came with the car. And, then I let it lapse. Since I cancelled, I've received offers as cheap as $19.99 for 6 months of service from Sirius... but I know these are limited-term offers (FYI: I've heard that if you call and claim that you got a letter in the mail offering the $19.99 deal for 6 months, they won't question it). They are only offering this cheap deal in hopes that I will just let it automatically renew at the then-current (higher) rate.

I recently switched from Sprint to T-Mobile, because T-Mobile seems to have the best "Bring Your Own Phone" (BYOP) plan, when compared to the competition (I'm paying $135+tax for four lines with my employer discount. Three of the lines have 2.5GB/month of data each, and the 4th line [mine] is unlimited data)... and... T-Mobile has excellent 4G coverage in Florida (BTW, Sprint had NO 4G coverage in my area, and I'm loving the amazing data throughput on T-Mobile). For reference... On my home ISP (Brighthouse Networks), I get 30Mbps download and 2Mbps upload. On my phone (at home, with 2-bars), I get 32Mbps download and 5Mbps upload). Even when I'm in the local Wal-Mart (with a metal roof, and NO bars), my Internet speed is faster than it ever was on 3G, even when I had 5 bars on 3G. It's amazing.

For full disclosure, I bought two used Samsung Galaxy S4 phones (approx $400 each on e-Bay), one new Google Nexus 5 32GB ($395 on Google Play), and one new Samsung Galaxy Light ($240 from the T-Mobile store). I'm saving more than $100/month... so the phones will be paid-for in less than 10 months.

I get very good data coverage on my drive to/from work. There are only a couple of spots where coverage is iffy... and those only last about 30 seconds each. I think I can live with 60 seconds of silence every day to save $12.95/month! And... my test was done with "data roaming" turned off.

I read an article (here) that said:
For users of the free service, Pandora streams AAC+ files in stereo (no multi-channel) at a quality level of 64 kilobits per second via the Web browser. For Pandora One subscribers, it moves up to 192 kbps through the browser/desktop app. In-product apps like those found in a Roku box, Blu-ray player, or A/V receiver stream at 128 kbps. With mobile devices, the quality depends on the device and network, but it is never higher than 64 kbps.


The mobile device limitation of 64Kbps confounded me, because... honestly... the sound quality of the Pandora Android app (when the "Higher quality audio" setting is selected [under Settings -> Advanced]), the audio quality is quite frankly MUCH BETTER than Sirius satellite radio! And, I am using the FREE access to Pandora. I am NOT a Pandora ONE subscriber (which, as the article states, would still not give me better audio quality via the mobile app).

The audio quality is much better than FM radio. Not quite CD quality, but much better than FM. Pandora's Android app provides even better audio quality (but still not quite CD quality).
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Post#2 » Tue Jan 21, 2014 11:50 pm

Oops... I submitted the first post before I was finished.

I forgot to mention that I installed a Bluetooth audio adapter in my wife's car about a year ago (she rarely used it), and then for Christmas I bought new stereos for my wife and son... both with Bluetooth adapters built-in. So, I took the Bluetooth audio adapter from my wife's car, and installed it in mine (now that she has one built-in to her radio). Now, thanks to the Tasker app, when I get in my car... Pandora starts automatically.

So, to finish my thoughts (hope you could hold on that long)...

Here's what I discovered about Pandora data usage. I ran Pandora for a little more than 30 minutes. It seems that Pandora loads almost the whole song (if not all of it) up-front. This makes it difficult to get exact readings. But, I came very close to the 64Kbps as quoted in the article.

I disabled WiFi, which disables app updates because my phone is set to only update apps when on WiFi. (FYI: App updates are a big data user)

So, here are my findings, measured starting at 10 minutes, and then every 2 minutes until just after 30 minutes:

    10 min 5.59MB
    14 min 5.93MB
    16 min 10.72MB
    18 min 15.11MB
    20 min 15.21MB
    22 min 15.29MB
    24 min 15.33MB
    26 min 15.37MB
    28 min 17.85MB
    30 min 17.96MB

When I stopped the app (about 30 secs after the 30-minute measurement above), it measured 18.1 MB. I looked at what apps used data, and here's what I found:

    System: 16.77MB
    Pandora: 1.07MB
    Others: 265KB

It appears that the "System" value accounts for most of the music download. The "Pandora" value seems to be mainly advertisements and metadata. So, if you take the "Pandora" value plus the "System" value, you get 17.84MB. If you multiply that by 1024 (bytes per MB) and then divide it over the 1830 seconds that Pandora was running, you get 9.98260KB/second. Now, keep in mind... that's BYTES, not bits. So, to get bits... multiply by 8, and the result is 79.86Kbps (as I said... pretty darn close to 64Kbps).

I drive 35 minutes each way... or 4200 seconds round-trip.

So, if I use Pandora on my drive to/from work every day (79.86Kbs * 4200 seconds per day * 30 days), Pandora will use 10,062,360Kb (79.86 * 4200 * 30 = 10,062,360 kilo-bits), which is 1.1995GB (giga-bytes), or (10,062,360 / 8 / 1024 / 1024).

Hey! That means that I should be able to down-grade my service to the 2.5GB plan, saving me another $10 per month! I'll test it for a month, and maybe I'll do it! I've been on medical leave since Dec 19th, but I should return to work on Jan 30th (if the doctor signs a release). I'll test it, and report back!

But... I'm definitely dropping Sirius and using Pandora for now-on.
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Post#3 » Wed Jan 22, 2014 12:33 am

I dropped Sirius for good a few years ago now, but before that every time I called to cancel I got a killer deal to extend. I did that a couple of times until finally refusing their offer and canceling. This was during the recession and work wasn't so good so I still had to refuse their deal. Anyway, I miss it now and again.
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Post#4 » Wed Jan 22, 2014 1:38 am

Lifetime sirius. Mmmmm.
aeblank
 
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Post#5 » Wed Jan 22, 2014 4:42 pm

Lifetime Sirius is not quite lifetime. You are only allowed to transfer it to three different receivers over the life of the plan. So... get a new car or a new radio three times, and no more lifetime plan.

I really don't miss Sirius. With Pandora, I get to listen to the exact mix of music that I like... and it sometimes throws in a song that I've never heard before. I often like those new songs too. It's pretty good at picking music I like. When it picks bad ones (happens about once a week), they usually come in a set of 3 bad songs. I guess that's how Pandora tests to see if you might like something "different".

The commercials aren't very intrusive either. It seems that they play two short commercials about every 30 minutes. Not bad at all... much better than broadcast FM. Commercials are why I signed up with Sirius all those years ago. At the times of day when I drive to/from work, I found that the broadcast FM stations in my area only played one or two songs on my entire 35 minute commute... the rest was talk or commercials. I really don't want to hear a DJ blabber on-and-on, and I don't want to listen to nearly 30 minutes of commercials on my commute either.

Pandora is free, and free is for me!
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Post#6 » Wed Jan 22, 2014 4:48 pm

I mentioned it before, but welcome back Barnabas glad to hear your feeling better.

My neighbor has a Tesla S and when I was in it he showed me the dash. It has I believe Pandora built into it. How is this done and what kind of plan does he have? Would it be something Tesla gave him? I could not understand how he is always connected wifi without a separate data type plan and I do not think he understands when I ask him about it. Anyone know if you can get a radio/dash system specific to internet radio and not have a huge plan attached to it? Sounds like what you are looking for?

I did a little research:

http://green.autoblog.com/2013/10/18/te ... t-network/

no pricing etc.. but looks to be specific to Tesla etc.. Hey why not buy a Tesla so you can listen to internet radio :)
IownFIVEechos
 
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Post#7 » Wed Jan 22, 2014 6:05 pm

barnabas1969 wrote:Lifetime Sirius is not quite lifetime. You are only allowed to transfer it to three different receivers over the life of the plan. So... get a new car or a new radio three times, and no more lifetime plan.


If you "get into a car accident" or play phone rep roulette enough times, you'll find someone who will transfer your lifetime even if you hit the limit (and will probably waive the transfer fee). I would ditch them, (I even have grandfathered "unlimited" data from AT&T) but I've tried streaming services and reception just isn't good enough where I live for it to be viable.

But I once drove to Los Angeles and listened to Spotify in "Extreme Quality" mode and used 1 GB of data on the drive down :?
RyC
 
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Post#8 » Wed Jan 22, 2014 6:33 pm

@IownFIVEechos: I've been thinking about replacing the factory radio in my car with a nice new Kenwood that has everything built-in. It uses the phone's data connection (wirelessly), and allows you to control Pandora and several other music apps right from the radio's touch-screen. The Tesla might work this way, or it could have a built-in GSM radio (which would require a data plan).

@RyC: That's good info if I ever go back to Sirius. I have unlimited data on my phone, and I get very good speeds in my area. Pandora works great everywhere I normally drive. As I said in my (very long) posts above, I may even switch to 2.5GB/month on my line, if it turns out that I don't need more than that. T-Mobile allows you to choose how much data separately for each line. I chose 2.5GB for my wife and kids, and unlimited for me. Even their 2.5GB plans are "unlimited"... they just throttle you when you get over 2.5GB. I've read that T-Mobile will throttle the unlimited plans too, if they think you are abusing it... but I think you have to use more than 5GB/month consistently before they do that. I really couldn't pass up the $135/month plan for 4 lines.
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Post#9 » Fri Jan 24, 2014 5:49 pm

I have been with XM, which is now Sirius XM for almost 10 years. I play the "cancel game" every 6 month. And pay basically $5/month.

I also have a lifetime radio that I bought at a garage sale for $5, that one I pay nothing on.

When I first tried streaming in the car, about 10 years ago, the results were less than positive.

I had one of those Verizon unlimited plans. Sure, the phone, at the time was primitive, by today's standards I think it ran on Java, but it worked, kind of. On a long drive, I would hit areas of no cell phone reception, or no data signal... it was just annoying. Which was the reason I got XM at that time.

So, if you are thinking of killing your Sirius, in favor of Pandora, drive with Pandora on, and see if you get consistent signal. You may get consistent signal, as you said everywhere you drive, but have you tried streaming Pandora while you are driving, yet?
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Post#10 » Fri Jan 24, 2014 8:57 pm

I was doing some similar data transfer math a few months ago when I dropped Sirius (at least temporarily) for Pandora. I can get a steady stream for smooth Pandora playback for perhaps 50 of my 54 miles (roundtrip) each day. The problem is the 4 miles it doesn't work reliably are the 2 miles leading to my house. YOu quickly go from 4G LTE to 4G, to Edge, to nothing. So - you have to wait to turn on the music, which is lame, especially if you are only going on a short trip. The wife is pushing to get Sirius back, because by the time she gets to the Supermarket, kid's schools, etc - she still has no signal. I don't use a ton of bandwidth in general since I am on WiFi at home and at work - so I have plenty of my 2.5GB plan to spare for this. So far I am only getting to like 1.3GB/month using this perhaps 3-5 days a week (plus other uses of bandwidth here and there).

Anyway - one solution I had tried was to use PlayLater to rip Pandora on my desktop. It creates a video file, but sadly gets stuck after about an hour when it starts wondering "are you still listening". I then take those one hour clips and clean them up and convert them to mp3 files with Any Video Convert. I create a folder for each station and just let the Android muisc player shuffle through them. I think it is roughly 50MB per hour in the mp3 format. Sound quality is good, better than Sirius has been for the last several years.
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Post#11 » Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:21 pm

blueiedgod wrote:So, if you are thinking of killing your Sirius, in favor of Pandora, drive with Pandora on, and see if you get consistent signal. You may get consistent signal, as you said everywhere you drive, but have you tried streaming Pandora while you are driving, yet?

Yep, that's how I tested it. Like I said, there were only two spots where the music cut out for about 30 seconds each. And, that was before I turned on the data roaming setting in the phone. I haven't tested it since then... but I return to work on the 30th, so I'll be using it daily starting then.
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Post#12 » Sat Jan 25, 2014 2:23 pm

Doctor Feelgood wrote:I was doing some similar data transfer math a few months ago when I dropped Sirius (at least temporarily) for Pandora. I can get a steady stream for smooth Pandora playback for perhaps 50 of my 54 miles (roundtrip) each day. The problem is the 4 miles it doesn't work reliably are the 2 miles leading to my house. YOu quickly go from 4G LTE to 4G, to Edge, to nothing. So - you have to wait to turn on the music, which is lame, especially if you are only going on a short trip. The wife is pushing to get Sirius back, because by the time she gets to the Supermarket, kid's schools, etc - she still has no signal. I don't use a ton of bandwidth in general since I am on WiFi at home and at work - so I have plenty of my 2.5GB plan to spare for this. So far I am only getting to like 1.3GB/month using this perhaps 3-5 days a week (plus other uses of bandwidth here and there).

Anyway - one solution I had tried was to use PlayLater to rip Pandora on my desktop. It creates a video file, but sadly gets stuck after about an hour when it starts wondering "are you still listening". I then take those one hour clips and clean them up and convert them to mp3 files with Any Video Convert. I create a folder for each station and just let the Android muisc player shuffle through them. I think it is roughly 50MB per hour in the mp3 format. Sound quality is good, better than Sirius has been for the last several years.

It works great all over town, including near my home. I've used it exclusively for the past week or two, and it works everywhere in town.
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Post#13 » Sat Jan 25, 2014 5:03 pm

I use slacker radio. The ios app allows you to locally store as many stations that your storage can handle. I've been using it for over 2 years now.
Wakeshark
 
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Post#14 » Mon Jan 27, 2014 6:59 am

Wakeshark wrote:I use slacker radio. The ios app allows you to locally store as many stations that your storage can handle. I've been using it for over 2 years now.

Does slacker allow you to customize "radio stations" like Pandora and iHeartRadio?
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