Comparing Music Suggestion Applications: Pandora, Musicovery, iLike, Jango, and StumbleAudio
This week we talked about music applications, specifically web 2.0 applications that help us find and discover new artists. All of the applications mentioned refer to themselves as “radios,” one way sources of music – but that’s analog radio. Radio web 2.0 is interactive, suggestive, and able to cross music genres at the click of a mouse. We judged the “radios” by how they suggested music, how easy they were to use, and how much we discovered about new artists.
All the applications streamed music and made suggestions for their interpretation of your musical tastes, and all of them had quick links for purchase. Each had some amount of artist information, and each of them allowed you to vote for or against the track. The chart below spells out some of the differences, and we’ll talk about the applications in greater detail following the chart.
|Play other songs on the album||no||yes||no||no||yes|
|Visitors can leave feedback for songs||yes||yes||no||no||no|
|Artist or song information available||yes||yes||yes||yes||no|
|Plays the full song||yes||yes*||yes||no||yes|
|Add comments for songs||no||yes||no||yes||no|
|Accuracy (genre selection is of that genre)||yes||yes||yes||yes||no|
|Widgets, or plugins||no||yes||no||yes||no|
|Suggestion algorithym||music based||human||music based||human||human|
|Song and artist search||yes||yes||no||yes||yes|
*with a Rhapsody account
We opened with one of the better known sources, Pandora. Pandora began with the Music Genome Project, an extensive effort to assign hundreds of elements to a song, making a database of music searchable by beat, melody, artist, and so on for a few hundred attributes. The result for Pandora was a strong database with an impressive list of artists, but that in of itself is not enough. Fortunately, Pandora supplies the other side of the equation too, an impressive interface with tools to make the most of their substantial database. From the sign in Pandora shows its greatest strength, playing music that flows easily together regardless of genre. Music is grouped into “stations,” another term from the analog radio days, with each station acting as a launch point for music discovery. Suppose we were to do a search for “Beggin,” the Frankie Valli song that was covered recently by Madcon. Both versions would come up, and as you’ll see in the below screenshot, a number of attributes are already attached to the song. When we create a station from that song, music selected with those attributes will play, one after another, making a station catered to your tastes. When you return to Pandora, the station is still there, ready to resume.
Among the unique features of Pandora are the ability to mix stations (they call this QuickMix), move songs from one station to another, and a music industry video series. The downside to Pandora is that it is very much a music suggestion engine – its purpose is to expose you to new music and not let you develop playlists for replay. In fact, a direct search for your song places that song as a station but does not play it, instead gives you a trail of music based on the song.
Musicovery starts from a different place entirely – your mood. At the top of Musicovery is a chart for you to select the mood of the music you would like, then a chart of major genres. Once you’ve selected the mood and genre, a map of music will appear. Click on the song you like and the play options open. So far this has not been unexpected, but as one follows the connections between the song bubbles, you see that the map shifts, optimizing the songs in view for whatever you select. It’s a great way to see several genres at once (each genre is marked by a color), all linked by musical elements. Once you’ve registered you can bookmark and ban songs from your map, though for direct access to your favorite songs, Musicovery requires a $4 premium membership.
Musicovery is an entertaining tool for music discovery, and the engine does deliver a mix according to your search, but it is a significant downfall that there are no ways to directly influence the music. There is no place to enter titles or names so if you are looking for someone like 50 Cent, you have to browse by genre, hoping to run across it. It is this lack of control which makes Musicovery useful only if you are browsing.
If Musicovery gives recommendations based on genre, iLike bases its suggestions on people, relying on a network of your friends or other networks of people to fuel the music selection. From the beginning you are encouraged to find at least one network (since it improves the search results), which is the downside to the application. The radio will play on its own, but unlike Pandora or Musicovery, without active participation the potential of music discovery is limited.
It should be pointed out that iLike does not expect friends to join en masse without some help. iLike provides a number of tools to develop your network, including internal messaging, email invites, and import options for contacts. Another significant feature of iLike is a downloadable plugin for Windows Media Player and iTunes, which offers the user the ability to use their home library as a basis for music suggestion.
Another music suggestion site that relies on the social network is Jango, whose special feature is that they offer song lyrics and easy access to other users’ stations. It offers much of what iLike does, but there is no downloadable plugin. It does have an embeddable widget into MySpace, which may go a long way to describe both the look and database of Jango. Most genres are represented in Jango, but at the time we searched, there was more activity for contemporary artists. To Jango at least, less popular artists such as Slim Whitman, and songs like the “Charleston” are completely beyond appeal.
Appealing, at least on the surface, is StumbleAudio, which has a visually engaging interface, well planned infrastructure, and a database that could make a music lover cringe. At the time of this review the indie music site was confusing genres, slipping Gospel into Rock and Christmas music into World. In StumbleAudio’s defense they are attempting to show independent and most likely unknown artists so they may require the assistance of the users to determine value, yet there were no links to correct the classification.
All the applications are free, though Musicovery has a monthly $4 premium membership that sets the lo-fi to an ad-free hi-fi. iLike only plays partial songs (most of it unless it is featured), but does offer full songs to users who have a paid subscription through Rhapsody. For sheer playability and information, Pandora is the strongest of applications mentioned. Some users have found it so playable that they actually use it as a radio, a commercial free player that plays well matched songs to your preferences. With an impressive database, artist pages, bios, and highly searchable it is easy to overlook that you can not listen to a searched track. It does exactly what you would want to do – help you discover music. Musicovery would be a second, with its mapped song clouds perfect for the user browsing through genres. Because of the investment in time and the smaller databases, Jango and iLike are runners up – too cumbersome for casual use, but excellent choices for the user who is looking to add more music to their social networking.
For more information on Pandora, Musicovery, Jango, iLike, and StumbleAudio, and to find these applications and others like them there is the Listio search discover+music.
Previously in this series: StumbleAudio: Engine For Music Discovery
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Pandora/
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Musicovery/
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/Jango/
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/iLike/
Listio Profile: http://www.listio.com/web20/app/StumbleAudio/
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