At the ISMIR recommendation panel, Brian Whitman mentioned an Echo Nest showcase app called the Echo Chamber that adds the Echo Nest recommendation technology to imeem. This, to me, is a really big deal - imeem is one of the fastest growing music streaming sites on the web despite the fact that it has no discovery tools to help you find music. If you can add recommendation to imeem, especially the top-notch recommendation that you'd expect from the Echo Nest, then you could end up with a game changer - you could essentially replace Pandora and its million man-hours invested in the music genome project with a mash-up.


I gave the Echo Chamber a try this morning. In some ways it is very similar to Pandora. There's the minimalist interface. You can create a radio station by adding an artist to the station, and away you go ... the Echo Chamber will give you an infinite playlist of music related to the seed artist. Unlike Pandora, the Echo Chamber doesn't try to explain the recommendations but it does allow you to skip as many songs as you want (something Pandora won't let you do). So how good is the playlist? I started off by creating a station for "Emerson, Lake and Palmer" (the progressive rock band of the early 70s) - the first track played was "Drum Solo" from the live album - perhaps not the most popular or representative of ELP. However, I continued on with some good results

  • Still .. You turn me on - ELP
  • Birthright - Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe
  • Cross-Eyed Mary - Jethro Tull
  • I talk to the Wind - Giles, Giles & Fripp
  • The Queen - Gentle Giant - heh - this was funny, the metadata was right, but the audio was 'We will rock you' by Queen.
  • L'lsola Di Niente - Premiata Forneria Marconi - Italian Progressive rock - never heard this before - pretty neat stuff.
  • Lunar Lament - Demons & Wizards - some power metal
  • Octopus - Van Der Graaf Generator
  • Pices - Rick Wakeman & Tony Fernandez
All in all a pretty good list, with some new music by PFM, but with some funny mistakes - some power metal and the mislabled Gentle Giant song. However, with continued listening things started to get pretty far off of the rails. Some examples:

  • Is My Living in Vain - Zie'l - A funny match - a gospel R&B troupe - the only guess I can make about why this song is on the list is that they have an album called 'Genesis' which may be matched with the band by that name which is often paired with ELP
  • Camel Walk - Phish - Another mismatch - perhaps another metadata mixup while trying to find music by the band Camel
  • YES - by Tim - another botched match - smooth pop rock - but the song title is obviously being confused with the prog rock band of the same name.
  • Millennium Warfare - Hell Razah - Don't know why this rap track was in the mix
  • Sweetheart - Jont - this singer-songwriter adds to the WTF
  • All that I am Asia 4 - Asia 4 is being confused with ASIA
  • Genesis - Sky church - another 'genesis' confusion - metal with cookie monster vocals
So a mixed bag - it looks like the Echo Chamber is relying on the Echo Nest artist similarity. (See Below) These similar artists are used to generate the playlists - however there seems to be a disconnect between these artists and some of the songs on the playlist - artists names are mistakenly matching on track and album names which yields some crazy and sometimes funny results. I suspect that this may be a limitation in the imeem API - perhaps there's just no way to search the imeem catalog for tracks that match solely on the artist name.

With its playlists that go awry with the slightest nudge, the Echo Chamber is no replacement for Pandora's box, still - I really like the Premiata Forneria Marconi recommendation (the Echo Nest recommender is the first recommender of the many dozens that I've tried that have given me this novel and relevant recommendation). Hopefully, the folks at the nest will be able to straighten out the metadata matching issues and give us good playlists, there certainly is lots of potential here. I'm looking forward to the next effort to spring from the nest.

Using the Echo Nest Developers API we find these similar artists to ELP: Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe, Jethro Tull, Giles, Giles & Fripp, Emerson Lake and Powell, Gentle Giant, Premiata Forneria Marconi, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, Rick Wakeman, Genesis, Camel, U.K. Asia, Renaissance and Yes.

Not meaning to be boringly loyal to my (wonderful) paymasters, but I just checked the page for ELP and Premiata Forneria Marconi currently shows up as the fourth similar artist.

Posted by Mark Levy on September 24, 2008 at 10:56 AM EDT #

Mark - you are right .. mea culpua - I haven't looked at the ELP page at for a while -- last year when I was doing the music recommender survey, there was no Premiata Forneria Marconi in the similar artists for ELP. But looking back at the data I collected at that time, I do see that AMG was recommending 'PFM' which I assume is Premiata Forneria Marconi - so indeed I've received the PFM recommendation from several sources besides the Echo Nest.

Posted by Paul on September 24, 2008 at 11:35 AM EDT #

hi paul, as you surmised the weird results are due to poor metadata/search on the imeem end. Our favorite is a result for the beatles that returns the Zombies which returns a song with some interesting language that happened to be tagged "zombie." let me just say that both imeem and the echo nest are very aware of the problem :)


Posted by Brian Whitman on September 25, 2008 at 12:11 PM EDT #

and re: PFM, yeah, i don't think EN is being especially intelligent there, as much as I'd love to claim it. Looking around at our crawls lots of people put PFM alongside ELP. (This speaks to a huge problem i have with anonymous similar lists; that almost all of them end up being clones of muze/AMG lists for the top N familiar artists in the world.)

Give it a shot with some farther back left-field artists though, my test is to always try the DJ name I released a single 7" under in 1998.

Posted by Brian Whitman on September 25, 2008 at 12:26 PM EDT #

thanks for putting me on to this

quite a good service - recommendations are okay but needs to build on features to compete/kill with pandora - mainly need function to track music listened to and flag likes/dislikes.

also I think what these kind of recommendation engines need to figure out is how to introduce into the playlist the odd random track that is not really connected to the source track and can spice up the mix a bit. i tend to think the mixes get very samey and dull too often.

Posted by Phil on September 25, 2008 at 05:56 PM EDT #

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