Last month, idiomag launched its new developer API that gives 3rd parties access to all sorts of music related data. In particular, the API gives you access to artist data such as news articles, reviews and interviews, videos, images and MP3s. They provide 'similar artist'-style recommendations as well as personalized recommendations based on an individual's listening habits (they'll base the recommendations on your listening data that they hoover from sites like Pandora, or iMeem). They also will give you recommendations based upon your APML (attention profile markup language). (I like how they use our TasteBroker as source of APML for their sample documentation).

The API is designed rather well. They support 3 types of output: 'xml', 'json' and 'rss' (and for some methods, 'apml' 'xspf' and 'foaf') - so parsing the output will be pretty straightforward for anyone who's used any kind of web services. The do have a few rather funky conventions like the parameter name artists[]' to indicate multiple artists like so:[]=muse&artists[]=radiohead
but thats no big deal. All of their API methods require an application key. One beef I have is with the documentation - they don't have any clickable examples in the docs - so trying out the API is rather laborious - first you have to copy the url prefix, add your secret key, add the method arguments and finally the parameters. Update 2 The Idiomag folks are fixing this ... some of the methods now have clickable link/examples. Woohoo! They should follow the lead of APIs like or the EchoNest and create a demo key that they can use in their docs so that all services can have a clickable example. (The gold standard for web api documentation is the Flickr services - their 'flickr Api Explorer' lets you easily try out all aspects of the API from your web browser). There was one glitch in the API - any attempt to format output in APML triggers an error Fatal error: Class 'xmlWriter' not found in /var/www/html/app/views/helpers/apml.php on line 11 - looks like something is misconfigured in the web server. Update: the Idiomag guys have fixed this already

The API provides 5 types of services: Articles, Artist, User, Tag and Recommendation.

  • articles - returns recent and featured articles from the Idiomag catalog
  • artist - returns all sorts of info about artists including related artists, tags, articles, playlists, videos images. The tag coverage seems quite sparse and uneven. The Beatles have only 3 tags (Classic rock, rock and pop) while Aphex Twin has 6 (electronic, ambient, IDM, experimental, electronica, techno).
  • user - returns info tailored to a specific user - surprisingly, APML is not one of the supported output types for user/info. Update - APML is supported, it was just an error in the documentation. Fixed already.
  • tag - returns information about a tag- apparently these are not traditional social tags - they seem to come from a fixed vocabulary of tags (the link that is supposed to give me the list of all tags currently available is broken however, so I can't see how big the list is). The results seem a bit unusual. For instance, the first 4 artists returned for the tag 'rock' are 'Forward, Russia, '10 Years', '12 Stones', '3 Doors down'. So perhaps we are getting an alphabetical list (but I don't know how 'Forward Russia' got to the front of the list). I would have expected a list ordered by tag frequency which should yield something more like: the beatles, radiohead, coldplay, oasis.
  • recommendation - gives artist recommendations, based either on an APML file, an artist list, or my listening behavior at one of 10 or so social music sites.
Lets take a look at the recommendations. I tried the API with a single artist as a seed to start things off:

seed: the beatles

  • Sting and Edin Karamazov
  • William Shatner
  • The Kinks
  • Elvis
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Led Zeppelin
  • Paul McCartney
  • The Mamas and the Papas
  • The Beach Boys
  • George Harrison
This is funny list - Sting and Edin Karamazov have been playing 16th-century Elizebethan music, Shater is, well, Shatner - so for the top two recommendations, these certain win on the novelty scale (but perhaps fail on the relevant scale), also notable in its absence is John Lennon in the top 20 (he does appear paired with Yoko, but not by himself)

seed: emerson, lake and palmer

  • Rick Wakeman
  • Gentle Giant
  • Atomic Rooster
  • Moody Blues
  • Van der Graaf Generator
  • Asia
  • Aphrodite's Child
  • Kansas
  • Caravan
  • Camel
That's a pretty reasonable list.


  • Blonde Redhead
  • Asobi Seksu
  • Odiorne
  • Quickspace
  • The Fiery Frnaces
  • Menomena
Again, a reasonable list.

seed:miles davis

  • John Coltrane
  • Miles Davis and Gil Evans
  • Chet Baker
  • Bill Carrothers
  • Charles Mingus
  • Stan Getz
A totally fine list

One of the neat things about Idiomag is that they can suck up my user profile from and give me recommendations based on my listening habits. However, the recommendations seemed to be a bit skewed to the novel side of the spectrum. Of the 20 artists recommended, I recognized only 2 (one I know I don't like, the other is already in regular rotation) - it would be helpful if Idiomag could offer some explanation of why an artist was recommended (such as 'we are recommending wolf eyes because their noise rock is similar in style to deerhoof')

The catalog of artists seems to be pretty deep - but I did notice some omissions. No Yo Yo Ma, no Maynard Ferguson, no Keith Fullerton Whitman.

One shortcoming of the API is that there doesn't seem to be any way to resolve ambiguous artists, so if I want recommendations for Prodigy (the rap artist) and not Prodigy (the guitarist) or The Prodigy (the UK electronic group), I am out of luck. There's no way to search the catalog for near spellings - so if you try to get information for 'beatles' instead of 'the beatles' you will get no results. Idiomag should adopt the model that and the Echonest use - to provide an artist search api that returns a list of scored matches with an associated musicbrainz id, and allow the id to be used in any subsequent method calls.

The API status feedback is also a bit thin - there's no way to tell from the API results if there's a problem. For instance, I tried to get recommendations based on seed artists Metallica and Yo Yo Ma (hoping to get a recommendation for Apocalypctica) - but the resulting recommendations were just the standard set of heavy metal bands - no sign of the cello at all. It took a while before I figured out that Yo Yo Ma wasn't factoring into the recommendations because Idiomag doesn't know about him.

One last issue, I can't seem to find any terms-of-use for the API that tells me how often I can make calls to the API, and whether I can use the data for commercial purposes - perhaps the TOS is hidden somewhere. But before I would consider using the API, I would really like to know what the rules of the road are.

Update 3 - idiomag has now published their terms-of-use It looks very similar (to my non-lawyerly eyes) to the terms - free non-commercial use, commercial use is OK, but if you start making insane amounts of money, idiomag may start charging you for the service

Despite a few quibbles, I like the Idiomag API - it puts lots of interesting data in the hands of the developer, much of it is data that would be hard to come by without paying lots of money. Given the large number of music-related startups (here's 200 that started just last year alone) finding a way to help all of these companies provide context for their users about music seems like a good idea.

Update - the Idiomag folk sure are responsive. I posted this to my blog, went to lunch, came back, killed some zombies, and then checked my comments here to find that they've already fixed a number of the issues that I pointed out. Looks like they really care about what they are doing. I like that.


Hi Paul,

Thanks very much for the review, Dan (Mr API here at idiomag) is working right now on the little bugs you mentioned, so those should be fixed very soon!


Posted by Edward Barrow on January 08, 2009 at 12:45 PM EST #

Looks like the call to get the list of available tags is an api call and requires the output format and your key

Results are pretty good for the few i have tested. Just need to find those darn T&Cs!

Posted by Mark Unsworth on January 08, 2009 at 01:05 PM EST #

Thanks for taking a look at our API Paul.

I'm sorry about the issues with APML, this is now fixed and available as an output format. A full list of our tags is now also available at

We'll have a TOS for the API and clickable examples in the documentation up on the site soon.

- Dan

Posted by Dan W on January 08, 2009 at 01:34 PM EST #

[Trackback] Bookmarked your post over at Blog!

Posted by 3 doors down on January 13, 2009 at 04:48 AM EST #

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