Need another indicator that the musical landscape is changing? If you’re old enough to remember, consider this: In the past, how did you learn about music that you might enjoy?
A casual survey of my remaining brain cells reveals these answers:
1. From friends.
2. From the radio.
3. From MTV (and the like).
4. From articles on the web and in newspapers and magazines.
These are all perfectly fine resources, but they’re resources that have been filtered. Someone, somewhere has determined this music is worth your while due to some factor — a personal preference, a massive advertising campaign, or airplay that results from good old-fashioned payola. Very little of these recommendations are based on what people actually choose to listen to.
In the days when music was a tangible thing — a song played on the radio or data inscribed on a piece of media — it was difficult to track what music was blaring out of home and car stereos and personal music players. The digital music revolution has changed this. Now that music is just another hunk of data that takes up space on a computer’s hard drive and programs such as iTunes pay attention to how that data is put to use — how often it’s played on your iPod and computer, for example — it’s far easier to compile databases of the music we enjoy.
A Communal Concept
With that in mind, Toby Padilla has created a service that makes musical recommendations based on the contents of your music library. This ingenious scheme is called
Musicmobs and it works this way:
You create an account on the Musicmobs site and download an application or plug-in that allows the XML file that holds data pertaining to your music library — track titles and play counts, for example — to be uploaded to the service. Currently Musicmobs supports iTunes for Windows and Macintosh, Winamp for Windows, and Rhythmbox for Linux.
Once you’ve uploaded the file, all your songs are added to a database. In this database reside the track names and play counts of all the songs of all of Musicmobs’ users.
Musicmobs then creates a home page for you that lists all the artists from your music library followed by the number of times you’ve played tracks by each artist. The In Heavy Rotation area also shows the covers from albums that you’ve played most often. While this a great way to see where you’ve spent your musical moments, it’s just the tip of Musicmobs’ talents.
Open to Suggestion
Scroll to the bottom of your home page and you’ll see two interesting links: Similar Users and Musicmobs Suggests.
When you click Similar Users you’ll see a list of other Musicmobs users whose libraries are similar to yours. Click a link to one of these users to view their library. Within this library you can click an artist’s name to view a list of the songs by this artist that have been played the most often. Clicking a song title takes you to the iTunes Music Store where you can purchase the song. If you click on one of the album covers in the user’s Heavy Rotation area, a page appears that displays album covers by that artist. Click an album cover and you’re taken to Amazon.com, where you can purchase the CD.
The Musicmobs Suggests link is even more intriguing. Musicmobs compares the contents of your music library and how often you’ve played particular songs in it to that of its other users and, based on the similarity of your tastes to others, it generates a list of artists and their albums that might appeal to you.
If you’ve read this far and thought, “But I don’t have a compatible music client! What good is this to me?” never fear, Musicmobs has something to offer you as well. Travel to the site and, along the left side of the home page, you’ll see three fields beneath the Get Music Recommendations heading. Enter the name of up to three artists in these fields and click Recommend. Musicmobs will generate a list of artists that make sense, given your input.
To test the feature I entered Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, and Sun Ra and most of the results seemed logical — though how Carl Perkins and Cole Porter got mixed into the first ten results is beyond me. Entering John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Howlin’ Wolf produced a solid list of blues artists (I’m not sure I would have placed Koko Taylor at the top of that list as Musicmobs did).
Become a Mobster
If you’re running Mac OS X 10.3, you have even greater options thanks to the Mobster client. When you play a song in iTunes with Mobster running, the client generates two lists of artists — one list that reflects artists in your iTunes music library and another of artists not in your library.
From the In Your Library list you can select artists and create iTunes playlists with music by those artists. This is a great way to rediscover music in your library that you may not listen to or gather together music from a related group of artists. From a pop-up menu below this column you can ask iTunes to play songs by this artist, find the artist in the iTunes Music Store, search Mobster for the artist, or open that artist’s page in Musicmobs.
The Not In Your Library column lists artists not in your music library that you might like based on the currently playing track in iTunes. From this column’s pop-up menu you can find the artist in the iTunes Music Store, search in Mobster, or open the artist’s page in Musicmobs.
Of these choices, only Search in Mobster needs explanation. When you’ve chosen Search in Mobster and click on an artist’s name, Mobster offers artist recommendations from your music library and from Musicmobs. For example, clicking on Curtis Mayfield turned up Ray Charles, Sly & The Family Stone, and Chuck Berry from my iTunes Library and De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Breeders from the Not In Your Library column.
Mobster offers one other useful feature — the Hipster/Mainstream slider. As Toby explains it:
“The Hipster/Mainstream slider works relative to each artist you query. It basically filters the results linearly by popularity within all of the total results for that artist. So, sliding it all the way up gives you the most popular artists that were related to the queried artist, with a smooth transition all the way down to the “Hipster,” or least popular artists.”
Mobster is free and open source (though the Musicmobs data feeds aren’t) and good things are in store. Toby is seeking funding to exapnd to more platforms — mobile phones in particular.
More is Better
As you may have sensed, the more people who use Musicmobs, the more focused the recommendations are likely to be. Currently the service boasts 4,463 users, 252,479 artists, 8,006,216 songs, and 13,754,764 plays. Why not add your name (and music) to Musicmobs? For no money and very little effort, you may learn about some terrific tunes.