My First Impressions of iTunes 8 “Genius”

After Apple announced iTunes 8 yesterday, I downloaded and installed it, eager to see the new “Genius” feature. This feature had been rumored to be similar to Pandora, the wonderful service that finds you more music based on what you already like and don’t like. In actuality, Genius has two parts. The first is the “Genius Sidebar” which shows you songs from the iTunes store that “match” or in some way go with the songs currently selected in your library. The second part generates playlists based on a song selection. You select a song, click the Genius button, and it generates a playlist of songs from your music library.

Since I have such varied tastes in music, I decided to give the sidebar a whirl. I selected “Rock This Town” by Stray Cats and checked my results. Expecting to see other rockabilly bands, I was a bit surprised to see the top three results:

  1. The Romantics: What I Like About You
  2. Kiss: Strutter
  3. Mötley Crüe: Shout At the Devil

I guess they went with 80’s bands instead. The rest of the list included Billy Idol, Jane’s Addiction, Cheap Trick, and others whose heyday was in the 80’s.

I then selected “You and Me and Rainbows” by The Tear Garden. I was shocked to see the top recommendation was a song by Jessica Simpson, but then I saw the text at the top saying that they couldn’t find anything based on that song, but here’s the list of top songs at the iTunes store right now. Reassured that the Genius was not a moron, I carried on.

I then selected “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Genius did a good job with this one. 

  1. Jimmy Dean: Big Bad John
  2. Marty Robbins: El Paso
  3. Hank Williams: Your Cheatin’ Heart
  4. Roger Miller: Dang Me

In this case, not only did it match the generation, but it also matched the genre and feel of the song pretty well.

I then tried several Tom Waits songs. Most of the results involved Neil Young, Tom Petty and Nick Cave, none of whom I like. Based strictly on which songs I was picking, I don’t think the matches were very good. You could argue that the bands gained fame at roughly the same time, but Tom Waits’ style(s) don’t really match with the recommendations, in my opinion.

Pressing on, I selected “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” by Tony Bennett. The top recommendations were:

  1. Fred Astaire: Puttin’ On The Ritz
  2. Frank Sinatra: Nice ‘n’ Easy
  3. Bobby Darin: Call Me Irresponsible
  4. Ella Fitzgerald: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

Good selections. What I like most about the first one is that this Tony Bennett album was a collection of songs made famous by Fred Astaire. Thus, having an Astaire song as the first hit seems very genius-like.

Next, I selected “Quicksand” by Abdel Wright, a Jamaican singer who does mostly folksy, protesty songs. I don’t understand the results from Genius, which included Maia Sharp, North Mississippi Allstars and Kyle Riabko. The Duhks were also included with a cover of Sting’s “Love Is the Seventh Wave.” None of these songs/artists share a style with Wright, and I didn’t detect any degree of protest in the thirty second clips. Curious.

Finally, I tried two songs by Afro Celt Sound System: “Deep Channel” and “Lovers of Light.” The results for “Deep Channel” were mostly Indian-influenced groups, which don’t really fit, but weren’t awful. The results for “Lovers of Light” were much better, including a song by Baka Beyond, which was very similar musically. These results rather impressed me, as this band bends and blends styles.

So far it’s hit or miss with Genius. I haven’t used the playlist-generation feature much yet. At this moment I’m listening to a Genius-generated playlist based on “Deep Channel” and I’m not too sure about these results. 

Click to see larger image

Some of the results seem OK, but not all. I can only assume that as more people use Genius, the results will get better. For now, if you’re looking for recommendations, you should probably rely more on Pandora than Genius.

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2 thoughts on “My First Impressions of iTunes 8 “Genius”

  1. Interesting. I was hoping that it would do some sort of analysis on the song waveforms (the geek in me) and select from a database of music with similar patterns. But instead it looks like it’s just pulling from the “people who bought this song also bought” list, so I think the best way to look at it is:

    People who like what you like also like X, and so maybe you will too, rather than: here’s all the music similar in form and style to what you selected.

  2. I don’t know how Pandora does what they do, or what the “music genome project” really is, but they do a really good job of artist/song matching based on the actual music of a song. It’s really neat.

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