"Fresh Finds is a distillation of the hippest users on Spotify," says Whitman, pulling up a list of 38 tracks projected against the conference room wall. "These are the artists that are going to break out soon because they're being listened to by these people."
I don't recognize any of the artists on the list. Neither did he, Whitman admits. But now many of them have made their way into his daily rotation. "Just wait a few weeks and people will start talking more and more about them and they'll take off."
How does he know? The machines told him, naturally. Fresh Finds takes a central component of The Echo Nest's original methodology—its web content crawler and natural language processing technology—to mine music blogs and reviews from sites like Pitchfork and NME and figure out which artists are starting to generate buzz, but don't yet have the listenership to show for it. Using natural language processing, the system analyzes the text of these editorial sources to try and understand the sentiment around new artists. For instance, a blogger might write that a band's "new EP blends an early '90s throwback grunge sound with mid-'80s-style synthesizers and production—and it's the best thing to come out of Detroit in years." If this imaginary act goes on tour and writers in Brooklyn dole out praise of their own, the bots will pick up on it. It helps address an issue some people have voiced early on with Apple Music, that its selections aren't adventurous and it tends to recommend things you already like rather than things you might like.
vs. Apple's approach
"When I met a lot of our competitors in the field the first thing they said to me was, 'Look we don't have anything to do with music, we're a utility'" Iovine says. "[But] no matter how you shake it, when you listen to a radio station that was programmed purely by an algorithm you will go comfortably numb."
Apple's advantage, Iovine says, is one of scale: the scale of the resources it can put into human curation, and the scale of its ambition to do curation properly.
"Algorithms are great but they're very limited in what they can do as far as playing songs and playing a mood... And a lot of these companies they just go and hire somebody who used to work in the record business 25 years ago. Well, great. You have one person. We have hundreds... We have one of the great tech companies of all time building what we need."