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Student reflects on Music Industry internship

How My Internship Benefited The Future of Music
From NU Student Life
By Stephanie Falvo

The Echo Nest is the world’s leading music intelligence company, and I helped it get even better. During my “Music in Online and Mobile Environments” course with Professor Bob Lyons, I learned about the company and the digital music blog it publishes, Evolver.fm. While on co-op in the fall, I read Evolver.fm regularly and began to learn about the extensive world of music technology. I applied for an internship for my Spring 2013 semester and, much to my excitement, was selected to work on The Echo Nest’s Quality Assurance (QA) Marketing team.

To comprehend the significance of my work there, one must first understand the current music industry. It’s impossible to summarize neatly the complexities (read: craziness) that go on in the business daily : record label buyouts, startup flare-ups, artists lobbying for higher royalty rates, crowdfunding of artists and apps, and more. What you really need to know, and may already without realizing, is that the way we as consumers listen to music is changing. This is beyond a mere format shift like the ones that saw us shift from vinyl LPs to CDs; the platforms that we use to consume have shifted – they’ve gotten smarter. Way smarter. Platforms such as iTunesSpotifyPandoraRhapsody, Rdio, and more are consistently updating their services and technologies, much to the delight of music fans looking for something new to listen to, but presenting an increasingly complex landscape for artists and the industry.

As consumers, we are beginning to expect more from our music services. I don’t just want a place to catalogue my music, I want a platform that understands my (insanely eclectic) music tastes and can do something with that information. Take a look at radio genius platform Songza: Its homepage text features something similar to, “It’s 2:30 on a Monday afternoon, listen to music for…” and then a pretty comprehensive list of Monday afternoon activities populates in front of your eyes. How did you know I wanted some “working to a beat” music, Songza?! And how did you know to play some LCD Soundsystem first? It’s because companies like The Echo Nest taught the computer to know.

The Echo Nest provides the largest repository of dynamic music data in the world with over a trillion data points describing over 35 million songs. This incredible database is aggregated using web crawling, data mining, and digital audio processing techniques. If there’s one thing I learned while working at The Echo Nest, and there were many, it’s that although data is powerful, clean, organized data is even more powerful. This song data contains not only structural information, such as style, instrumentation, and timbre, but also cultural information surrounding the track, such as how it was viewed by the general public and any time periods of popularity. Besides these micro-level details, The Echo Nest’s database also contains information about how the song fits into its genre and how that genre fits into others. Put this all together and you have some pretty powerful data.

This database forms the core of The Echo Nest’s intelligence platform, which feeds into their Application Programming Interface, or API. This helps application developers build the next generation of music apps, and smarter apps make the listener’s experience more customizable. The music service Rdio recently announced a new recommendations feature powered by The Echo Nest. It takes in data about your listening history and then recommends new music tailored specifically for you, in a station called “You FM.”

Many amazing things have been created using the Echo Nest’s API. Glenn McDonald, Principle Engineer at the Echo Nest, built “Every Noise At Once”which allows consumers to explore musical genres via a word map. This map shows how The Echo Nest’s intelligence platform understands genres and even goes deeper to be able to show one genre, say indie rock, in depth. You can see a breakdown of the artists tagged as indie rock and how they relate to each other. It even pulls in sample music from Rdio when you click on an artist!

To enable and inspire developers to build new music apps using their API, The Echo Nest hosts Music Hack Days. Paul Lamere, Director of Developer Platform at The Echo Nest, sums up creations from the recent Chicago Music Hack Day on his blog, Music  Machinery. You can play with one of his cool creations from a past hack day here: “The Infinite Jukebox”.

Now that I’ve set the context I can state that it truly blows my mind to think my QA Marketing was helping The Echo Nest make these things happen. Each day, I improved this data, which reaches around 100 million music fans each day, to some extent. And I got this awesome experience because I chose Northeastern, a university that prides itself on its students performing real-life work experiences. My intern projects varied on a daily basis as I worked with other interns as well as engineers and software developers to understand how each quality assurance task benefited the database. It amazed me to know that every bit of artist research I performed, every spreadsheet line analyzed, all fed into this, the future of music.

Stephanie Falvo is a fifth year Business Administration Student with a concentration in Marketing and a minor in Music Industry. She is currently working on co-op in the Marketing & Communications department at HFA in New York, NY.