It’s busy times for Gracenote, the world’s largest compiler of music metadata. Two weeks ago the company was divested by Sony and acquired by Tribune. Today, Gracenote announced a new developer product called Gracenote Rhythm, which makes its proprietary data available to music service developers. the announcement plants a flag squarely in data-intelligence territory dominated by The Echo Nest. (See RAIN coverage of The Echo Nest here, and interviews with CEO Jim Lucchese here and here.)
Both Gracenote and The Echo Nest play crucial, yet largely hidden roles in the digital music experiences of millions of consumers. Gracenote recognizes and identifies music that is initiated by users in various scenarios, such as loading a CD into a computer’s CD player. The Echo Nest’s technology underlies music recommendations, and powers radio-like experiences, in many leading music services. One reason (among several) that many music services have similar feature sets is that many of them use The Echo Nest’s API (Application Programming Interface) to power those features.
The Echo Nest’s huge footprint in the music-data intelligence field (powering over 400 platforms) opens the way for Gracenote’s competitive challenge. Technology fields tend to resolve down to duopolies — think Apple and Microsoft, or iOS and Android. The duopoly model doesn’t cover everything related to music intelligence, though. Pandora’s immense success with its Music Genome Project represents another important competitive venture. Apple, Google, and other services use in-house technology to power radio-like streaming features.
Still, the Echo Nest’s market leadership practically begs for opposition. Music recognition (Gracenote’s specialty) is different from music recommendation. But the description of Gracenote Rhythm’s API brings it patently into the recommendation realm: “When plugged into a music catalog, it gives developers the ability to create radio stations based on “seed” artists, songs, moods and genres with adaptive controls for “like” and “dislike,” ensuring next-generation radio stations get smarter and more personalized the more they are used. Developers will also control radio-tuning features that allow music fans to dial up more popular artists or dial down to receive more obscure, indie artists and tracks.”
From that description, Gracenote Rhythm sounds like it is tracking The Echo Nest’s mission exactly, perhaps offering qualitative differences rather than unique feature sets. But the beauty of API licensing is that the end result depends on collaborative development. The Echo Nest partnered with Xbox Music to create a unique feature called Web Play. (RAIN coverage here.) Gracenote Rhythm’s differentiation from The Echo Nest might depend on how much Gracenote developers can inspire music-service developers to innovate.