Analytics in E Major

  • Jim Lucchese (The Echo Nest), interviewed by Sam Ransbotham
  • February 24, 2015

The Echo Nest marries technology and analytics to connect music lovers with an ever-changing database of sound.

The music business has been radically changed by the move to digital media. Not only can music be downloaded with just a few clicks to any number of devices, but there is also more music being made, and more sources from which music lovers can get it.

In fact, the sheer mass of sound out there in the digital universe can be overwhelming.

The Echo Nest, a self-described “music intelligence” company recently acquired by Spotify, uses machine-learning technology to connect people with music they love. The company’s goal, says CEO Jim Lucchese, is to do “what a great deejay does, or the friend that you rely on musically: to better understand who you are as a fan, understand all the music that’s out there and make that connection.”

In this interview with MIT Sloan Management Review guest editor Sam Ransbotham, Lucchese describes how the company merged two perspectives — machine learning and cultural analytics — to describe music in a way that made it analytics-friendly, with the goal of using analytics to help users find new music they’d enjoy.

Let’s start with the basics: How do you describe what your company does?

We describe ourselves as a “music intelligence” company. And we really view our job as understanding all of the music that’s out there in the world, and understanding each individual music fan, to do a better job connecting the two — do a better job connecting people with the music that they love. And we apply a lot of technology and machine-learning approaches to do that, but really, at our core, what we’re trying to do is what a great deejay does, or the friend that you rely on musically: to better understand who you are as a fan, understand all the music that’s out there and make that connection.

We do that, particularly prior to the acquisition [by Spotify, in March 2014], as a B2B company, so we’re in the business of providing this data platform to other consumer-facing services. Now, most of our work, or much of it, is focused on improving the Spotify user experience… but that would be my quick description.

The Echo Nest is in a unique position — I think 2007 was the start — of being truly digital native.