iTunes Genius?

Apple has just introduced iTunes 8 — and with it, a Pandora-like feature called "Genius." Here's how it works: You pick a song in your library and hit the "genius" button, and it creates a playlist based on the one song. You can then copy that playlist to your iPod.

I randomly tried two songs two songs this morning as a quick test, starting with "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" by Arcade Fire. Pleasantly and predictably, I heard Wolf Parade, Bright Eyes, David Bowie and Jeff Buckley. When I tried another random song in my library — "It's Over" by Roy Orbison — it seemed to just pull any '60s tune it could find, so I wound up with The Electric Prunes and The Seeds; good songs, but not in the spirit of a song like "It's Over." But then again, it played Roxy Music's "Virginia Plain," which was a brilliant choice in some odd way. Orbison had a unique crooning style, and so does Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry.

Genius works by looking at the songs you play and the songs you skip. It analyzes the data, along with all the data from everyone else in the world who uses iTunes and Genius, and picks artists it thinks you'll like. The more people use Genius, the better it should work.

If you use Genius or Pandora or any other playlist generator, I'm curious to hear what you've discovered — the strengths and weaknesses of each — and I'm always intrigued by the quirks.



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for a take by someone who studies these kind of music recommendation systems.

Sent by Daniel | 11:45 AM | 9-10-2008

I also tried a few quick tests. I had a couple ones that I wasn't impressed by. Johnny Cash's American Recordings cover of "Bird on a Wire" brought up a generic country mix where "Bird on a Wire" didn't even fit. But Joy Division's "Isolation" created a mix that was better than I could have made in ten minutes. Clash's "Police & Thieves" brought up a great punk-centered mix that did make a great choice of Talking Head's "life during wartime" which I wouldn't have thought of but no reggae-influenced songs...

I like the feature especially because I can always make my own (or delete some of their songs that don't fit and replace it with the songs that are "missing") but this is a quick way to get a decent, if not fairly generic, mix.

Sent by G M | 12:10 PM | 9-10-2008

One problem I've found with Pandora is that if you mark a song as "I like it" then you're going to end up getting that artist often, across all of your channels. For example, I was listening to my Beck channel and got a Cake song I liked, and marked it. Now I get Cake songs more often on my Beck channel, which is fine, but also on my Lyle Lovett channel and my White Stripes channels, which isn't cool at all.

Sent by Danny | 2:07 PM | 9-10-2008

So far, i like it. I heard Adam Arcuragi on NPR last year and went to listen to it today and, lo and behold, it suggested that I get the new release that I didn't know was out. While it cost me money, it was money I was happy to spend.

Sent by Greg M. | 2:52 PM | 9-10-2008

I love Pandora, but one thing I've noticed is that it tends to play several songs in a row of the same type, instead of shuffling them up more. I have a broad mix of all kinds of music on my station, and I'll get four or five Latin-style songs, then four or five jazz songs, then four or five alternative songs, etc. My personal preference would be a better mix-up of the different musical types. Other than that, I'm really impressed with its complexity. After a couple of days playing it and marking songs, it rarely hits a clunker.

Sent by Andie Reid | 4:27 PM | 9-10-2008

The best thing about pandora is its ability to find artists you've never heard of that fit with your taste in music. Pandora introduced me to Los Halos, Great Lake Swimmers, and Ra Ra Riot among others.

While the Ipod Genius feature is a great idea, it's not really introducing you to anything you don't already know. It's just telling you your taste is more homogeneous than you previously may have thought.

Sent by David W. | 5:55 PM | 9-10-2008

From what I gather, Genius bases its choices on user's playing habits, song ratings, and purchase history.

It seems to me that this data wouldn't necessarily produce a playlist of songs along a similar theme but a playlist of artists\songs that people who like song x also listen to -- something similar to's Taste-O-Meter and neighboring system.

Sent by Chris | 6:15 PM | 9-10-2008

Genius comes up with some interesting things, but it seems to think that that every track in my 6000 song library goes well with 'here I dreamt I was an architect' by The Decemberists, as well as anything by The Shins.

The upshot of which is I've given Chute's Too Narrow a few extra listens in the past couple of days. I'd forgotten how good that album was.

Sent by Louis | 5:27 AM | 9-12-2008

Let me preface this by saying that I am a huge Pandora fan. It is my lifeblood while at work or stuck at the laptop writing reports. It comes in especially handy when my little iPod's battery light blinks its last breath come late afternoon.
Last week I had the greatest Pandora moment, which temporarily convinced me the site is prone to behind-the-scenes manipulation by bored, audiophile engineers. I had created a Dusty Springfield station that morning. About 10 songs in, I found myself singing along to Vampire Weekend. It took me a minute to realize that something was awry. Vampire Weekend was followed up by Silverchair, and then... She & Him.
No way. No how. Not Dusty Springfield!

Ok, sure, maybe the server encountered a hiccup, but I'd like to think there was more mischievousness to it than that. Can't you picture some hip techie ... locked away in a server closet somewhere...checking out my Dusty Springfield station and thinking he or she would mess with me a bit?

Conspiracy Theory #5,342 = Pandora Radio and Bored Engineers. I love it!

Sent by Amy | 7:24 PM | 9-12-2008

When I first started with Pandora, instead of relegating my favorites into category stations (one for jazz, one for indie rock, etc.), I threw everything into one ridiculously eclectic station: somehow, I expected Pandora to find common threads between Frank Zappa, Todd Rundgren, Thelonious Monk, and even Japanese music like anime composer Yoko Kanno and J-Rock bands like Asian Kung-Fu Generation. I was stunned that Pandora even accepted the latter two, and what it dealt me was an interesting mix of mostly prog rock that I'd never heard of. I"m particularly glad to have found Bill Nelson and Be Bop Deluxe through this mix, as they've become one of my favorites.

iTunes Genius seems far less impressive so far, because it's lashed to the iTunes Store and its current offerings. Click on the Beatles' "Abbey Road", and you get a useless response along the lines of "don't know anything about that, but I see that Pink is really popular on the iTunes Store right now." It's also utterly resistant to my J-Rock, J-Pop, and anime/game soundtracks, even though some of that stuff is discoverable through Japan's iTunes store.

Sent by invalidname | 7:44 AM | 9-14-2008

I've had much the same experiences as everyone else. I made several playlists based on Rilo Kiley songs and was delighted.

Moving on, I tried to make a playlist from Amy Winehouse - Rehab. I ended up with a total of 12 tracks (I'd asked for 100), including Sisquo - The Thong Song, Destiny's Child, and two K-Ci and Jojo songs (I am so embarrassed to admit to having those on my hard drive, but I /was/ in middle school, once). I have absolutely no clue what those have to do with Amy Winehouse. Playing off the genre tag doesn't get anyone anywhere--R&B can mean so many things.

Furthermore, don't even try making a Genius playlist out of a classical movement. iTunes doesn't think to grab more classical and choral movements, but instead advises you to update Genius, and try again. Over and over and over. I usually listen to my classical music in order of movements, but it's fun to mix it up occasionally. This just isn't the way to do it.

I look forward to Apple honing its Genius algorithms in the coming weeks and months. Pandora will have to suffice for Genius's shortcomings, in the meantime.

Sent by Laura | 10:30 PM | 9-14-2008

I have used Pandora to build some great stations to which I enjoy listening. Here is the important trick: You must take some time to "educate/train" the system to what you are actually choosing. Once that is set, the selection process is quite accurate.
For example, I purchased a CD of female artists recently from Starbucks and really enjoyed the music but did not really know most of the artists. I opened up Pandora and typed in one of the artist (Keren Ann). After some coaching of Pandora (such as kicking out everything that had a male vocal), I created a sultry female mostly acoustic playlist. Its great!

Sent by Geoffrey Kaessner | 10:53 PM | 9-15-2008

its a conspiracy to check and see how you get your music and then they can track those who are downloading music illegally

Sent by annon | 6:29 PM | 9-16-2008

I haven't tried the new Itunes yet. I grew tired of the interface and how bloated it seemed a while ago and have since been switching from player to player.

The player of the moment is Zune. It has a feature like Genius called Mixview. There's a little bit more eye candy, but it seems to work like I've heard Genius works.

For me, though, it's been great because I've been paying for Microsoft's subscription service. With their whole library of music available to me it becomes like Pandora but with the option to download a song and play it whenever I want. (as opposed to a non-subscriber and their 30sec preview)

What I really like though is their new "channels". They're just playlists from different sources that you subscribe to. There's only a few right now, but I'm listening to the KEXP Channel. Some pretty sweet stuff, and it seems like they'll update it every week. Now we just need an All Songs Channel...

Sent by Dan Wisniewski | 11:15 PM | 9-17-2008

The Genius feature is a great convenience but as others have mentioned it does not present much new. Pandora has led me to purchase dozens of artists new to me.

Sent by Bohead | 7:55 PM | 9-20-2008

Used Genius, seems like a cool thing, i did it on a modest mouse track, and it gave me Ugly Casanova (Isaac Brocks solo effort) and never heard them before. But i went to my zune software and dl'ed it on my pass. For me the "Mixview" works better, you pick an album and it gives other related and influenced by artists, as well as fans, and you can click on those and see a mix view of everything they like or are influenced by. kinda like a 6 degrees of separation for music. For my money it's the winner, you can test it by just dling the zune software, you don't have to have the subscription service

Sent by Josh | 8:40 AM | 9-23-2008

It's pretty cool. One problem I notice right away. No matter what song I choose, Genius will not recommend a Beatles song. Odd considering I have their entire catalog in my iTunes. Does this mean that it will never suggest any tune not in iTunes store?

It's because they don't have rights to sell it in the iTunes Store.
That's my guess.

I've been loving the "Genius" feature. It is great to be on the go, hear a song on my iPod that just fits my mood, the hit the "Genius" feature and have it make a playlist right there on my pod.

Sent by Cook | 11:54 AM | 10-2-2008