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What is the Music Genome Project?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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The music genome project is a colossal effort to classify songs by using over 400 “genetic markers” that, applied to a song and taken together, help to create a kind of taxonomy of music. The genetic markers include everything from basic attributes such as whether a song is acoustic or electronic, to subtle qualities of the lead singer’s voice and all aspects of the arrangement -- right down to whether or not hand claps are in the mix. Dissonant harmonies, guitar effects, specific use of drums and cymbals, syncopation, orchestral music, and even subtle influences become part of the song’s DNA map.

The music genome project is the brainchild of 1988 Stanford graduate, Tim Westergren. The actual work of analyzing songs is carried out by a dedicated team of highly qualified technicians and musicians who reportedly spend 30-minutes analyzing every song that becomes part of the music genome library. Virtually all music genres are included in the project.

You might be wondering what purpose such an interesting project could serve. The answer is to provide music-loving Web surfers with the ability to create free, personalized online radio stations that only play music the listener likes—even when it's music the listener has never heard before.

One need only visit the music genome website, Pandora.com, and enter the name of a favorite song or artist in a search box. Server-side software uses the artist or song to find genetically similar material in the database, and the resultant playlist begins streaming for the listener. Song title and artist is displayed along a cover shot of the relevant single or compact disc. Player controls allow the listener to repeat a song or skip forward to the next tune in the playlist. If the playlist doesn’t quite meet your needs, you can tweak it by changing the parameters.

Since entering a song or title necessarily limits the music genome project to find similar music, Pandora allows a user to create several radio stations to cover several different types or genres of music. For example, one might create a custom radio station for rock, one for blues, and one for alternative. The user can then use the “QuickMix” feature to choose which of the radio stations should be included in a “shuffle” mode where the streaming radio will feature songs from each of the (chosen) custom radio stations, rather than just one.

The music genome project opens a whole new world to music lovers by exposing listeners to music they have never heard but are likely to appreciate. This is exciting for music lovers and also for artists, as it creates positive exposure to potential new fans. Due to licensing restrictions, Pandora’s services are primarily available to visitors located in the United States.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Thundersturm — On Feb 11, 2015

Systematically breaking down a track, to primary/ core components, for just about any song in 30 minutes by one with a discerning ear and subsequently categorizing it's 'pieces' within 400+ classifications isn't extremely hard to accomplish. They have developed a proprietary system (human driven and aided by technology) which likely classifies a song in under 10 minutes. The 30 minute claim, I believe, is (by intelligent design) disclosed publicly to serve as a likely barrier to entry aimed at current / potential future competitors. Similarly, this boosts the perception of needed human/ financial resources and increases the group/ company's valuation. If not able to do so already, I'm sure they are developing a technology driven system that can accurately classify a song in 'robo' mode -- with very little human oversight.

By anon78044 — On Apr 16, 2010

I don't see a repeat option in Pandora. How does one repeat a song?

By OldMrBill — On Feb 19, 2010

I live in the US and am a Pandora Radio subscriber, however, I represent a UK-based company which is currently in the final development stages of a 3D social network.

Is there a music genome project such as Pandora available outside the US? Our membership comes from 170 countries representing 38 languages. The availability of a service such as Pandora would be a significant addition to our tool bag and an added benefit to our membership, which currently numbers over 1/2 million business and personal accounts.

By anon55411 — On Dec 07, 2009

How does an artist submit their songs?

By anon38514 — On Jul 26, 2009

as an answer to HHaubold, people evaluate it and it takes about 30 minutes per song.

By hhaubold — On Feb 11, 2009

Are the songs genetic markers evaluated by a human or a computer program?

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