Musical Identity

Understanding who you are as a music fan and what that says about you.


White Paper: How Music Services Can Acquire, Engage, and Monetize High-Value Listeners

August 12, 2013

Every business knows that the key to monetization is a deeper understanding of their customers. It’s true for retail, media, live events, apparel and yes, for online music services. With over 40 customers in the streaming music space, we’re seeing an encouraging trend towards a more analytical understanding of audience.

By applying our understanding of a person’s “Musical Identity” — who they are as a music fan, and what that says about them beyond their music listening habits — The Echo Nest has started to help music services better understand, predict, and target high-value listeners.

Monetizing online music users

It’s no secret that user monetization is a tough road in music. Ad-supported services are working to better engage premium advertisers to keep their advertising CPMs higher than their costs of licensing content — a challenge exacerbated by the explosion in mobile listening and its limited, for now, monetization. As a result, subscription services are casting wider nets to reach more potential paying subscribers, which requires a balancing act between customer acquisition costs, subscriber conversion, and subscriber retention.

A report from MIDiA Consulting suggests that 60-80 percent of ad-supported accounts on services like Spotify, Pandora, and Deezer are effectively inactive. These inactive listeners contribute little value to the music service. After all, if someone never logs on, they’ll never see ads.

The MIDIA report confirms something we’ve seen happen with many services: A small segment of hyper-engaged users is responsible for the majority of overall engagement and listening hours in any given month.

Interestingly, we’ve noticed that the characteristics of these high-value users vary from service to service. The traits that make one user “high value” to one service don’t necessarily apply to another.

As such, it’s really important for a music service to understand who those high-value listeners are for their service specifically, and, ideally, to target acquisition and engagement strategies directly to those listeners. It’s possible. In fact, it’s exactly what The Echo Nest has been working on.

How It Works

Our latest white paper outlines a process we’ve developed for music services to predict high-value listeners based on just a few data points around what someone listens to and how they listen to music. After understanding the attributes of high-value listeners on a given service, we can outline a series of acquisition and engagement approaches to help that service attract, retain, and increase the overall ARPU of these high-value listeners.

It’s important to reiterate that the specific aspects of music taste and activity that are predictive of high-value listeners vary among music services. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. However, we are able to identify and help implement the optimal solution for any single service.

We’re excited to apply our understanding of Musical Identity and work more closely with our customers to help them better understand their customers, ultimately building more successful businesses as a result.

You can read the White Paper explaining how this works here, and the Billboard article about this work here.

Feel free to contact us if you’re interested in finding out more.

Tagged as: , audience understanding, white paper, engagement, monetization, high-value users

How Music Taste Predicts Movie Taste

June 18, 2013

We’re building ways to understand your music taste, or “Musical Identity,” and relate that to your taste in politics, movies, and other areas. Before we get to that, what is “Musical Identity?”

Our music taste is so personal. It’s an important part of defining and communicating who we are. Unlike the passive listening experience of broadcast radio or listening to a CD, online music is a two-way conversation. Not only are you listening to music, but music listens to you too, whenever you search, skip, rate, favorite, ban and share what you hear. By analyzing this expression of your musical taste, we can better understand who you are as a fan — your “Musical Identity.”

Musical Identity has always been a powerful indicator of other things about you. Broadcast radio’s formats — Urban, Hot A/C, Pop, and so on — are based on the premise that a certain type of music attracts a certain type of person. However, the broadcast version of Musical Identity is a blunt instrument, grouping millions of people into about 12 audience segments. Now that music has become a two-way conversation online, Musical Identity can become considerably more precise, powerful, and predictive.

For example, did you know that it’s possible to predict with relative accuracy a person’s political affiliation based on what they listen to? Well, it is, and we did it.

Predicting Movie Preference from Music Taste

As the next step on our exploration of how Musical Identity relates to other facets of life, we’ve been looking at “cross-media” preferences. Can your music taste predict your taste in other forms of entertainment (books, movies, games, etc)? This post focuses on some (hopefully) amusing, interesting examples of what our Taste Profiling technology can uncover about the relationship between one’s taste in music and one’s taste in movies.

(The Echo Nest co-founder and CTO Brian Whitman and Product Manager Ajay Kalia did the data work on this. Brian, has a much more in-depth analysis here.)

We found that music taste can in fact predict movie taste. A few of the ‘greatest hits’ connections we found pretty interesting:

  • Fans of romantic comedies also like artists who sing about relationships and intimacy: Reba McEntire, Beyoncé, Usher, Céline Dion, and Jennifer Lopez.
  • The people who like DC and Marvel comic book movies, for all their self-proclaimed differences, actually share most of their musical taste.
  • As one might not suspect, there’s a big difference in musical taste between people who like Family films and people who like animated Pixar films.

The Analysis

First, we decided to see whether our system can tell us things we already know about the relationship between people’s taste in music and movies.

To determine this stuff, we correlated music and movie preferences of 50,000 people, then applied all of the data points we maintain about music preference through our Taste Profiling technology, to identify associations among preference types, and ultimately to find out where those associations are strong enough to be predictive.

After we got through the science of it all, we pored over the data to test our own theories and biases, from the intriguing to the counter-intuitive. Here are a few…

What sort of music fan loves a good Rom Com?

It takes a certain kind of person to really Like a romantic comedy — those feel-good date movies where star-crossed lovers encounter each other, hi-jinx ensue, and everything works out in the end.

Here are the artists most beloved by fans of romantic comedy movies:

  1. Reba McEntire
  2. Beyoncé
  3. Usher
  4. Céline Dion
  5. Jennifer Lopez

Do Country music fans like Western films?

We would expect people who like Westerns to like Country music. After all, “Country” is sometimes called “Country & Western.” Indeed, the top three discriminant artists — meaning that they are way more popular with fans of a certain genre of movies, as compared to the general population — for Western movies are:

  • George Strait
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Reba McEntire

That’s great, but not too surprising. Let’s challenge some conventional wisdom.

Assumption: People who enjoy Pixar movies have similar musical taste to that of people who enjoy Family films

Verdict: False

When we mashed movie data against music data, we found the following:



There’s some overlap, but these are clearly two different groups of people. Not only do we know they’re different, but we can tell you about how they are different (Family skews much more “country” and “classic rock” than Pixar). Neat.

How old is The Academy in terms of music taste?

It’s no surprise that the Academy Awards voters who decide which films should win Oscars are a bit, erm, longer in the tooth. A 2012 study showed their average age to be 62. To test our system, let’s see if it can tell us something about these people’s musical taste that would jibe with that.

We looked at when the artists most beloved by fans of Twilight, hit movies in general, and Oscar winners started their careers. This tells us how “old” their musical taste is, generally speaking.


So, yup. The movies most loved by The Academy are also enjoyed by fans of music that was recorded a longer time ago. Let’s try another.

The Academy has “old” taste in music. Are they cool?

We’ve established that members of The Academy — and the people who like their Oscar picks — have relatively old music taste. But how mainstream is their Musical Identity?

To establish a baseline, here’s the music most beloved by fans of Drama and Comedy movies.

Dramas and Comedies have fairly mainstream music taste. For a jarring comparison, here’s the music most enjoyed by people who agree with The Academy’s Best Picture choices:

  1. Grunge
  2. Alternative Metal
  3. Metal
  4. Pop
  5. Disco
  6. R&B
  7. Rock
  8. Blues
  9. Country

Go ahead, call The Academy old, just don’t call them uncool.

Now, let’s see if Musical Identity can settle the argument about whether fans of Marvel’s sunny, brighter comic book movies (think Spider-Man and The Avengers) are as different from fans of DC’s darker vision (think The Dark Knight and Man of Steel) as both communities of fans believe they are, according to Ajay, who apparently has some reason to know that.

DC vs. Marvel: A Musical Litmus Test

Comic book movies are big business, comprising five of the top-grossing films in the past ten years, lending significance to the classic “DC vs. Marvel” debate.

Let’s see how they match up in terms of their taste in music. Here are the top 15 artists for people who like DC and Marvel comic book movies, with their shared artists in bold:


The lists are pretty close to identical. As Ajay put it, “In Hollywood, a nerd is a nerd is a nerd.”

But wait, sometimes nerds are different from each other!

In addition to comics, nerds love Sci-Fi and Fantasy films. Let’s check out the musical taste of fans of each, to see what we find.

Based on the top 20 artists for fans of each music genre, we found that Sci-Fi fans have more diverse musical taste than Fantasy fans do:



Fantasy movie buffs have fairly middle-of-the-road Musical Identities, while Sci-Fi fans are a more eclectic bunch, musically speaking, with a heavy classic rock bent.

Conclusion: Yes, Music Taste Can Predict Movie Taste

Music taste can in fact predict taste in movies, which has implications for everyone from online advertisers to moviemakers to the people who develop social media campaigns to promote films or music. 

We’re working hard to unlock more further correlations between music and other areas of life via The Echo Nest’s Musical Identity initiative. Stay tuned.

Tagged as: , musical identity, movies, cross-media

Why I Joined The Echo Nest: Discovery and Taste Profiling Done Right

January 23, 2013

The Echo Nest has a new chief revenue officer: John Sierotko, who joins us from Gracenote, where he headed all Sales, Marketing, and Services with annual revenues quadrupling during his tenure. We’re thrilled to have John at the Nest. He has some great insights around why he decided to come on…

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Taste Profile Attributes Go Public

October 9, 2012

If you’re reading this, you’re probably somewhat familiar with our Taste Profiles service. Taste Profiles allow us to maintain a detailed understanding of someone’s music activity - not only what they’re listening to, but also their likes, dislikes, skips, and bans. We apply Taste Profiles to help…

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What’s Your Musical Stereotype?

July 12, 2012

You can usually learn something about a person by looking at what music they listen to.  Someone who listens to the Sex Pistols and the Ramones is likely to be from a very different demographic than someone whose favorite artist is Julie Andrews. Of course there are always exceptions to the rule – there are probably a few playlists out there in the world that have both “Anarchy in the UK” and “My Favorite things” but I’m quite sure you won’t be finding a mosh pit at a Julie Andrews concert any time soon.

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Can Your Musical Taste Predict Your Politics?

June 12, 2012

As you might have heard, The Echo Nest just closed a new round of funding, which will enable us to develop some amazing new products.

We have a head start on that last bit. Our Taste Profiles already enable all kinds of smarter music apps. They’re also capable of making other insights about…

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