The Guy Who Classifies Every Single Spotify Song into an Ultra-Specific Genre

How’s this for a cool gig: “Data Alchemist” for Spotify. It’s Glen McDonald’s job to classify all the songs on Spotify into genre categories. And when a category doesn’t exist, he invents one. So far, he’s up to 1,387 genres. From the Toronto Star:

Would you classify Justin Bieber as pop or “pop Christmas”?

Is Arcade Fire a rock band or “permanent wave”?

How about describing Ed Sheeran as “neo mellow,” Alabama Shakes as “stomp and holler,” or the versatile Grimes as “grave wave,” “metropopolis,” “nu gaze” or all of the above?

Spotify’s “data alchemist” Glenn McDonald can proudly claim authorship of some of those eccentric descriptors. His company has used a complex algorithm to analyze and categorize upwards of 60 million songs on a molecular level — and the micro-classifications now number 1,387 sub-genres in total.

Ultimately, these machinations are allowing a new level of specificity to answer that impossible old first-date query: What kind of music are you into?

“The most interesting thing is how much music there is in the world,” McDonald said. “The number of places where I expected to find five or 10 bands and found 200 is just amazing.”

Using a tool called machine listening, songs are analyzed by Spotify’s music-intelligence division, the Echo Nest, based on their digital signatures for a number of factors, including tempo, acoustic-ness, energy, danceability, strength of the beat and emotional tone.

You will want to read the whole thing.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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