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"Musical Brain" Echo Nest Raises $17 Million, Turns From Tastemaker To Matchmaker

Today Echo Nest, the "musical brain" that analyzes and learns user tastes, announced it raised a $17 million Series D funding round. Led by Norwest Venture Partners, the financing haul is the Somerville, Massachusetts-based company's largest yet, and a sign the startup is growing at a fast clip.

"Our sales rate has increased as much as 10 times," explains CEO Jim Lucchese, who says the funding will allow the startup to expand its sales team, as well as introduce a "much richer suite of data products." Echo Nest already drives music-discovery engines for companies ranging from Spotify and Vevo to Rdio and the BBC. With its latest round of funding, the startup is now looking to create new products to sell to its growing customer base. On Thursday, Echo Nest gave a small taste of what's to come down the road with a new product called Taste Profile Similarity.

"If you've been subject to Facebook's Open Graph and listening activity, you know there's no relevancy there—the relevance is based solely on the fact that these are your friends on Facebook," Lucchese says. With Taste Profile Similarity, Echo Nest can "determine musical compatibility among people." In other words, the startup's algorithm, which is based on a database of tens of millions of songs, can identify users and friends with complementary music tastes, to help provide a layer of relevance on top of your social listening habits.

"I'm glad that my brother shares photos of his baby with me on Facebook, but I don't care about his music tastes," Lucchese jokes.

Though deals to implement the product are finished, Lucchese cannot yet reveal what form they might take. But he does offer some hint as to what we should expect—and interestingly enough, the Echo Nest chief executive is most excited for non-traditional applications.

"We're looking at applying music preferences as an input to applications even outside music," he says. "Think social-discovery applications or dating applications—places where music can be a valuable data point or signal."

Indeed, Echo Nest also showed off one potential non-music-related application today: How music can predict your political affiliation. By cross-referencing music tastes and party bias, the startup was able to determine which artist fans are most likely to swing Republican or Democratic. On the red side, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and Shania Twain made the top 10, while on the blue side is Bob Marley, Jay-Z, and Lady Gaga. The least predictable artists? The Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Marilyn Manson.   

But beyond new pollster data points, could we soon be seeing dating applications taking advantage of our music preferences? Perhaps in that sense, Echo Nest might soon turn from tastemaker to matchmaker.

[Image: Flickr user Kris Krug]