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This Is Really Why Google Bought Songza

Google’s Play Music app just got infused with Songza-powered music curation.

This Is Really Why Google Bought Songza
[Photo: Flickr user Kristina Alexanderson]

When it comes to helping listeners pick music, algorithms still desperately need our help. That’s why Pandora‘s Music Genome Project is seeded with the smarts of real live human music experts and The Echo Nest‘s machine listening is aided by editorial input. It’s also why Google, the famously data-driven giant, bought the music curation startup Songza this summer.

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Today, we see the fruits of that acquisition. When Google Play Music subscribers launch the app, they will now see the option to generate playlists based on a mood, time of day, or activity such as cooking, driving, or pumping iron.

Related:Inside Google’s Infinite Music Intelligence Machine

The new feature draws from Songza’s thousands of playlists, each of which is hand-curated by actual people. As users of the service know, Songza lets you choose music playlists based on moods, genres, time periods, and activities as specific as “coding” and “lounging in a cool hotel.” By acquiring Songza, Google beefs up the human side of the machine/human music intelligence machine that powers its Play Music subscription service.


“All of the stations that we direct users toward with the new music concierge feature are expert-curated,” says Google Play Music product manager Brandon Bilinski. “However, we still use machine learning to understand what genres you like in order to get you to the appropriate stations.”

Google launched the awkwardly named Play Music All Access last May as a competitor to Spotify, Rdio, and the other on-demand music subscription services that seem to crop up every 15 minutes. It also has a Pandora-style radio station feature built in, much like Apple’s iTunes Radio.

For now, Songza will remain a stand-alone music service. Its underlying smarts are just being tacked on to Google Play Music, which already uses its own blend of machine listening and editorial curation. The Songza-powered playlists are “complementary” to all of that, Bilinski says.

There’s still no word on Google’s other long-rumored music service–this one a very logical extension of YouTube–but presumably acquisitions like this will go a long way toward bolstering Google’s role in digital music as it tries to formally carve it out.

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With this update, the Google Play Music app for iOS and Android also adopts the new “material design” interface style that Google has been rolling out since it was announced at Google I/O in June.

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About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things. Find me here: Twitter: @johnpaul Instagram: @feralcatcolonist

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