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Beyond Keywords: Why Today's Music Search Needs an Upgrade

Visualization of a search bar

For folks in the music industry, there's a special thrill in connecting people with that perfect song they're searching for. But here's the thing: our usual keyword-based music search? It's got its quirks. In fact, it can sometimes make it a bit of a challenge for users to stumble upon the ideal track they have in mind.

Let's dive into four major challenges with the keyword-based music search:

1. Human Bias

When people tag music, their personal feelings and interpretations come into play. For instance, while a track might sound "relaxing" to one person, it might feel "melancholic" to another. This means searches can give varied results based on who did the tagging.

On top of that, people have different levels of musical knowledge. Some use technical terms in their search, while others describe how the music makes them feel. The result? It's harder for users to find the perfect track they're looking for.

2. Lack of Taxonomy Industry Standard

Without an industry-wide standard, different labels resort to various keywords. For aggregators representing numerous catalogues, this translates to having thousands of keywords users can search by with no consistency across the entire repertoire.

Consider this: a search for "happy" might yield tracks from one catalog, but not from another that used "feel good" or "joyful" instead. This makes your music search limited, as you're only accessing a fraction of available tracks.

3. Binary Nature of Keywords

Keywords operate on a binary system. If you search for "guitar", for example, you will find every track that has that tag, regardless of the guitar's prominence in the composition. Whether it's a lead guitar or just a part of the mix, the search can't discern the context or significance of the instrument in the song. To address this, different companies have implemented weighting or specific rules to determine which tracks to display. However, these rules are challenging to maintain, update, and ensure they remain logically consistent.

4. Overtagging

Tracks are sometimes tagged with seemingly contradictory terms like "summer" and "Christmas" or "happy" and "sad" to increase their visibility in searches. This is a way to hack the system, ensuring tracks show up more frequently, thus getting the music in front of more clients. However, such practices diminish the quality of the search results. For instance, if you're searching for "Christmas," you wouldn't appreciate results that sound like summery feel-good tunes. Moreover, even if a track can be perceived as both "happy" and "sad", it's unlikely it would be a good match for someone's specific "happy" search.

Music discovery is changing, and we need a smarter, unbiased system. As many in the industry have noted, the traditional keyword-based music search often misses the mark. It's vital we adopt solutions that capture the complexity and richness of music.

Curious about these solutions? Check out the recording of our webinar to see them in action and explore the future of music search & discovery.

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