Goombah Gets It

goombah2.jpgGoombah is the best example yet of using technology to harness the Internet’s power for artist direct distribution. I had an experience today that exemplifies this, but first, some background. Gary Robinson, CTO of Emergent Music LLC and the creator of Goombah, explained his vision to me in a recent email:

25 years ago I was hanging out in singer-songwriter circles in Greenwich Village, NYC … I saw how much absolutely fantastic music was never going to be heard outside of a couple of folk clubs in NY and Boston. As soon as I got the idea about what could be done about it, which I thought of around that time, I started investigating the math aspects.

Whatever math lies beneath Goombah’s recommendation algorithm, it hit a bullseye with me this morning. After Goombah catalogs your library, it allows you to build lists of specific artists. It then creates lists of “recommended tracks” and “recommended users” from those specialized subsets. Today, I built a list called Folk Rock that included some of my favorite artists like Patty Griffin and Kasey Chambers. Sometimes, an artist isn’t in their user database. This happened with Antje Duvekot; Goombah didn’t allow me to type her name in, but I was able to drag it in from my library list.

After a few minutes of searching (I’ve found the time varies), Goombah located and ranked 100 tracks from their 2 million user song catalog They were all good selections, and none of them were in my music library. It also put 5 free tracks in the top window – one of which, “When the World Ends” by the Bittersweets, is my favorite piece of new music today. I guess the Bay Area is all over this band; they’ve opened for Rosanne Cash at the Mountain Winery, and KFOG, my morning drive station back when lived there, plays them like crazy.

But I’d never heard of them until Goombah sent me their track. Now I know that their label, Virt Records, is also home to Shane Nicholson, a favorite of mine from down under (and the new Mr. Kasey Chambers), as well as Ellery. Ellery’s free track popped up in the five song window after I’d moved the first batch of suggested music into iTunes. I’m listening to it now. Not as good as the Bittersweets, but not bad either.

That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I tell the Oracle of Music what kind of mood I’m in (Americana Girls, please), and it responds with some great new stuff I’ve never heard before. If I like the track, I can click through to iTunes Music Store and sample the rest of the album.

A note on free music – I recently blogged about Goombah and observed some odd behavior there. Gary Robinson had this to say:

The recommendation algorithm for free music is different from the recommendation algorithm for non-free music. In particular, the free music recs will be getting major improvements in coming weeks and months. It’s been a lower priority because we don’t (yet) have many thousands of free tracks.

A whack of new tracks are added every “Free Music Friday” at Goombah, so today’s a great day to download the program, which is available for Windows 2000/XP and Mac (Panther and Tiger). As I continue to play with the beta software, I’ll post new discoveries.

For now anyway, here’s my new mantra:

Get Goombah – Goombah Gets It

Is Goombah MySpace Inside My Mind?

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I’ve been playing with Goombah this weekend, and though it’s not perfect (what beta is?) it’s very intriguing. It’s an application that catalogues your iTunes library and feeds it into a database containing the libraries of other users. Goombah looks for matches between your playlist and other users, analyzing similarities. It then generates a ranked relevancy list.

It also creates a list of other Goombah users based on musical compability. You can drill down into their playlists to sess what they’ve got. Finally, and perhaps best of all, the service has a few hundred free tracks that are placed at the top of the list for your consideration. Every “Free Music Friday,” Goombah adds new tracks, some of which are from reasonably big names like Ani DiFranco, Sufjan Stevens, Calexico, XTC and Spoon.

Goombah is powered by BitTorrent, at least in terms of how it gathers user data, but it runs on trust. By standing between the record companies artists and music fans, it acts as a taste broker. That only works if Goombah’s user community is confident that the program isn’t gathering data for piracy lawsuits, and artists are certain that it’s spreading their music without depriving them of a chance to earn a living from it.

With that understanding in place, there’s a real opportunity to build a new and different musical order that levels the field and allows all artists unprecedented reach to their fans.

Of course, the algorithm has to work, and I’m not so sure at the moment. I have over 10,000 tracks in my library, ranging from vintage blues to metal, with pop, folk, country and world music situated in between. Why, then, did the free tracks (the new stuff that I likely haven’t heard before) situate on such a narrow range of styles? I glanced at the entirety of Goombah’s free library, and there were several other songs that might have been recommended based on my tastes.

It’s unclear which metadata is used for the relevancy matches. Does the program check play count, last played, play order? There’s also a basic problem with ID3 in iTunes – if a track is skipped before it ends, it’s not counted as having been played. With live albums that’s a real issue, since many tracks end with the long spoken introduction to the next song. I tend to jump to the end of those. As far as iTunes is concerned, I never played them.

It doesn’t look like Goombah does ranking based on iPod data, but if play count isn’t factored in, that’s probably irrelevant.

Most iTunes metadata is provided by CDDB, which can be problematic. For example, CDDB classifies Ellis Paul in the “Soulful Rock” genre when he’s pretty much a folk artist. Blank fields present a unique issue. There are more blank “genre” tracks in my library than I can count. Add in tracks traded on Limewire and the like, with bad or no data, and it gets worse.

These aren’t Goombah’s problems, but unless these challenges are addressed, it will affect the usefulness of the program.
These problems are in the current Goombah release (0.9661).

Here’s a specific issue, which I’ve reported to Goombah. When I first fired the program up, the “free track” list included five recommended artists, with an “adventurousness” scale set near the middle. When I increased that level to “high” the artist count DROPPED to one. Further, the remaining name was conicidentally a “featured artist” on Goombah’s home page.

On the other hand, the non-free list is packed with cool looking suggestions. My top ranked user match had a Mindy Smith record listed that won’t be released for another six weeks. What a cool way to get a news flash.

One note: I’m running both the PC and Mac (Panther) versions. The aforementioned problem only occurred my Win box (XP SP2).