December 14, 2010 at 11:39 am

MTV and The Echo Nest Partner for MTV Music Meter

The acronym “MTV” brings to mind many things (Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Real World/Road Rules decathlons, music videos) but generally not the up-and-coming bands people are talking about now — and want to listen to tomorrow.

This was not always so. Back when the internet was little more than a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye, MTV was a crucial place for discovering new bands. Sure, many of them were celebrated for their appearance as much as for their sound, because after all, television is a visual medium. Regardless, MTV had and continues to have a massive influence over music and music culture.

This music veteran expanded its focus considerably on Tuesday with the launch of MTV Music Meter, developed in partnership with The Echo Nest (publisher of Evolver.fm).

MTV Music Meter’s central feature is a playable list of the 100 most buzzed-about artists as determined by an algorithm that was finely tuned by The Echo Nest and MTV staffers until it presented MTV’s desired mix of up-and-coming and established artists.

Each band gets its own dynamically-generated “artist card” (example to the left) with photos, 30-second samples from and purchase links to former current MTV partner Rhapsody (updated: a Rhapsody spokesman says Viacom is still a minority partner in Rhapsody), free-to-view music videos from MTV’s own treasure trove, news from The Echo Nest’s music intelligence platform, recent tweets about the artist, and — crucial from a discovery standpoint — similar artists.

Even my old, all-but-unheard band Solarium has a song on there — and despite the lack of a bio, the “similar artists” generated by MTV Music Meter for even that obscure a band are right on the money. (We met on an early web bulletin board for the band Spiritualized, which is, in fact, listed as “similar” — success!)

This is rather a lot of information, but it’s easy to get to through the site’s colorful, simple, ad-free interface. Rather than standing there cluelessly nodding when your better-connected (we used to call them “cooler”) friends hold forth on the latest band you’ve never heard of, MTV Music Meter and tools like it give you a fighting chance of knowing what they are talking about — or at least being able to find out later.

Notably, there’s nary a Gaga or Bieber to be seen on the front of the site. MTV director of product development Mark Mezrich told Evolver.fm that this was no accident:

“We’re really happy to be the place to go to for those top artists. But at the same time, we recognize that there’s a need for real music discovery — and a product whose end goal is music discovery.”

Less-established bands, which often struggle to make themselves heard, can now find a potentially huge audience on MTV.com. Even before this new emphasis on up-and-coming artists, the site was already the top online music website in the United States, having stolen that slot from the label-backed YouTube collaboration Vevo in October. The Comscore research firm hasn’t released those numbers for November yet, but Mezrich believes MTV will come in first for that month too.

Getting on the top 100 list is just one way to reach new fans through MTV Music Meter. The service’s somewhat-overlooked-in-early-coverage search box lets visitors learn something quickly about an artist by glancing over their dynamically-generated artist card.

“The [top 100] list is key, and it’s front and center, but… the list is really a front door to a larger music discovery experience. You can find an artist that everyone’s been talking about, but you don’t know that much about, and quickly get a sense of what the artist is like, through the artist cards.

“An example for me is Sebadoh — one of those bands that everyone always talks about, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t know that well. So the first thing I did when we plugged in the early version of this was to search for them and look at their bio and pictures, and listen to some audio of them.”

MTV certainly has its bases covered when it comes to the Biebers and Gagas of this world. By integrating this data-scaled top 100 list, which is based in part on what humans are saying about music elsewhere on the internet, MTV returns to its role as a tastemaker — with the data to back it up.

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