Proposal for simple tag based curation system

As both an artist and founder, I’ve long been concerned about how we would be able to build unique discovery and categorizing systems for Resonate, while doing so on a limited budget and avoiding the mistakes other services make.

This proposal tackles those issues, while seeking to create a simple short term solution for the following goals:

  • Get listeners streaming more regularly
  • Help them easily find interesting music
  • Build in a cost effective manner
  • Avoid algorithmic-based solutions

Chances are strong that we will only ever operate at a small fraction of Spotify’s production budget. Their acquisition of Echo Nest alone was for 40 million euros. So that gives a sense of scale as to the engineering investment behind an algorithmic based approach like Discover Weekly.

But algorithms aren’t just expensive. They’re also prone to creating negative feedback loops such as the gender imbalances revealed in this piece by Liz Pelly: Discover Weakly | Liz Pelly

A potentially very simple solution – expressive tagging

From an engineering perspective, tagging is relatively simple. You identify a content or media element by certain words, then when someone searches for those words, you can output a list of
items tagged with those words.

By focusing entirely on expressive words (examples: dark, edgy, fun, inspiring) rather than genres, this system would provide a way of categorizing music on the site based on emotional qualities rather than genres which are so blurry as to be somewhat meaningless these days.

System and UX design:

  1. A Tagging Team gathers in a community topic to craft the first set of words
  2. Those words are added into the song info section
  3. Listeners tag songs as they listen, suggesting new words that aren’t listed
  4. The Tagging Team updates the list based on new suggestions, filtering down to prevent redundancy
  5. A new section allows people to get automated playlists based on their current mood

Some questions and caveats:

  • Should artists be able to over ride what listeners choose?
  • Should artists be able to block certain songs from being tagged at all?
  • Should we integrate a points system for tracking contributions?

There is no doubt that this system of music organization and discovery will be quite rudimentary. But what it offers seems well worth it:

  • it gets a large group of people back on the service every day to listen and tag
  • it is quiet achievable at our current scale of engineering
  • it incentivizes artists to upload new works (and past catalog) with a guarantee that their music is going to get heard

So, discussions… comment, tear it apart, present counter solutions… lets discuss!


Playing devil advocate here:

How do you think the expressive tagging model would work for pieces of music that express different moods to different people?

Could this not distort the art into something it was never intended to be?

Take this famous piece of ambient music.

  • Is it triumphant or Existential? Blissful or depressing?

Think @richjensen said something similar when we were texting about this. Perhaps this leads to needing to ask the question… “is it possible to define music in words, or is music simply too subjective?”

Perhaps that should be the subject of our next twitter poll?

Totally with Rob here. Words are too static for music.

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This problem exists way before streaming though. The instance you attempt to categorise music you are defeated before you start in many ways.

But then negating to do so, really takes away from the users experience.


My hunch is that this area can be approached with delicacy. My objections really heat up when the platform starts to privilege the crowd’s identifications over the artist’s.

‘Tag view’ should be an opt-in.

Platform level algorithmic ‘tag sorting’ should be discouraged.

If the platform works for artists it will win.


That pretty much sums up my operating philosophy with Resonate for the last four years.

Definitely agree on the ban on platform-level algo-sorting.

How would tag view be opt-in?

Ultimately an artist needs an audience, so the goal of this exploration is to find a method that fosters active engagement while not leading us into massive engineering complexity.

I guess this comes back to a more philosophical question about ‘why do musicians make music?’ Where does the power lay in determining the value and reception of music, the maker or the market?

When it comes to curation, would consistency not be key? If we begin to have some tracks opt-in labeled but not others, the process becomes nullified.

By looking at the musical community and the way DJs sort music is a interesting insight.
DJ Objekt, gives some insight here ( as to his methods of categorising music on his USBs before a tour. focusing on BPM and the songs purpose to him: “openers” "beatless transitions’ and “fast and functional” to name a few.

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The way soundcloud handles this is by having the artist write their own tags at upload. I think tagging makes sense to have because otherwise, (without algorithms or platform intervention,) what other way would you allow genre-based searches? Labels could also choose their own tags.


Hi @pando sure seems to be the most pragmatic way. It also ensures that musicians art is represented in the way they intended it to be.


Yes, and soundcloud self-tagging with custom genres option is so much better than the very limited headline genres of Spotify, or even BBC Introducing!


Would love to find the evolution of this… Where self tagging from artists turns into a meaningful dialogue with fans. Human curated digital culture!

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The app that Ghostly offered for a while (sadly no longer available) was quite interesting, allowing you to choose between different tempo, mood/colour and textural parameters (although I get that the concept of mood-based listening is now somewhat tainted because of conventional streaming services and their playlist algorithms). Worth checking out though.


Apart from genres or styles of music - which is the usual “Amazon-shelves-oriented” approach - a useful tagging system could include parameters such as:

  • instrument(s)
  • number of players in the track (e.g. duo, trio, quartet, quintet, sextet, ensemble…) with the option to specify further (e.g. strings, brass, woodwinds, percussions, etc), and another option in case there’s a soloist (e.g. cello+strings, etc)
  • mood(s), single words, with up to N fields in the form, as a track may have more than one mood
  • A box to specify if that one track is a movement of a multi-movement work (e.g. a Suite, a Symphony, etc), and a field to provide the internal link to the other movements of the work.
  • A field to specify the composition/production stage of the track, as in: “sketch”, “raw”, etc up till “def track”.

Hi everyone, nice to meet y’all.

This idea jumps out of the screen at me. On first read it seems like a good way to achieve the objectives you named. There are some aspects that are worth sharpening, though. Two scenarios, ideal vs. nightmare.

The ideal result from giving users this toy: a large, active user base of taggers who are smart / poetically-minded, and incentivised to put effort into the process, creating a rhizomatic bewildering network of overwrought-review-like tags – like golden-era Pitchfork, but emotively hypertext. This builds on the label and fan networks that already exist, allowing not only preference but WAYS OF SEEING / WAYS OF DESCRIBING to direct what a user hears. “Resonate, play me music tagged #GlowingTeeth.” Then, like Twitter, we could sort by latest, most relevant (uh oh, there comes the algorithm, but you know what I mean), filter by other genre-tags, etc. This bewildering fun rhizome thing would depend on a user culture that embraced it, and there’s no way of knowing ahead of time if they’d do that. But if they did, this could get really fun. And music tags themselves could become popular and viral-ize, just as songs could.

The nightmare result from giving users this toy: again assuming people use it, tags could be hijacked by spammers, creating a meaningless gloppy tag soup. Too much individuality = everything’s the same, a bunch of tag noise. Worse, just as on Twitter, artists/labels would then be incentivised to tag their work with popular new trending tags, further eroding meaning.

To address the concern about artists and music categorisation, I know artists usually revile categorising their own music (I do) so having other people do it might be a relief. So maybe you can tag everything BUT your own music. Other people have to tag it for you. (This could be easily side-stepped in many scenarios of course, but maybe there are ways around that…) Artists could get veto power, saying no to a tag they don’t like and deleting it, but not adding their own.

Big worry though: if we’re going to compete with Spotify we have to provide an equivalent or greater value for the listener than Spotify does. This social aspect COULD be that, it’s fun. But is it too weird, and maybe a turn-off?

Anyway, I like it. But I know I’m a weirdo, and we need to build it with normies in mind too. :slight_smile:


Mmm, I think we ARE building for the weirdos. Normies allowed but not sought after. “Music to take a shower to” is not our target market.

And if we attract the hardcore weirdos they’ll be like the flowers for a million bees to follow.

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A lot of nuances at play here. Music fans seem to like genres, sync agents like tags to be moods, even colours.

The new Spotify Artists’ track submission process combines genres, even religious culture, and instruments, though genres quickly lead down to a very prescriptive set of sub genres.

Amazing Tunes that feeds into the UK’s independent Amazing Radio allows self-tagging freedom, and also has a deeper set of mood tagging with suggested tags to choose from, but you can set your own too I think.

Obviously we want to develop our own methods but if it’s useful I’m happy to upload some screen shots of other platforms’ tagging systems for research purposes.


Blockquote How would tag view be opt-in?

It’s been a while since I was in here, so I’m not positive I can recover my notion of opt-in. I was definitely keen on privileging human-based choice and transparency. Something like what @emperorxwas going for. More like graffiti tags, where the identity of the tagger is relevant.

In my fantasy vision, Resonate accretes community like a reef of self-sovereign palimpsests. Like, the point is to make live friends here, so you might become a fan of my tagging, and I will endeavor to tag intentionally.

The ‘opt-in’ characteristic might have been imagining a feature where: if my tags are annoying then you would be free to block them out of your search/view. Likewise, I could turn on the tagging trails of my friends and fellow travelers. I could stop at a particular stump of art and sniff the marks left by previous passersby. Or not, as my whim required.

I’ve used searchable tags and mood matchers to identify music cues and license audio, etc. I appreciate their utility. (And that would be a cool, monetizable service to provide to artists, btw.) But, if I could have anything I want, I’d like to have access to maximum detection of any number of filter-layers by which I can review affinity swarm trails of psychic breadcrumbs.

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