Now Playing: The Soundtrack of Your Life

Written by Lalaine Ignao • Photography by Christian Vierig / Contributor, Getty Images • December 26, 2016

Ever wished you could have your own soundtrack, with a specific song for every key moment, like in the movies? With Google, now you can. At least that’s the goal, as the company aims to take music personalization to a whole new level.

The new version of Google Play Music released last month is notable because Google is for the first time using its vast stores of user data to help it recommend the right music at the right time. Google, of course, has scads of information about the people who use its apps—Search, Gmail, YouTube, Maps, Calendar, etc.—so if it’s able to connect listening history with data points about a person’s location and what they’re doing (to name a couple), the company should be able to suss out music recommendations that are particularly on target for that person.

Until now, music services have relied on users’ listening histories and databases of related artists to recommend or personalize music for users (see Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist and Apple Music’s “For You” tab). But some have delved even deeper into the music itself to find relationships among songs. Since 2000, for example, Internet radio service Pandora has been developing its Music Genome Project, involving the meticulous human analysis of 450 musical attributes per song—all in the name of being able to match similar-sounding pieces of music.

Google, however, appears to be looking into the context of users’ music listening for additional clues as to what they’d like to hear—time of day, work or play, and even things like weather and search history. It may sound intrusive to some, but for today’s always-connected digital natives, it likely seems more like a benefit of all their trackable online activity.

That is certainly Google’s intention as they seek to serve up the right song at the right time. “We want it to feel as easy as radio,” Google Play Music lead project manager Elias Roman told Wired, which was impressed enough with the big-data effort to call it a “robot DJ mind reader.”

The eventual result of all that effort—one-touch access to just the right music no matter when or where you are, could end up shifting the music-service landscape yet again. And who knows? One day soon you may have that perfectly personalized soundtrack to your life. Just like in the movies.

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