Is Apple's Genius really a genius? The answer, plus brief thoughts on other software that "listens" to music.

When submitting songs to contests and the like, you will ALWAYS be asked to check the appropriate genre box. Pop? Rock? R&B? Sometimes it's easy, but sometimes it's murderously difficult. For example, whenever I've had to pick a genre for Here Comes the Weather, I've gone with Pop, but it has never felt right, since I think of Pop as Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake. But, it's the best approximation, so I go with it.

Then I downloaded Apple's new iTunes 8, and hit on what I thought would be a great way to help me pick genres for tunes of mine that don't seem to be easily categorized. My idea was to run a tune of mine through iTunes' Genius feature, which builds playlists based around songs' characteristics, and then I planned to scrutinize the list for genre clues. Simple, right? Not so fast. Apple implies that Genius "listens" to your music and decides what would go well with it, meaning that you could theoretically put any song into it and get results. In fact, Genius is really nothing more than a brute force database, which, if it contains the song you want to build your playlist around, simply looks up that song's tags and presto, a playlist is made. Nothing magic or "genius" about it (except it is an ingenious marketing tool, in that it will point you to both songs you have and songs you don't have). Anyway, I ran Here Comes The Weather through Genius, waited expectantly for the playlist that would surely result and... nothing, nada, zip. The reason, of course, is that Here Comes the Weather hasn't been tagged for Apple's database, so Genius can't do a thing with it. What a disappointment. And what an opportunity! Imagine, if someone really did create some software that "listened" to music, then identified other music that was similar. That would be GENIUS.

Actually, there is something out there sort of like this, but rather than identify genre, it identifies hit potential. The company behind this AI effort is called Music Intelligence Solutions, and their service appears to be called Hit Song Sciencec. I write "appears" because it's clear from going to the two web sites that Music Intelligence Solutions remains somewhat in beta, at least to the general public. Stay tuned, though. I plan to try their service when I can, and I will offer up a full report.