Whether I’m working or relaxing, tuning in or tuning out, music is a constant in my daily routine. As is typical of a library-based listener, my soundtrack is a mix of old favourites and newer additions, but usually, nothing absolutely fresh flows through my speakers or earphones. Once in a while, though, I break this mould.
There are several routes which new music takes on its way to my eardrums. I listen to local commercial radio, for example. Radio stations will always provide a wider scope of tracks than my iTunes library, but the variety of broadcast playlists can be a little too random — which is why I’ve also long used Last.fm. As a taste-based recommendation engine, it is as close to human as an automated platform can currently be. However, this intelligence can actually hinder the finding of newness. Presenting me with clones of the music I already like isn’t going to improve the breadth of my listening experience.
A new app named MPme Radio wants to find a happy medium between these polar opposites, marrying the unexpectedness of radio with the predictability of an intelligent recommendation engine. Given that this app relies on the content provided by third-party broadcasters, though, is a middle-ground nirvana really possible?
The concept behind MPme Radio is to provide a large selection of internet radio stations, but to present them in a way that suits your musical preferences. You may be wondering how it knows what you like to hear. The answer is Facebook.
Log in to the social network via MPme Radio, and the app will scan through your likes, searching for pages and profiles that are attached to artists. Of course, this does mean that you need a Facebook account, and even more importantly, you need to have liked quite a few musicians in order for MPme Radio to gain an accurate insight.
What MPme Radio does with this data is pretty impressive. The default screen, as you browse the app, provides a list of stations that match your computed listening tastes, along with live track listings via the internet equivalent of DLS or RDS — if you spot a song you like, it is possible to jump straight in and listen to it.
Given that my Facebook account provides MPme Radio with a decent working sample of music data, the stations it lines up are fairly well in line with my preferred styles. It’s not perfect — a disconcertingly large number of Metallica tracks found their way into my stream — but I think the balance between variety and suitability is well struck.
If, however, MPme Radio’s suggestions do not meet with your approval, you can browse by genre (and sub-genre), or flick through the What’s Hot charts: For You offers stations that match your likes, This Week presents the most popular artists of the last seven days, and Our Picks is a selection of stations that is curated by the developer.
A powerful search engine is included in the main menu, and music that you’ve recently listened to is listed in the History section. Tapping on a track here brings up the profile of the artist who recorded it, complete (in most cases) with a Wikipedia-derived bio. If any of that artist’s tracks are being played somewhere on MPme Radio’s network, you can also tap the play button to listen in.
All of the options above are displayed within MPme Radio’s exceedingly pretty interface, which includes the kind of brightly coloured “tiles” you might associate with the Windows Phone OS.
The listening area is also visually appealing, featuring an image of the artist being played, social options, and information on the station. A swipe to the right reveals a list of the station’s recently played tracks, and the star at the bottom of the screen can be tapped to add either the station, or the artist, to your favourites.
Pretty much any song you hear can also be bought via MPme Radio. The big red cart icon in the bottom right takes you to the appropriate area of the Play Store to make your purchase.
I’m deeply impressed by MPme Radio. Of course, it has some seriously hefty limitations — to get the most out of this app, you need to have liked most of your favourite artists on Facebook and the injection of randomness into intelligent recommendation is not a concept that will suit everyone. But MPme Radio is, without doubt, beautifully designed, and it delivers on its promise to bring filtered music variety to your handset.