The Echo Nest looks at how movie and music tastes overlap

Nicki Minaj
Like Nicki Minaj’s music? You probably prefer Pixar movies over other family films, according to Echo Nest.
(Todd Williamson / Invision / Associated Press)

Love Usher and Nicki Minaj? That probably means you prefer Pixar films to other kids’ movies, according to a new study by Echo Nest. 

The Somerville, Mass.-based music data mining company thinks it can predict your movie tastes based on the music you listen to.

Brian Whitman, co-founder and chief technology officer of Echo Nest, and his team have been looking into their company’s stockpile of data since 2012 to find out how much movie and music tastes overlap.  

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Sure, country music die-hards and hip-hop buffs are different in many ways, but how much those preferences predict people’s tastes in movies, and vice-versa, may be surprising.

The data released Tuesday morning do show some predictable results. (George Strait and Kenny Chesney fans are more likely to enjoy westerns, for example.) Less predictable is the way the data can forecast what specific kinds of superhero movies people will like and what brands of animated features they will flock to.

Pixar fans, for example, are different from family film fans at large, Whitman said. Pixar buffs were are likely to favor R&B and hip-hop artists like Usher, Nicki Minaj and Notorious B.I.G., while people who like family films in general are more drawn to Reba McEntire and other country stars.

The research also looks into some long-held stereotypes within the fan-boy genres, weighing in on the Marvel versus DC Comics debate.


DC Comics, which boasts heroes such as Batman, tends to be seen as the darker brand, compared with Marvel’s characters, which include Spiderman, in the opinion of Echo Nest project manager Ajay Kalia, who worked with Whitman on the study. 

DC fans tend to prefer some more aggressive music fare, such as Alice in Chains and Rage Against the Machine, whereas Marvel fans are more likely to groove to Britney Spears and Lady Gaga. In most ways, however, the two camps are closely aligned. Both are inclined to appreciate Breaking Benjamin’s alt-rock, as well as tunes by Jay-Z and Korn.

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But there is a real divide between fantasy and science fiction nerds, with the former tending to prefer pop -- think Christina Aguilera -- and the latter leaning toward classic rock.

As streaming on-demand music services become more popular, Echo Nest wants to know more about what people listen to and why, and Whitman says looking at movie tastes along with music preferences helps get a more complete picture of a person.

“Music preference unlocks some of your identity, so that’s what’s most interesting to us,” Whitman said.

Echo Nest, which closed a $17.3-million round of funding last year, has made a name for itself by analyzing what music people like and how and why people listen to the music they do.

The company collects troves of data from music blogs and social media sites to see how people talk about certain artists. It sees what’s trending online and what key words are used to describe each band.


It uses that data to help developers make better music discovery apps and build websites to better help their customers find artists they might enjoy. The company says it has collected data points on nearly 35 million songs and 2.4 million artists.

“The more you know about people’s interactions with music, the better you can recommend new music, so this is something we’re making a focus,” Whitman said.

He said part of the purpose of the movie-music study is to show how the company’s data can help customers such as Spotify and Rdio learn more about what their users want.

Last year, the company put out a similar study that analyzed musical taste according the political leanings. Republicans tended to like country more than Democrats, while Democrats leaned more to the R&B side. Democrats seemed to have more diverse musical tastes.

The company is working on similar studies based on book tastes and geographical location. 


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Twitter: @rfaughnder

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