April 20, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Interview: ColorHits Judges an Album By Its Color




The ColorHits web app was designed to let you “discover new music with color,” quite literally, based on the color of its album cover.

There are plenty of ways to find music that make musical sense. Why not try one that doesn’t? You might find something you never would have otherwise.

Fire up ColorHits (after requesting an invite) and you’ll see a list of search results based on a randomly-selected color. If you are already feeling adventurous, you can simply click on any of the albums that catch your eye, or if not, you can just pick up to three colors from a diverse palette and a genre to start your search. For more control, you can search by artist or album, and start that way.

When you select an album, ColorHits displays the colors on the album cover by percentage, and then suggests albums with similar colors. You can preview each album’s songs; buy them on iTunes or Amazon; or share them with your friends via Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.

We contacted the brains behind ColorHits, Matt Barrett, to find out what is up with this approach, which some might call bizarre. After all, there are several ways to categorize music, and this one seems a bit random. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Paris Hill, Evolver.fm: How did you come up with the ColorHits concept?

Barrett: I first thought of ColorHits while struggling to develop another music discovery project. It started when the Beatles were first introduced on iTunes. I thought to myself: Anyone who wanted the Beatles on their device already had it by some other means — maybe not legally, but if they were real Beatles fans, they already had it. The fanfare of that event seemed a little over the top to me. I thought someone needed to spoof that concept with fake band names that would then lead to similar real band names, ultimately creating new opportunities for discovery. Humor mixed with curiosity would be the main hook. I could tell it was going to require a decent amount of creativity and eventually abandoned that direction.

While I was exploring the iTunes API for that, I came across one piece of album art that ultimately lead me to continue with ColorHits as it exists today: Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak. I noticed the color bar on the left side and thought, what if those colors were a summary of the colors in the album art? What other albums use these same colors?

I referred back to an old project that included some image color manipulation and took some cues from that script, and ColorHits was working in its roughest form. I didn’t understand the full potential until I was working with about 50,000 albums. Currently there are just under three million albums available to search by color and keyword.

ColorHits mixes perfectly with my personal and professional life; I’m a developer by trade, but have always looked at the world from a design point of view. And I appreciate all kinds of music, playing some myself. In the early stages of development, I was curious and when I saw the results and potential of color searching music albums, it turned into an obsession and I wanted to make it available to everyone.

Evolver.fm: How does ColorHits figure out the percentage of colors in an album cover?

Barrett: ColorHits uses a custom color parsing script that analyzes each album cover from the iTunes API. From those results, colors are categorized to group similar visual colors.

Evolver.fm: What do you think the future is like for applications designed to help users discover new music? Now that it’s color, what’s next?

Barrett: The music discovery market is flooded with the ‘similar artist’ concept of discovery. While this type of connection is necessary and very useful, I believe there will be more discovery opportunities based on new connections between artists. Album art is one of them, but there may be more obscure connections out there that ultimately drive a listener to an artist and that’s what its all about.

Evolver.fm: Do you have any future plans for ColorHits?

Barrett: I have been working on a Spotify app, and eventually plan to add a social layer of album art gallery and curation to the web version that could be really cool for art and design types. Native mobile apps are a possibility too, if the demand is there.

I’ve noticed an interesting trend of combining music discovery and colors; whether for playlist needs or to see what’s in your library at a glance, developers are using color to enhance our listening experience.  A fresh take on finding your music is always welcomed, and if it’s color now, then the possibilities are endless.

Read more interviews.

  • http://twitter.com/ian Ian McKellar

    Check out HueSound: http://huesound.org/
    or Musaic: http://musaic.ianloic.com/
    for other visual music discovery hacks.