I’m passionate about music. I couldn’t live without it, valuing the time spent listening to my favorite tunes. I primarily listen to music while I’m working, and I strongly recommend it to those who don’t have bosses breathing down their necks for 8 hours a day. Others listen to music while they’re working out, others still while they’re entertaining guests. That’s the thing about music; everybody has their own preferences.
This means it’s pretty difficult to assign any sort of order or formula to music. Radio stations have to build their playlists around a particular genre or era in order to build an audience, while people used to try and persuade their friends that certain artists were the greatest by creating mixtapes (still alive thanks to digital mixtape tools). The problem is even following the rules needed to make a perfect mixtape cannot guarantee success.
It’s now seemingly all about playlists, especially thanks to streaming music services such as Spotify. But that doesn’t mean we should let the ‘Shuffle‘ button destroy our efforts to craft the perfect ordering of songs to suit our mood. Which is where MixShape comes in, offering an automated way of re-ordering tracks so they fit together in a more satisfying manner.
What Is MixShape?
The video embedded above offers a very brief overview of what MixShape is, how it works, and who has collaborated on its creation, but for those who prefer to read than watch… MixShape is an interactive Web-based tool designed to adjust, order, and edit playlists until they are perfect for any occasion.
Microsoft is the company responsible for MixShape, using it primarily as a tool to promote Internet Explorer 10 (and to a lesser extent Windows 8). Thankfully Good Guy Microsoft (no, seriously) hasn’t limited MixShape only to IE10 users, and it should work on any up-to-date browser that supports HTML5.
How Does It Work?
MixShape works thanks to a combination of the aforementioned HTML5, a partnership with The Echo Nest — previously responsible for Infinite Gangnam Style — and some seriously cool algorithms that turn songs from pure audio into audio/visual beings with a life of their own.
Pictured above are the shapes that get assigned to each track after it has been analyzed for liveliness, danceability, and energy. These shapes are then assigned a color (from the limited palette pictured below) and the colored shapes are batched according to tempo and volume. At this point each track in your playlist has a unique visual signature.
Shaping A Mix
The process of turning a run-of-the-mill playlist into a carefully-constructed, visually exciting playlist (or MixShape) is very simple. After hitting the MixShape homepage you choose an occasion from the four currently on offer — Romance, Party, Exercise, Work — as seen below. Once selected you then choose a more specific example of that occasion, which changes the shape your playlist will be molded around.
Once this is selected you have to direct the app to a Spotify playlist to work around. This is done by simply copying and pasting the Spotify URL into the space provided. Once you click ‘Ready‘ the magic begins, with MixShape analyzing the tracks in that playlist and slotting them into position where they will work best with the options chosen.
Your playlist will not necessarily remain intact, with tracks swapped in and out as needed. MixShape tries to match your tastes by only adding tracks of similar genre and style to those it is replacing, but it doesn’t always get it quite right. Thankfully you can still edit the playlist by clicking ‘Edit Playlist‘ in the top-right corner.
You can make the playlist longer or shorter (the default is around one hour) and raise or lower the curved line that forms the shape of your playlist (as seen in the screenshot above). Clicking on an individual track back in normal viewing mode zooms in on the visualization and shows you where it is in the playlist and what elements made MixShape slot it in to that particular space (as seen in the screenshot below).
After you’ve finished tinkering you’ll see the finished MixShape presented for final approval. The shape and length of the curve you end up with will depend on what choices you made to this point. The screenshot below shows the default Exercise>Pyramid MixShape.
All that’s left to do is play your newly curated playlist in Spotify. Unfortunately the new Spotify Web player isn’t an option, with the desktop application required for this particular task. The screenshot below shows how the MixShape looks when opened in Spotify… just the same as any other playlist. The difference is there’s now at least a semblance of order to the songs being played… as long as you remember to turn off ‘Shuffle‘. If you want to be able to play your creation again in the future you’ll have to ‘Follow‘ it in Spotify.
MixShape isn’t perfect, but it’s a fun tool despite its slight quirks. With more occasions to choose from, and the opportunity to decline the inclusion of individual tracks you really don’t want to see added, MixShape would be close to perfection. Regardless, if you’re already a big Spotify user then MixShape is more than worthy of your time and attention.
Have you tried MixShape? If so, what do you think of it? Did you notice the playlist flowing better after it had been analyzed and altered by The Echo Nest? Have you got too used to playing individual tracks as and when you see fit to even bother caring what order they’re played in through a playlist? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.