Have you got Prince Albert in a can? Now, you’ve got Pete Tong in a phone. Photo (>CC-BY-ND) Messy Cupcakes Photography.

It probably doesn’t occupy the daily thoughts of normal people, this question of how music recommendations will work in the future. But go to trendy “future of music” conferences and panels and the like, and you’ll hear from countless prognosticators consumed by the dilemma. Many of the solutions amount to clever algorithms, machine solutions to working out what you’re hearing and what you might like. It’s no surprise in this era of data mining and search engines and endless connected choice, but it might make you wonder if there’s a place for the humans.

Enter Pete Tong – the legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ. (It’s fitting that “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” shares a name with a film about a fictional DJ losing his hearing – restoring hearing to the mobile machine listener here is precisely the idea.)

What’s interesting about this app is that it restores the human to the equation – even as it uses algorithms to analyze your music library. So, sure, it’s a bit of a gimmick – down to the Pete Tong branding on the app. But there is a human element that might make it worth using. And it’s a hint that the future is part machine, part human – cyborg recommendations over robot recommendations alone.

In something that might make artists take notice, too, incentives for buying are woven into the app, as well.

Functionality for the new app:

  • Music recommendations based on what’s in your library
  • Automatic playlist organization, based on what you’ve got, alongside those recommendations
  • New concert notifications
  • In-app purchasing of music and live event tickets
  • Social networks connect to sharing, browsing, saving.

Where does Pete Tong come into all of this? His music picks are fed directly into the app, so that rather than a big bucket of all music ever, the machine analysis and recommendations connect to human-selected tracks. Presumably, that additional focus will provide some human character to what you hear. Tong also makes an appearance via an in-built Twitter feed, though, hopefully he’ll stay more on-task than other ever-hilarious characters from the UK like Stephen Fry (or, better yet, Mrs. Stephen Fry).

Tong also shares tracks he’s playing on a weekly basis; a crossfader lets you select more of his music – versus more of your own – as you build playlists.

For now, on iPhone:

and on iTunes

Android, Windows and Mac versions are coming, though, say the developers.

[Note: we’ll have an update on our own App directory soon. Stay tuned.]

I’m not sure this is the last word in how humans could be involved in recommendations, but it could already be more intriguing than just another dreary trip to “Spotify recommends.” And how many of you still find humans – and friends – more useful than algorithms?

Side note: I’m part of a panel entitled “The Future of Music is Social” at Campus Party Europe later this month, if you happen to be roaming abandoned airports then. None other than the guy behind MP3 will be there. That’s their title, not mine – I hope I’ve worked out my thesis between now and then.