Pandora

Been meaning to check out Pandora for a while, and reminded by two Birdhouse readers in a week that I really needed to jack in. “Pandora is a music discovery service designed to help you find and enjoy music that you’ll love. It’s powered by the Music Genome Project, the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken.”

Create a Captain Beefheart playlist, and it includes The Minutemen, Shellac, Pere Ubu, Iggy Pop, Love… Had similar experiences creating lists starting from Warren Zevon and Chet Baker. The associations it makes feel incredibly natural – uncanny even. Lather, rinse, repeat the experience starting from nearly any artist or song you can think of.

Pandora plays to your current mood like nothing I’ve experienced. Associations are not based solely on the usual “what other people who liked this song also liked,” but on musical analysis of more than 10,000 artists, building a database cataloguing tonality, syncopation, rhythmic style, vocal style, etc. But you can thumbs up/down individual tracks, so it’s an analytic database fine-tuned by associative listener impressions.

Free version is ad-supported, but subscriptions are affordable. Audio quality is a bit on the lo-fi side, but not terrible.

Tune into my Cheap Thrills station.

36 Replies to “Pandora”

  1. Interesting notes there on Farquhar’s blog, though I think he’s being a bit hard on the service. It also seems that like selecting generic-sounding starter seeds like U2, he’s letting Pandora cast too wide a net, and should expect to have to fine tune the selections (you can always add or subtract styles to a list to further “train” it after the initial selection).

    It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty impressed.

  2. No Stravinsky? Wow, that is pretty surprising. I hadn’t ventured into classical with it — looks like some big deficits there. I don’t see Stockhausen either. Still, I wonder how they can catalog 10,000 artists and miss towering figures like those. OTOH, maybe it’s just a licensing issue?

  3. Hey, that is FUN!! And addictive. I struck out with my first selection, David Bowie’s “Life On Mars?” Pandora pointed me to Michael Bolton, Venessa Carlton, Neil Diamond and Billy Joel. Ummmmm, no. So then I tried Massive Attack’s “Man Next Door,” and by the 3rd song Pandora pulled up Ufomammut’s “Oscillator,” a really cool song that I had never heard before. Kind of the point, right?

    Thanks!!

  4. That is really neat! I plugged in “Mike Seeger” (semi obscure player of really old-time banjo and fiddle music — Pete’s brother) and it’s just running off a great playlist of oldtime music. I like the descriptions it gives of the music while it’s playing (“mild rhythmic qualities, acoustic sonority, prominent banjo part” etc). And another nice touch: It shows the artist & song in the browser title bar. So I can keep a Pandora browser window minimized, and just glance at my taskbar if I want to know what’s playing. Now *that’s* cool.

  5. Dan, from the FAQ:

    What about classical music?
    The Music Genome Project doesn’t contain any classical music at this time. We’re still trying to figure out how to tackle that animal… In the meantime, there are some great web sites out there that cater to the classical audience, for example check out KUAT-fm a great 128Kbps classical streaming station.

  6. My *usually* cool radio station:
    http://www.pandora.com/?sc=sh9061898
    (I was a bit concerned when it started playing me tracks by Def Leppard)

    Still amazed at some of the omissions though. No Faust??? The database seems to be very US-centric, it has most obscure American bands I search for, but very few UK/European ones. Hopefully this might be addressed sooner or later, but I won’t hold my breath.

    Also surprised that, despite the dozens of artist names I’ve entered and hundreds more that must match my preferences, I’m getting quite a few repeats. In the three days I’ve been listening to Pandora, I’ve had the same (30 minute long) track by Godspeed You Black Emperor three times now, and I’m almost starting to regret clicking on “I like it”.

  7. Cool, listening now (starting with Wild Bill Davis). The FAQs do make mention of intending to catalog much, much more music. I believe you can excise any artist from your station by giving them two thumbs-down ratings.

  8. Interesting to see, as I keep suggesting new artists as soon as they pop into my head, how the makeup of my station is subsequently skewed. I just added Rammstein, found myself listening to five heavy grungey tracks in a row until I could take no more, hit “Thumbs Down” and was catapulted back into a world of organ jazz.

    What’s your station’s URL then Scot?

  9. Dan – It would be fascinating to get a peek behind the scenes and learn more about their suggestion algorithms, their databases, etc.

    I was listening to your station for a few hours yesterday, and had a gas. Stuff in there I liked that I would never think to add myself (like Yes).

    My Cheap Thrills station is here, though I confess I just created it this morning and started throwing things into it, so it isn’t well-tuned yet (previously I’ve just been creating narrow-gauge stations for myself).

  10. Yes, Yes were a bit of an afterthought. I fought with a moment of “should I really be admitting to liking this” before realising that, yes, I love Yes (mostly). I had similar feeling about adding Black Sabbath.

    For me this highlights one good reason for listening to real radio (as I have been recently, for the first time in ages), or to other peoples’ stations: sometimes we don’t even realise (or admit) the type of music we like. A few weeks ago, I found myself listening to Bruce Dickenson’s Rock Show on 6 Music – http://www.bbc.co.uk/6music/shows/bruce_dickinson/ – initially I thought “quick, turn over, heavy metal alert”, but then as I heard bands like Sabbath and Deep Purple and other newer metal bands I realised that for years I’ve been unintentionally shutting out a whole genre of music which in reality I still love as much as my teenage self ever did.

  11. Never, ever be embarassed to like what you like.

    You should see my friends shudder when I admit to liking a lot of Paul McCartney. That’s what self actualization is all about, baby. Dig it, and don’t care.

    OK, checking out Dickenson now, starting with AC/DC. Hoo boy!

  12. You’re right about not being embarassed – just doesn’t always work that way. The thing is, this wasn’t just “external embarassment”, I had actually internalised it and was denying to myself that I liked this music.

    You’re right on Paul MacCartney too, I grew up listening to my Dad playing Wings LP. Live & Let Die – Wow!

    Biggest new tip I got from the Dickenson show was the Dangerfields (also known as the Dangerfuckinfields) – a blast of fresh air, check them out if you get the chance (although all of their various websites seem to be foobar… err, fubar).

  13. Fun discussion re: bands you love that you are too embarrassed to admit, even to yourself. Last time I was at Scot’s house, I confessed to a deep-seated and absolute love for ELO (“Fire On High” in particular) that I’ve had since childhood and was always really embarrassed about. A moment after I nervously confessed this, to such a scholarly and wide-ranging aficionado as Scot no less, he delightedly pulled out a vintage ELO poster from his boyhood days with a big grin on his face.

    I think we should create a new thread to post and discuss our secret favorite embarrassing songs. Here are a few of my doozies, to start: Robbie Dupree’s “Steal Away,” MacCartney’s “Silly Love Songs” Kix’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” and, yes, Dan —- Def Leppard’s “Rockit.” But I have a sneaking suspicion that my love for these songs is entirely rooted in childhood nostalgia.

    And I know what you mean about skewing your Pandora stream awry with just one miscalculated artist addition. My Massive Attack “Man Next Door” / Mogwai / Grandaddy / And You Shall Know Us By The Trail of Dead / Girls Against Boys stream is coming along nicely, but every time I throw another log on the fire, so to speak, it all falls apart.

  14. ELO: funny you should mention that Amy, I heard them on the radio two days ago (I forget which track, but it was one I had totally forgotten existed – I think it had a line of French in it?), came home and added them to my Pandora list immediately. Still haven’t had any ELO come up, but I can see how it skewed my playlist with the likes of 10cc (up there with Wings in terms of playing time from my dad when I was a kid).

    Perhaps we should just start a thread on 70s Rock/Pop dinosaurs?

  15. Yeah, I kinda thought about ELO on Pandora after I posted. What would an entirely ELO pandora station even sound like??!!! They really don’t have any contemporaries, and are, really, much too much of a novelty act to conform to Pandora’s search criteria. “We see that the band you selected, ELO, features songs heavy on chirpy, upbeat lyrics, synthesized robot voice, backwards violin playing, Wagnerian orchestral sections coupled with snappy sychopated disco beats and frequently morphing time signatures. Noted for their similar use of the above, we heartily suggest………..”

    I’m gonna go right now and find out. I bet it’s hilarious.

  16. but every time I throw another log on the fire, so to speak, it all falls apart.

    Man, I can relate. These suggestion networks are fragile. I keep thinking I’ll be able to turn Cheap Thrills into some kind of super station I can include in my .sig or something, but then I turn around and it’s embarrassing the heck out of me, and not in a good way.

    Dan’s 10cc reference just inspired me to add Godley and Creme.

    Amy, how did your ELO station play out? (bril description, BTW).

  17. The ELO station was massively disappointing. I didn’t know a single artist they recommended for the first 10 artists, then I gave up. But perhaps there is something about that (my “without peer” prediction). Had a bit more luck with narrowing the station to only “Fire On High” by ELO. Again, didn’t know the first 10 pics, but the first suggestion was “Don’t Want To Say Goodbye” by The Rasberries. Didn’t know it, and can’t especially say that I like it, but it sounds **uncannily** like ELO. And then the 11th song was “Something” by the Beatles. Meh.

    Going back to our Secret Embarrassing Songs thread (which no one seems to want to take up, leaving me dangling with only my embarrassing choices exposed). Read this today in “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs” by Chuck Klosterman:

    “….Nobody would ever claim that Billy Joel is **cool** in the conventional sense, particularly if they’re the kind of person who actively worries about what coolness is supposed to mean. Billy Joel is also not cool in the kitschy, campy, “he’s so uncool he’s cool” sense, which also happens to be the most tired designation in popular culture. He has no intrinsic coolness, and he has no extrinsic coolness. If cool was a color, it would be black —- and Billy Joel would be sort of burnt orange. Yet Billy Joel is GREAT. And he’s not great **because** he’s uncool, nor is he great because he “doesn’t worry about being cool” (because I think he kind of does). No, he’s great in the same way that your dead grandfather is great. Because unlike 99 percent of pop artists, there is absolutely no relationship between Joel’s greatness and Joel’s coolness (or lack thereof), just as there’s no relationship between the “greatness” of serving in World War II and the “coolness” of serving in World War II. What he does as an artist wouldn’t be better if he was significantly cooler, and it’s not worse because he isn’t. And that’s sort of amazing when one considers that he’s supposedly a rock star.”

  18. Amy, I think you have a wiretap on my Pandora station. I found myself tapping my toes to a neat-sounding Joe Jackson-ish piano track the other day. Tabbed over to Pandora to see what it was… Billy Joel! I broke out in a cold sweat, couldn’t quite bring myself to “thumbs up” it, but it certainly made me revise my opinion of Billy a little.

  19. That Billy Joel description was chillingly accurate. Something about him is OK to like despite his lack of cool.

    Sorry not to have chimed in with my “embarassing” faves. I think we’ve already hit the big ones, but I’d have to add Devo to the mix (no, not whip-it devo, but “space junk” devo). More damning, I’d have to list some of the mid-70s Jefferson Starship – Spitfire is a fantastic record, and I’m not too proud to say so.

    Some good tips on tuning Pandora stations here.

  20. Dan! No “Duty Now for the Future?” Surely it’s in the same league as “Are We Now Men?”

    Those whacky Disney kids, wow. Lately I feel like I’ve been seeing 13-year-olds in Ramones t-shirts on every corner. Something is happening here, but I don’t know what it is.

  21. OK, I’ll admit it… I only own “Are We Not Men” plus a “Best of…” compilation. I only listened to the “Best of…” a couple of times, over 10 years ago, and didn’t hear anything there I liked which wasn’t on “Are We Not Men”. So I wrote off everything else Devoid. I’ve a feeling that, with the passing of age, I may be a little warmer on the later stuff if I tried again (plus the Disney Kids have given me the taste for more Devo).

    On a similar trip, one of my favourite songs of all time is an ultra-obscure idiot savant cover version of Mongoloid by a band called The Oroonies, except their version is called “Cloven Foot”. Unfortunately it was a tape-only release. I’ve had the tape sitting around for years, meaning to rip it to MP3, but not yet.

  22. Another mystery of the great Pandoracle: Why does it want to play Iggy Pop’s “I’m a Conservative” like every 10th song?

    I neither like it nor dislike it, and have just let it ride. So why the frequency?

  23. Hi Guys

    About the Oroonies song Cloven foot, well not really about it but related to it. Do you ever woder wht happens to the people in bands like that. Well I know what the bassist is up to http/perso.wanadoo.fr/the.easy

  24. Hey Dan Sumption
    So good to know that you really dig cloven foot ;I can tell u this it was Boris joie and Russ that put that together and we played it everywhere .music rules. Geek

  25. Holy cow Dan – you get an award for legit comment on oldest post. Amazing that you remembered this and were able to dig it up.

    Yeah, I recognized “Mongoloid” in there in the first few bars.

    Too bad the wobble board is so neglected. But I bet Dame Darcy plays one (she’s so good on the singing saw, a close cousin).

    Sez Wikipedia: “The largest privately owned collection of wobble boards outside of Australia is owned and curated by ex-Beatle Ringo Starr.”

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