Dial, what dial? Pandora.

Dial, what dial? When was the last time you tuned in to your favorite radio program on an actual radio, single letter (point) number x4, and in the middle of an amazing mix, just when you were getting your groove on, the on air personality cuts in saying something like: “don’t turn that dial we’re about to go pay some bills” leaving you dancing to the ringing in your ears from blaring your favorite jams probably too loud as Sherwin Williams the world leader in the world of paint sells some indoor outdoor eco friendly paint alternative? Even worse, imagine that same groove all of your favorite jams back to back and as you reach your climax the on air disk jockey, plays that one top 40 song that you hate because you hear it 20 times a day. The song you’ve been trying to physically remove out of your mind the song even your grandmother knows as a hip grandmother, completely killing your mood. So in order to prevent this you begin to illegally download music from kazaa creating your personal playlists lacing your house computer with viruses and spyware stealing personal information and selling it to the highest bidder before the RIAA sends your mother a letter threatening to sue her for $15,000. Now as your grandmother turns on the computer she is blasted with porno pup ups and when you come around she looks at you funny. Well good news, you no longer have to be that guy.

Enter Pandora and the Music Genome Project. Pandora, in the most basic of terms is an online internet radio which a user can input track names, artists, albums, and even genre to create a “station” or a host of  songs similar to user inputs. Pandora allows the user to provide positive or negative feedback which Pandora remembers when recommending songs for your station in the future. Pandora listeners can enjoy an unlimited flow of music once limited to 40 hours a week prior to Sept. 2011. Pandora listeners have two options to subscribe to the leader in US Internet radio: a paid subscription as well as the more popular free account only requiring an email address and a password. Yes you guessed it the free subscription requires interruptions by advertisers but before you get your undies in a bunch remember those annoying advertisements which have plagued your groove since the beginning of FM /AM  fund your free personalized music. The revenues from these ads help cover Pandora’s total cost about 50% of which going to content acquisition.

The big question listeners are asking is: how does Pandora know exactly what I like? Please tell me music isn’t invading my privacy like every other online site I visit. Well not to worry Pandora has not taken the mysterious Google spying in your email via keyword recognition route. Pandora a service created through the Music Genome Project that uses complex algorithms and over 400 music genes to find songs as similar as possible to your search input. Yes you just read genes as in blue eyes, dark skin, tall, short, double helix alladat GENES. What the geniuses at the Music Genome Project intended to do was to “capture the essence of music at the fundamental level.” The innovators of this project use over 400 attributes, complex mathematical algorithms, and genomes which includes music genre to codify songs. Each song is represented by a list of attributes known as vectors containing about 400 genes similar to the way geneticists determine genetics for living organisms.

Each individual gene represents a characteristic of music. The following are examples of those genes:  gender of lead vocalist, level of distortion on the electric guitar, type of background vocals. The different genres of music contain a certain amount of these genes. The geniuses at the Music Genome Project have identified the following: Rock and popsongs have 150 genes, rapsongs have 350, and jazz songs have approximately 400.  The system must have a certain number of genes to render useful results. Each gene is assigned a number between 1 and 5, in half-integer increments. The vectors are analyzed through algorithms utilizing distance functions which are then analyzed by musicians and various technicians. Which in turn find the songs most similar to the user input.

Pandora however has encountered great competition in the internet radio market. Programs such as Spotify and Last.fm threaten to take hold of the internet radio revolution approaching Internet radio with different strategies. Unlike Pandora which  plays random songs similar to user input listeners of Spotify can stream whole albums and recommendations from friends. While Pandora is restricted to the United States Last.fm an United Kingdom based company can stream music worldwide and connect socially with friends sharing playlists and songs recently listened to. So the next time you consider getting your groove on consider the smartest Internet radio, Pandora.

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One Comment on “Dial, what dial? Pandora.”

  1. williamwickey says:

    I’m with you. Right now, Pandora is the best internet music service out there.

    Spotify is promising, but they do not quite have it dialed in yet. For one thing, why doesn’t Spotify have an in-browser player. Every time I open their application on my mac it takes like 2 minutes to boot-up and connect, and then ends up slowing down my whole computer. I applaud their endeavor to make listening a social experience, but I can do without Spotify popping up in my Facebook feed every 3 seconds. I care about what some people I am friends with listen to, and could not care less about others. And, it dosen’t have anything to do with how good of friends we are. I share 199 friends with my buddy Brad from college but he has terrible taste in music. Collen, a former co-worker of mine, and I share 2 friends in common, but she is a professional music blogger. Collen’s opinion is worth more to me, but Brad’s Spotify is always in my feed. So, what I end up doing is going to Collen’s published playlists when I want to find new music. However, that can end up being almost like music homework, rather than sitting and enjoying music I am in the mood for. That’s where Pandora comes in and excels.

    Upon reading your post, I got curious about the music ‘genes.’ How are the genes calculated? Specifically, is this an automated algorithmic process or is each song hand-coded? This New York Times article seems to suggest it is both. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/magazine/18Pandora-t.html?pagewanted=all) Computers can look at thing like tempo and even chord arrangement, but there are also emotional and sociocultural characteristics that are investigated by Pandora “listening analysts.” Ultimately, Pandora has been successful because it measures actual listening behavior. However, the company has flirted with bankruptcy because it has failed to monetize.

    Now is the time for Pandora to take a page out of Spotify’s book and establish themselves as the best music provider on any platform once and for all, by adding a social component to their music genome project. However, they would do well to remember that though music should be a social experience, it shouldn’t be THAT social. There should be a subtlety to the sharing.


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