Pandora: Your Personal Music Geek

When I was in college, I was a database of certain types of music. Mainly alternative, especially industrial. I’d actually keep handy a two page typed wishlist of albums to get, if I could find it cheap/used. If you mentioned bands or songs you liked, I’d be right there with, “well, if you liked that, give this a listen.” Since college, I’ve backed off a bit (and I have a theory that most people’s interest in music peaks when they’re in college). However, with a wide variety of net radio stations available (and working on a screenplay that involves, in part, the music industry), my interest is again rekindling, especially with indie music. So I could really use a music geek to advise me, based on stuff I know I like.

Enter Pandora, a web version of said geek, but without my endearing arrogance. Give it a song or an artist, and it creates a radio station filled with similar music. It’s powered by the Music Genome Project (I hadn’t heard of it, either), which catalogs musical attributes of songs and artists, so it can find similar ones. It also accepts your feedback to help sculpt the station; if you don’t like a song it plays, it’ll never play it again on that station (but it might show up on another). You can also combine artists/songs on one station to create hybrids. For instance, I’ve combined Elliot Smith and Jon Brion to form a station I call Pop Genius. For the record, I am not a genius. Just brilliant. Anyway, I also created a KMFDM station, which has so far played Static-X, NIN, and Rob Zombie. Hmm. I wonder if I can recreate AOL’s WB channel by entering the best tracks from the Smallville soundtracks. Uh, not that I’d want to… What? No, you’re gay!

The interface is Flash, and is quite smooth and intuitive. You can pause and skip tracks, but not rewind. The sound quality is excellent! I listen to a lot of net radio, and this is probably the clearest, cleanest feed I’ve heard, even though others are also listed as 128Kbs. I have a hunch that the ones I’m accessing through iTunes are streaming 128K MP3, whereas Pandora might be using a variable bitrate format utilized by Flash. It is currently commercial free, but they warn they’ll be ramping up the advertising. I don’t know if this means radio commercials or not, but they’ll give you an ad-free version for $36/year. That seems reasonable, and well under the $10/month Rhapsody/ charges (although you can directly choose songs and albums with those services, whereas Pandora you can only “steer” the selections with feedback).

The only issue is whether they’ll be able to keep up with cataloging new and old music. Obviously, if a song’s attributes haven’t been cataloged, the software can’t really recommend it. They claim they don’t pigeonhole artists, which is good considering the range some of them have (how I miss Leeb and Fulber, who created a new band for every variation of industrial they tried: Front Line Assembly, Delerium, Intermix, and a few others). However, their catalog is 10K artists, and 300K songs, so you’ll probably be good for quite a while.

Stay tuned, I plan to experiment with some software that may complement Pandora frighteningly well, as well as necessitate that MP3 player I’ve been eyeing for a while now…

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