pandora internet radio If you’ve ever wondered how Pandora does what it does read The New York Times article — ‘The Song Decoders’ by Rob Walker. It’s really pretty nuts. The overall theory of what they do ignores the social theory of music-liking (I love that term) you may have run into on Amazon or iTunes (“People who purchased Creed also liked Nickelback”) based on lumpy genres and broad-based buying habits. According to Walker,

Pandora’s approach more or less ignores the crowd. It is indifferent to the possibility that any given piece of music in its system might become a hit. The idea is to figure out what you like, not what a market might like. More interesting, the idea is that the taste of your cool friends, your peers, the traditional music critics, big-label talent scouts and the latest influential music blog are all equally irrelevant. That’s all cultural information, not musical information. And theoretically at least, Pandora’s approach distances music-liking from the cultural information that generally attaches to it.

But the ‘how’ of Pandora (known as ‘The Music Genome Project’) is nothing short of amazing.

2 thoughts on “Music-Liking”

  1. I totally agree with Wess on this one. I have only used Pandora maybe 20 times and have already noticed it. While I love that I have found some new amazing artists I wouldn’t have found otherwise…the fact that I have to keep creating different stations is a pain, and would rather have a greater variety in the songs from the artists.

  2. I was a strong booster for Pandora when I first started using it, but my enthusiasm has waned since, and I almost never use it anymore. In fact, I’ve become a little afraid of it, and I’d like to share why, because I think this might be important to some serious music lovers.

    I realised after a long time that however awesome the Music Genome Project is in working the metric magic behind Pandora, Pandora’s own selection is sorely limited. In discussing this with them, they correctly stated that Pandora has a larger diversity than most radio. This is at best damning themselves with faint praise. “Best beer in Milwaukee” is nothing to brag about.

    I have indeed been exposed to a lot of new material through Pandora, which has even led to me discovering, seeking, and buying music that I likely would not have otherwise. For this, I am very grateful. But there’s a darker side, which I’ve been trying to convince them is fixable, and if they don’t could backfire horribly for them and many others.

    The problem is that they’ll play the SAME track by some artist, over and over and over. So, yeah, you get to hear 100 different artists or whatever, depending on how you’ve tuned a given station, but you’ll hear the same tracks by those artists. Again and again and again. Instead of hearing, say, 50 different King Crimson tracks over the course of a few days or weeks, I’ll get the same four or five — and the same for all the other artists. It’s so bad, in fact, that routine listening led to me being able to often guess which song would be next.

    Boredom is the least concern here. The real danger, for everyone, is what a Canadian DJ termed “radio vinegar.” You know this, it’s happened to you already many times, and you know how tragic it is: You love a song, and you love hearing it on the radio. Or you did, the first ten thousand times. But after enough listens, you got tired of it. Then sick of it. Now you can’t stand it anymore. You used to love it, and now you hate it. All because it got played way too often. You don’t know if you’ll ever be able to enjoy it again the way you once did. And it’s not like Elvis is gonna kick out any more fresh material for you to enjoy.

    With Pandora, this is magnified dangerously. Not only do you get to hear your favourite tunes too much, but it’s a selection tailored to stuff you like. So you also eventually get sick of the stuff you only discovered through Pandora. Give it enough time, and you will no longer be able to truly enjoy all the music that you’d be likely to enjoy. And you don’t have much love for a lot of what else is out there. Pandora actually does the one thing most of us hate about most radio: play our favourite songs to death.

    Pandora’s scheme works in the short term, but over a long time makes Pandora itself unlistenable, and ruins music for the people who would get the most out of Pandora: people who don’t like everything, which is most of us.

    All they need to do is expand the per-artist playlist. I’ve tried to explain this to them, but I swear to Ceiling Cat, some of the dimmest tech support people I’ve ever met are working for Pandora. So I’ve pretty much given up hope. It’s sad, and unnecessary.

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