For the last four months or so I have been exploring the Pandora music service from my computer (via the Internet) as well as my Sonos music system. Pandora uses the phenomenal work done by the Music Genome Project to serve up individual songs in a radio station format.
In case you are unfamiliar, the Music Genome Project is an attempt to organize music into over 400 attributes via a complex mathematical algorithm. They have developed musical genes, each corresponding to a specific musical characteristic, then applied the math to tens of thousands of songs. What you are left with is a genetic map of the “body” of music. It ignores lyrical content, band members, lifestyles, etc., which one could argue drains the passion. Kind of the opposite of what music stirs in us. But the idea is so intriguing I had to check it out.
Pandora has developed code to allow consumers to select a favorite artist, composer or song and set up radio stations on their web site. Pandora then plays music, one song at at time (like radio) that matches what you selected; all driven by the Genome Project. If you hear a song you don’t have but want, a simple click will allow you to buy it from iTunes or on CD from Amazon (as available).
The User Interface is very clean and simple. As songs are played, the album cover art, song title, album and artist glide into view. You can get around the site easily within minutes.
I must say I was a bit skeptical about what would would be played, but I was quickly hooked. The gene thing works amazingly well. All throughout my stations they mange to play songs that are familiar as well as some things I have never heard. Great way to learn about new artists. You guide them as you go along by voting on each song (not mandatory) like this.
This helps the Pandora engine refine the playlist so it delivers more of what you want to hear. There are a number of controls that allows you to customize by bookmarking songs and artists, launching other music, or opening windows that give details about the artists album and song. When you add a station Pandora politely provides a brief summary of the attributes established by the Genome Project for the artist you selected, like this.
Lately they have been spending a significant amount of time building community. Within the main interface you can click on Fans and see other Pandora users who also like what’s playing, as well the stations they have created. You can click into their stations, add them to your list, learn where they live, drill down to other Pandora listeners in that city, even an individual company. Nicely done.
You can take Pandora with you on your mobile phone if you have AT&T or Sprint as your provider. For the home, it’s available for Sonos, and Slim Devices (Squeezebox and Transporter). There are some frustrations. When you hear a song you can’t go back to listen again. You can only skip a set number of songs within any given hour. Pandora claims this is do to music licensing limitations. You get it all free as long as you are willing to put up with annoying ads. The ads go away when you subscribe. Sonos users must pay once the trial period ends; no free option.
There are so many ways to experience music in this highly converging world, that it’s hard to believe there will be a clear winner. But the Music Genome Project makes this one unique and worth checking out.