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The Minds Behind Pandora
October 19, 2009 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Four years ago metafilter was introduced to Pandora. This weekend, the New York Times introduced the world to the minds behind the music genome project.

The essential question guiding the project: are inherent properties of music more important than the social connections that bring music to us?
posted by jefficator (76 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
are inherent properties of music more important than the social connections that bring music to us?

No.

Pandora's pretty cool but I've had way more success in "getting what I want" via my extended network of music freaks-experts-lovers (ie: people who actually know me).
posted by philip-random at 2:40 PM on October 19, 2009


philip-random: "via my extended network of music freaks-experts-lovers"

This reminds me, I should try out AudioScrobbler/Last.fm.
posted by pwnguin at 2:44 PM on October 19, 2009


Pandora's main problem is that it has no opinion on quality.

If I tell it I like a particular Paul Van Dyk track, it'll start streaming me commercial pop trance like Amber or ATB, and not any of the songs that Paul Van Dyk would play in a DJ set. It's okay if I'm in the kind of mood where commercial trash doesn't bug me, but that's rare.

Also, it runs out of selections pretty quickly on a lot of underground stuff -- like if I put in a baltimore club producer, it'll play the same 3 albums over and over again.
posted by empath at 2:47 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, it runs out of selections pretty quickly on a lot of underground stuff -- like if I put in a baltimore club producer, it'll play the same 3 albums over and over again.

This is why I hate it.

I can listen to Finnish chiptune composers ALL DAY on last.fm, or Portuguese hip hop, or Brazilian folk music. It is a more international musical experience.
posted by winna at 2:54 PM on October 19, 2009


It would be killer if Pandora had a mode where it only played songs you had never listened to before, or that you had only heard x times. Doesn't seem hard to do.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 3:02 PM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


are inherent properties of music more important than the social connections that bring music to us?
Yes yes yes! I like I turned into a martian and total ecplise of the heart for the same musical reasons. Show me what I'm missing! I really love Pandora.
posted by Brainy at 3:25 PM on October 19, 2009


I didn't have time to finish the article. Did they happen to mention why Pandora hates Canada so much?
posted by mannequito at 3:28 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


if I put in a baltimore club producer, it'll play the same 3 albums over and over again.

There are more than 3 b-more producers? I joke, but are these terribly accessible (or to be crass: commercial) genres? I know of them, but I'm fond of weird electronic music, though I couldn't name you (m)any artists, groups or labels from those genres. It's tough to imagine one company could give you access to EVERY KIND OF MUSIC EVER MADE, and even a variety there-in.

It sounds like Pandora needs to be fed the music (probably from some distribution companies), which is then digested into subjective parts. On the flip, Last.fm runs on tracks submitted by users, who also listen to other music, relying on the listener patterns to set up suggestions.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:30 PM on October 19, 2009


There are more than 3 b-more producers? I joke, but are these terribly accessible (or to be crass: commercial) genres? I know of them, but I'm fond of weird electronic music, though I couldn't name you (m)any artists, groups or labels from those genres. It's tough to imagine one company could give you access to EVERY KIND OF MUSIC EVER MADE, and even a variety there-in.

Well, there's the problem isn't it. If you like the kind of music you can hear pretty much anywhere, then pandora is great for you. If you want new underground stuff, it's pretty useless.
posted by empath at 3:35 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hate Pandora because of its lack of selection of forest troll metal.
posted by ryoshu at 3:35 PM on October 19, 2009 [15 favorites]


They only problem I have with Pandora is the occasional missing song/artist, although this is probably due to legal issues.
posted by Taft at 3:37 PM on October 19, 2009


Pandora is excellent at getting songs that sound a lot like what you like, but for me the lyrics and emotional notes are v. important, and Pandora has never seemed able to riff along those lines.
posted by dhartung at 3:37 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


There are more than 3 b-more producers

Also, there's a whole scene of east coast bmore club/garage/dubstep/grime/hip-hop/indy dance producers that if you put any of them in last.fm, it'll find the rest of them -- Pandora was really bad at it -- it would add a bunch of stuff that was completely off the wall, and miss a lot of producers that are related, and adding more just made it even less focused ---

Mostly because on the surface, the music doesn't sound similar. It's only when a DJ mixes it all together that all that stuff really meshes.

I guess it's probably a problem that's specific to dance music, but any genre of dance music seems to have the same problem on pandora -- with the addition that house and trance songs are almost always ripped from mix cds rather than being radio edits or extended mixes, so they tend to end and start abruptly.
posted by empath at 3:44 PM on October 19, 2009


>: Also, it runs out of selections pretty quickly on a lot of underground stuff -- like if I put in a baltimore club producer, it'll play the same 3 albums over and over again.

I had Pandora at work and seeded it with X, the Minutemen, and Mission of Burma.
All it would play was "Bone Machine" by the Pixies.

And yes, it has no opinions on quality. If you seed it with something good it has no qualms about feeding you no end of complete horseshit you'd hear on an Adult Contemporary station.

>: Well, there's the problem isn't it. If you like the kind of music you can hear pretty much anywhere, then pandora is great for you.

If all you like is the music you can hear pretty much anywhere, you're probably a Grey One and aren't really human at all.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:46 PM on October 19, 2009


At SXSW a few years ago, the guy at the Pandora booth told me they do their matching by paying musicians* to classify songs based on attributes, like tempo, style, instruments, etc. Compared to last.fm's matching algorithm based on actual listening habits, pandora is far inferior.

*possibly otherwise unemployed musicians?
posted by Pants! at 3:48 PM on October 19, 2009


okay, last comment on this:


Pandora:Yahoo::Last.fm:Google
posted by empath at 3:50 PM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


In other online music service news:

Results of a blind listening test show that a third of people can't tell the difference between music encoded at 48Kbps and the same music encoded at 160Kbps. The test was conducted by CNet to find out whether streaming music service Spotify sounded better than new rival Sky Songs. Spotify uses 160Kbps OGG compression for its free service, whereas Sky Songs uses 48Kbps AAC+ compression. Over a third of participants thought the lower bit rate sounded better.

posted by Joe Beese at 3:51 PM on October 19, 2009


Well I know when I'm describing a new band to my friends, I'm totally all "you're gonna dig this band SO MUCH man! They employ a subtle use of vocal harmony and mixed acoustic/electric instrumentation. Check out the mild syncopation too!"
posted by idontlikewords at 3:55 PM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


it'll play the same 3 albums over and over again.

So hit the "I'm tired of this" button when a song repeats. I agree that Pandora's repetitiveness is its worst feature-- putting a song to rest for a month gets around that.

Then if I want to listen to that song again, there's always Grooveshark.
posted by ibmcginty at 3:55 PM on October 19, 2009


Good article; I'm constantly surprised to find that people don't know this about how Pandora works.

In my experience Pandora works a lot better than last.fm; last.fm is good at playing me stuff that other people play a lot, which is to say, stuff I've already heard. Pandora is constantly playing stuff I've never heard of, and that nobody I know has ever heard of, and which is great. That's impressive!
posted by escabeche at 3:57 PM on October 19, 2009


That's an interesting find, Joe Beese. Either years of poorly-fitting ear buds and lousy mp3 compression have dulled people's hearing, or some people just don't have good ears.

In either case the smart move is to have an optician-like calibration (1? Or 2?) the user can do that saves 66% of the b/w costs for 33% of the user base, or a total b/w reduction of ~20%. :)

Actually- that now raises for me the question of whether ears are like tastebuds, and everyone picks different things out. If you could fit everyone into one of a small group of N "profiles", you could probably pre-encode the same tracks to N copies and set everyone to ~48Kbps- so long as it was the right 48K encoding that emphasized what their ears were listening for.
posted by hincandenza at 4:04 PM on October 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


i do a lot of stuff with audio and i can't really tell the difference between low bitrate and high bitrate unless i do something to manipulate it -- if you tempo adjust a track in ableton, lower bitrate songs degrade much more noticeably, imo.
posted by empath at 4:11 PM on October 19, 2009


I love Pandora. I've gotten used to the way the program "thinks", for lack of a better term, and am therefore rarely disappointed in the choices it makes on my stations.

2 basic tips for those interested in trying it out:

1. Don't put in Artist names as data for your stations. Instead, think of specific songs by the artist you like. That will make a huge difference in your return. For example, I am not a big Kanye West fan in the sense that I don't like much of his music. But, I like the style in the song Flashing Lights. Put the song in instead, and it will return a tighter flavor of cross-sectioned music. This is especially useful for real musicians (sorry, Kanye) like The Beatles or Paul Simon. If you just put the Beatles, there's no telling what kind of stuff you will get. Put in some specific songs from the era you want represented, and it does a much better job.

2. Spend some time thumbing up and down songs, even if you don't know the song. If a specific part of the style of song isn't pleasing, thumb it down, and it if it hits pretty well on the style you like, thumb it up. Even a few extra data points will make a pretty big difference.
posted by lazaruslong at 4:25 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Only thing Pandora did really well was introduce me to artists who are like Peaches.
posted by kathrineg at 4:29 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


This goes right to my primary area of research. The answer is no, there *are* no "inherent" properties of music that are not mediated by socialization, cultural norms, personal experience, and social context. The "meaning" of any sound structure is only determined within some specific social context in which the interpreting subject is located. The question is wrong -- and it's the same wrong question that has made the cognitive psychological study of music the dead end it has been, in my opinion.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:37 PM on October 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


Or put it differently: you may like 30 unrelated songs because they all have the same BPM, tonal spectrum, and balance of words and music. Someone else could hear and like the same set of "inherent" properties for utterly different reasons, but to the algorithm, you're identical.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:39 PM on October 19, 2009


Either years of poorly-fitting ear buds and lousy mp3 compression have dulled people's hearing, or some people just don't have good ears.

Or you guys are missing that AAC+ (HE-AAC) isn't the same thing as MP3/OGG, but a newer algorithm that's explicitly designed for low-bitrate encoding; quoting Wikipedia:

Scientific testing by the European Broadcasting Union has indicated that HE-AAC at 48 kbit/s was ranked as "Excellent" quality using the MUSHRA scale. MP3 in the same testing received a score less than half that of HE-AAC and was ranked "Poor" using the MUSHRA scale. Data from this testing also indicated that some individuals confused 48 kbit/s encoded material with an uncompressed original.

(that last sentence indicates that we might be moving into "my speaker cable is better than your speaker cable" territory here. but as indicated later in that article, high-bitrate MP3 created with a high-quality encoder still performs a bit better than low-bitrate AAC in blind tests by codec aficionados, so there's still hope for high-bitrate fans...)
posted by effbot at 4:42 PM on October 19, 2009


That's an interesting find, Joe Beese. Either years of poorly-fitting ear buds and lousy mp3 compression have dulled people's hearing, or some people just don't have good ears.

Also, not all encoders are created equal. It's fairly ridiculous to compare completely different codecs in this kind of situation, especially considering that AAC+ generally performs better at low bitrates than other encoders. The fact is, as more encoders hit the market, bitrate is becoming a fairly useless signifier of audio quality. At the AES convention last weekend, I did some comparison listening with an as-of-yet unnamed Fraunhofer codec that's currently in the MPEG standardization process. It's sick. It put out better audio at 16kbps (and stereo, so 8 per channel!) than other codecs I've heard at twice that. I can only imagine how good it sounds at higher bitrates.

Enough derail from me.

posted by god hates math at 4:49 PM on October 19, 2009


Only thing Pandora did really well was introduce me to artists who are like Peaches.

So you could avoid them?

I kid... i kid...
posted by empath at 4:51 PM on October 19, 2009


Ehm... I use Pandora. A lot. I hit my 40 hours pretty early on in a given month and am currently wrestling with the idea that maybe I should upgrade to the premium package.

I listen to it a lot.

For the longest time I made different stations for each artist I liked. Then I just started lumping all the artists I like onto one station (Nanukthedog Radio for anyone who is interested in getting a mix of Midnight Oil, Michael Hedges, the Tea Party, Tupac, Jump Little Children, Josh Radin, Coolio, Colin Hay, Michael Franti, Merle Haggard and the ~250 other artists I've added to it. Warning: the Dido was a guilty pleasure at a moment of weakness - you were warned... I'm still trying to purge its effects... )

Anyway, I digress...
Pandora works for work for a lot of reasons, but principally because it isn't always what I want. I loose the choice. By restricting me to close enough, I'm not babysitting it unless there is something truly awful, or something truly great. That means I wind up more honest with what I like, and the experience of the music is to relax, not to focus on. Its pretty rare now that I go with a day where I hear a bunch of new songs, those that I do get get a real good listen - or a very fast thumbs down. Either way - I've found a lot of good bands this way.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:54 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


At SXSW a few years ago, the guy at the Pandora booth told me they do their matching by paying musicians* to classify songs

That's what this article is about: the story of a company that has hired a bunch of “musicologists,” who sit at computers and listen to songs, one at a time, rating them element by element, separating out what sometimes comes to hundreds of data points for a three-minute tune. The article delves into the qualifying of song features and elements.

And from Joe Beese's linked article on Slashdot, this comment makes note of the error in the report. In short: AB testing instead of ABX, and no mention of the codec(s) used. See more previously into perceived audio qualities and the next generation of users who enjoy the "sizzle sound" of low-end bitrates.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:05 PM on October 19, 2009


I don't seem to have much luck with the algorithm. I swear ... I could ask for polka music and they'd play James Taylor. They need a "never play this guy for me ever again" button.
posted by RavinDave at 5:32 PM on October 19, 2009


Count me as a fellow convert. I suppose it depends a lot on the listeners personality, but for me Pandora has been a godsend. I have little contact with other musicophiles and the ones I do know are similarly strapped for time to read about or listen to new music. I actually remember listening to someone describe the music genome project on Talk Of The Nation last year or two years ago and it was pretty damn fascinating stuff, especially considering there did not seem to be any real marketable outlet for it.

For a guy in his forties who still craves inspiring music like he was still in middle school, finding out which five tracks from Radiohead actually appealed to me because I like Sun Kil Moon or getting fed Rogue Wave and Band Of Horses (Fleet Foxes channel) has been wonderful. And yet they don't have the breadth that I might crave were I in my twenties and far more aware of the music scene or into more rarefied or esoteric genres.
posted by docpops at 6:00 PM on October 19, 2009


Does someone know enough about Pandora's classification system to explain how music has a "genome" in that system? Or is the use of "genome project" here just a marketing term?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:11 PM on October 19, 2009


LastFM has a "ban this track" button and very good coverage of obscure music, to the point where I can put in the name of an acquaintance whose music I like and get tracks by other people I knew from the same scene. I mean this literally. I was talking to a dude at a party in my living room and I went to my computer to check out a track of his on LastFM and it spat out music from other mutual friends. And I don't live in LA or Nashville.
posted by idiopath at 6:12 PM on October 19, 2009


I love Pandora, but I can't listen to it all day. I like to find new music by bands I haven't heard of - I've found tons of new artists that way. I can't listen to it all day though, the same way I can't listen to my iPod for very long: need more variety. I know all the songs on my iPod. Pandora doesn't vary the feel of the music very much, even on stations I've seeded with wildly different artists. After a while of listening, I feel like I'm in a mall store.

I do find it better than last.fm, though. I don't have a concrete reason why, but it sure seems like when I'm listening to last.fm I'm always having to get up a go skip a track I hate.
posted by ctmf at 7:03 PM on October 19, 2009


Yeah, Nanukthedog, we listen to David Lanz radio pretty much every night as sleepy time music, and as such hit our limit on the 3rd or 4th day of every month. But then we just pay the $0.99, and listen to it unlimited for the rest of the month. A buck seems a small price to pay.

Now that I think about it, nowadays we really only use Pandora for the bed time station. David Lanz radio (pegged to Christifori's Dream) and Zero 7 (pegged to Today) comprise about 95% of our Pandora time, and that probably comes out to about 200 hours a month, for a buck.

Elsewise, Pandora is still subservient to a good iPod mix when entertaining or relaxing.

As an aside, it's pretty sweet when friends of ours who are musicians get into the genome. Hoots and Hellmouth made it on there recently, and its a blast to sit around and listen to other upright bassists that the genome thinks my buddy John sounds like. I think we drank like half a bottle of Basil Hayden one night doing that.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:17 PM on October 19, 2009


Does someone know enough about Pandora's classification system to explain how music has a "genome" in that system? Or is the use of "genome project" here just a marketing term?
posted by Blazecock Pileon


Not really. Taking a stab though, when you add in data to the system, it outputs text while it builds the station. For example, when inputting Hoots and Hellmouth as linked above, it says:

"To start things off, we will play a song that exemplifies the musical style of Hoots and Hellmouth, which features acoustic rock instrumentation, country influences, folk influences, a subtle use of vocal harmony and acoustic rhythm piano."

All of those are spot on with the exception of the last one. They maybe use piano on one song on both of their records. Who knows. But it's pretty easy to read the sentence as a grouping of variables that are identified by their system and then output as other songs that share a preset number of variables. I imagine certain ones are given more weight that others, and that their variable identification is probably a mix of factors that can be determined electronically, like instrumentation and tempo, and possible some human added data like influences.

It's probably a lot more complex than my mental hypothetical model, but the base seems to be that they have made an algorithm that identifies a number of musical and stylist variables in tracks, and then outputs tracks that share them.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:23 PM on October 19, 2009


I go through phases of liking Pandora and then not using for months and months (I think the last time I went on it was a year or so ago). One thing I've noticed is that if I ask it to create a radio station on a song I like (e.g. Matt & Kim's Yeah Yeah) it will give me a lot of songs I don't know and that I like but when I input a song I *love* (e.g. Billy Bragg's Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards) it will throw in a lot of songs that I dislike or am indifferent to interspersed with the occasional song I know and love already (e.g. R.E.M's Shaking Through on my Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards station). Is anyone else's Pandora experience like that?
posted by Kattullus at 7:28 PM on October 19, 2009


Yes, I think it is because the tracks we love tend to be way better than other similar tracks so you end up with a lot of stuff that's just not as good as what you put in, and it's disappointing.
posted by kathrineg at 7:40 PM on October 19, 2009


Just curious: why do people find things like Pandora, Last.fm or even satellite radio a preferable means of discovering new bands as opposed to reading reviews across a variety of publications and intentionally seeking out the more frequently praised acts as opposed to just kind of passively stumbling across them? The problem with the Pandora and satellite models I think is that, yes, if that's all you listen to you'll probably be more or less satisfied with it, but if you dig a little deeper you might find that the artists that they recommend are merely better promoted, slicker versions of superior acts doing something similar. In other words I think there is a certain settled-for quality with any medium in which someone else is selecting the music where it's good enough given the relative ease of effort but will never suffice for those that consider music more than just an idle source of entertainment.

PS. If you're going to use Rolling Stone or Spin as a model for why I'm wrong please keep digging before responding.
posted by squeakyfromme at 7:51 PM on October 19, 2009


kathrineg: "Yes, I think it is because the tracks we love tend to be way better than other similar tracks so you end up with a lot of stuff that's just not as good as what you put in, and it's disappointing."

It could also be that the really awesome tracks are the common ground appreciated by a wide variety of tastes based on a variety criteria. If that is the case, you will get a more accurate channel by plugging in an acceptable or mediocre track in exactly the style you are looking for, which would have much less ambiguity as to why someone is listening to it.

You could be asking for a station built around "Take Me To The River" by Talking Heads because you enjoy the energy and funk, because you can dance to it, because it has those African-American gospel style backing vocals on the live versions, because you appreciate the art-school wit of David Byrne, because you like Al Greene songs etc. etc. etc. the song really has wide appeal and could anchor a number of very different playlists. On the other hand, if you asked for a station based around "The Book I Read", off the 77 album, that gives much more information about what you are looking for, because it has a much narrower appeal, so a playlist based on that would be more likely to cater to the particular tastes of a person asking for that track.
posted by idiopath at 7:55 PM on October 19, 2009


squeakyfromme: "you might find that the artists that they recommend are merely better promoted, slicker versions of superior acts doing something similar"

I have been played DJ Foxdye, Whitehouse, Kazumoto Endo, Charles Gayle, Peter Brötzmann, Haters, Alvin Lucier, Merideth Monk, Iannis Xenakis, Krzysztof Penderecki, Pauline Oliveros, to list a few, via plugging in better known artists than these in LastFM. If these are the more polished and commercial versions of superior acts, I would be fascinated to hear those superior acts, because these artists all seem pretty "legit", as the kids put it these days. LastFM, in my experience, does a really good job of elaborating on the "long tail" for the obscure genres and scenes I plug into it.
posted by idiopath at 8:03 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kattullus - Yes. I do pretty well with songs I like, or songs I hear for the first time and fall in love with, but not so well with the songs that I can more or less play note-for-note in my head. That plus the commercials rather put me off Pandora, but I don't find that Last.fm feeds me music in the same way - it's great if I want to track an artist or a song down, but less helpful when I just want to push play and let the music run. But I have a friend who plays these really great hours long mixes whenever he's entertaining, and 9 times out of 10 it's Pandora, so clearly some people make it work for them.

reading reviews across a variety of publications and intentionally seeking out the more frequently praised acts as opposed to just kind of passively stumbling across them?

Time, money, and the fact that that degree of research and buying music unheard takes more than I'm able to spare of either. I sort of use reviews + Pandora/Last.fm as a shortcut: if I read a music review that sounds interesting, I like to preview before I buy an album or a bunch of tracks, and if I hear a song I like, I'll usually look for reviews to see if it's a one-off or an artist whose back catalog I should dig into.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:06 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Heh, now I've road-tested the Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards radio station again and after an initial run of suck it's now started playing songs I quite like, including artists I knew about but hadn't thought about in a long while (e.g. Jeffrey Lewis, Pete Krebs) and ones which had never entered my consciousness (e.g. Nothing Painted Blue, Gore Gore Girls).
posted by Kattullus at 8:10 PM on October 19, 2009


Why do people listen to music with crappy earbuds? Why hasn't lossless compression caught on in a bigger way?

Because it's easier, squeaky, and good enough. More or less satisfying, if you will.

(I'm probably more in the record nerd camp myself. But those folks listening to classic-rock radio or whatever? There are probably things that those folks are really into that I don't devote much time or energy to--clothes, or television, or baseball or something. I bet they think of me in my threadbare business casual from the thrift store, with no idea what's happening on 30 Rock, and shake their fists in anger, or shake their heads in resignation, or make snide remarks about how they're better than me.)
posted by box at 8:12 PM on October 19, 2009


are inherent properties of music more important than the social connections that bring music to us?

To me, no, which is why most of my friends and I have very different tastes in music. They care about the cultural aspects of the music way more than I do. I just care how it sounds.

intentionally seeking out the more frequently praised acts

Don't care about praise. Don't care about frequency. Just care how it sounds, and too often, the reviews tell me little to nothing about that.
posted by limeonaire at 8:13 PM on October 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


box: I wear threadbare thrift-store business casual on a daily basis. I also like 30 Rock and listen to classic-rock radio. What am I, then?
posted by limeonaire at 8:16 PM on October 19, 2009


limeonaire: "Don't care about praise. Don't care about frequency. Just care how it sounds, and too often, the reviews tell me little to nothing about that."

QFT

This is a HUGE problem in noise / experimental / art music. Way too many critics seem to operate on the following model:

wow, to me this sounds all crazy and weird, I bet if I write a bunch of crazy and weird stuff that does not make sense in my review that will let my audience know how crazy and weird and not making sense this music is!!!!"

As a result, it is impossible to make any kind of judgment based on the review. I much prefer sitting down and hearing some of the music that someone whose taste I trust likes, and going from there. These services automate that social function, and in my experience do a pretty decent job of it for the handful of obscure niches I like to listen to.
posted by idiopath at 8:27 PM on October 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I dunno, limeonaire--what are you passionate about? I'm thinking maybe limes.
posted by box at 8:39 PM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


And after writing my last comment the station went back into suck interspersed with songs I already know and love (various Will Oldham tracks, mostly).
posted by Kattullus at 8:57 PM on October 19, 2009


Pandora is mostly wonderful, but I just tried seeding a station with "Without Her" by Harry Nilsson, and the result is kind of a horror show...

Maria McKee works wonderfully, though.
posted by Limiter at 9:07 PM on October 19, 2009


Blargh, let me see if I can say "wonderful" a few more times.
posted by Limiter at 9:13 PM on October 19, 2009


These hard economic times leave noone untouched! What was once a paying gig is now something for hundreds of people, bored but on the Internet: Tag-A-Tune. Sadly, limited in scope to Creative Commons music for want of compulsary licensing (and funding).
posted by pwnguin at 9:30 PM on October 19, 2009



Time, money, and the fact that that degree of research and buying music unheard takes more than I'm able to spare of either. I sort of use reviews + Pandora/Last.fm as a shortcut


A common enough objection, but also a misnomer I think; the repetition inherent in allowing these streams to select your music for you most likely at the very least makes up for the time that it would take you to read a half a dozen reviews a day, and in the latter case at least you would have some background about the band to go off of which may even enhance your enjoyment of their music.
posted by squeakyfromme at 9:32 PM on October 19, 2009


As a result, it is impossible to make any kind of judgment based on the review. I much prefer sitting down and hearing some of the music that someone whose taste I trust likes, and going from there.

Great in theory, and populist to boot, but I've never met a convincing argument that fans of a certain style of music who just so happen to NOT write about it are more articulate or insightful than those who do. The reason I made the point of excluding such publications as RS or Spin is because, sure, in those cases you could make the point that their reviews are largely biased in favor of their advertisers, but the simple fact is that beyond those mainstream publications the other 99% of venues you might read about anything more obscure than Weezer or Avenged Sevenfold are going to be written up by people who are not paid a single cent for their contributions, and as such what does that make them aside from dedicated and articulate - yet still average, unprofessional - fans of the music?

My main concern with the likes of Pandora, as others have mentioned above, is you program in your tastes and their matrix attempts to find something as close as possible to that. Well, you can focus on my argument for obscurity and try to refute that, but the fact is if Pandora is feeding you back very little aside from music that sounds as close as possible to what you programmed in then yes, they favor those who like repetition more so than being exposed to new things.
posted by squeakyfromme at 9:47 PM on October 19, 2009


i dunno, i haven't read a music critic in probably 8 or 9 years and I have no problem picking out new music -- unless you count music bloggers as music critics, which I guess they are.
posted by empath at 10:23 PM on October 19, 2009


unless you count music bloggers as music critics, which I guess they are.

Yes, they are. Which is kind of my point: that the vast majority of people writing about music these days are amateurs but highly informed nonetheless. I'm not arguing for some entrenched Establishment by any means, and if you have friends in your peer group that are ridiculously up to speed on a certain style of music, by all means make those your go to guys. But in the absence of that I'm not sure that general word of mouth is as comprehensive an alternative. I mean, sure, if you're a fan of Korn or Lady GaGa then the critical establishment is going to be anathema to you, but by the same token if Sunn O))) or Daniel Johnston is your bag you're probably not culling your recommendations off Amazon reviews either.

So where in the middle of that does something like Pandora lie? Personally I'd rather have the abstract connections of a well informed music fan than an algorithm that tries to feed me music that's as close to what I've already heard as possible. I'll give an example, and those of you who are more experienced with Pandora's algorithm can pipe in and tell me what I'm missing: let's say I'm just starting out on getting into industrial music from the ground up, so I've programmed in stuff by Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, SPK and Test Dept. based on what I've heard so far. Well, anyone who is familiar with the progression of that genre knows that it took a decidedly guitar-oriented, metal assault starting around the late 80s, at which point it eventually ended up along the lines of "The Downward Spiral", Godflesh and Fear Factory in favor of the previous synth-oriented, goth-by-way-of-post-punk approach.

Now my question is how does Pandora's matrix know how to get me from the spare, post-punk but decidedly non-metal Throbbing Gristle to Godflesh unless I've already programmed in some metal for it to kind of string the two subgenres together... and if I've already done that do I really need Pandora to do the cross referencing for me or won't a 30 second scan over a Wikipedia hyperlink suffice?
posted by squeakyfromme at 11:03 PM on October 19, 2009


I love pandora, but have found limitations - for example, if I put in a good country song like Neko Case's "Whip the Blankets", it'll give me three good alt.country songs and then a metric assload of crappy mainstream country. Okay, so pandora doesn't know country music - I can live with that.

I've found it great for learning about jazz and am quite sure it's introduced me to jazz that was just what I was looking for that I would have never found any other way. Super! So why is that when I put in a Squirrel Nut Zippers song I only get 90's revival swing bands when I was hoping to find their precursors? That, to me, is a bigger flaw than not being able to tell good country from bad.

Lastly - the college radio station I dj'd at had music divided by female and male vocals. It had been done in the late 70's and everyone agreed was stupid by the time I got there. Why do I (for the most part) only get female vocals when I put in a song with a female singer and only male vocals when I put in a song with a male singer? MY WHOLE POINT IS THAT I WANT TO FIND MUSIC THAT'S THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT. If I wanted it to sound all the same I'd just listen to a Norah Jones album, for god's sake.
posted by smartyboots at 12:21 AM on October 20, 2009


squeakyfromme: "Now my question is how does Pandora's matrix know how to get me from the spare, post-punk but decidedly non-metal Throbbing Gristle to Godflesh"

Yeah, that's not what it's for. It doesn't help you follow a genre's development. It doesn't particularly care about the progression of a genre. You're right that wikipedia would do a better job of that.

What it does instead is let you know about stuff that sounds like something you already know you like. You may not like what came before or after it in the scheme of things. You tell it you like "Burning Inside", and it's going to find you other songs that share the qualities of that song, which may lead you to other bands in the genre at that time, or newer or older songs that also share those qualities that you apparently like. It's not going assume you will also be interested in anything off of Twitch or Filth Pig. They don't sound like the thing you're actually into. It's more of a lateral style of exploration than a vertical.

Pandora assumes that what you like about the music is the way it is constructed, not the influences it borrowed from, or what is hot in the scene. Just the composition itself. This can lead you to discovering music you never would have discovered from biased sources. If you take away all the social aspects, you might just find that you actually do like Crabcore.
posted by team lowkey at 1:09 AM on October 20, 2009


Pandora certainly exposed me to bands that were not new by any stretch of the imagination, but were certainly new to me. Bands that I had previously given a pass to for a variety of reasons - they were overplayed in the past five years (Wolfmother), I disliked the artist's projected persona (Jack White), or that I had discounted in my teens as not being for me (Led Zeppelin). It took several Pandora sessions to get to those bands, starting (I think) from The Killers and slowly thumbs upping or downing stuff that came up until I arrived at a sound I discovered I liked.

I had not previously sought out this sort of music, nor (as I can attest to the scowls on the faces of my wife and friends whenever I'm in control of the radio) do I have any friends who would have exposed me to it. But after discovering the bands for myself via Pandora, I went to iTunes and the local record shops and spent some money.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:57 AM on October 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've found the same problems with Pandora that others have reported: it's good at finding songs that "exemplif[y] the musical style of [x]" in terms of rhythm, tempo, instrumentation, etc. But it's less good at finding songs that capture the 'is-ness', the essence, of what I like about a particular artist or song.

I'm in the wrong country to use Pandora now, anyway, but I find last.fm better. It's currently recommending that I listen to a bunch of Flying Nun artists, because I've got the Chills, Clean and Straightjacket Fits. And I like all those artists, but haven't scrobbled them yet.

It's also giving me Cave Singers, Blue Roses, Monsters of Folk and Felice Brothers (all of which I've recently had recommended to me by people I trust, or were vaguely aware of); and Phosphorescent, Deer Tick, My Latest Novel, The Thermals and Broken Records (none of which I've heard of, and all of which sound reasonably interesting. So last.fm seems to be working for me, at least. (And of course if you can combine it with Spotify and instantly listen to most of those artists, it's near perfect).
posted by Infinite Jest at 5:00 AM on October 20, 2009


squeakyfromme: "Great in theory, and populist to boot, but I've never met a convincing argument that fans of a certain style of music who just so happen to NOT write about it are more articulate or insightful than those who do."

That's not what I said. The point is that there is a dirth of people who can be articulate about the music I am looking for, and I would rather just LISTEN TO THE MUSIC rather than the blather they spout about it. I turn my ears off when those trusted friends try to describe it, because I know that is going to be useless. The metric is "did they say they liked things I also like? If so, what other things did they say they liked.", I could care less whether they are articulate beyond being able to pronounce the name of the artist.
posted by idiopath at 6:01 AM on October 20, 2009


And when I criticize critics of this stuff for unhelpful reviews, I am obviously not talking about Rolling Stone or Spin because to those magazines the stuff I am looking for doesn't even exist, I am talking about home made zines and such which are devoted to the genre.
posted by idiopath at 6:06 AM on October 20, 2009


What docpops said. It's been a godsend to me as far as finding new music; I love Pandora. I listen to it all day at work and I've gotten it to a point (modest mouse, mountain goats, james mcmurtry, paul westerberg, iron & wine, new pornographers, decemberists, xtc & arctic monkeys combined with their canned punk/new wave station) where I am very happy indeed. Yeah, there is some repetition, which is okay for me at work when I'm really using it for background music, but then it will almost always surprise me with at least a couple of new songs. Pretty frequently these new songs will impress me enough that then I will go to itunes and spend some money. It turned me on to Martin Newell just last week and now I am so crazy about Martin Newell that I've been reading his blog and listening nonstop to his music (to the great sorrow of my family and friends; seems he is not for everyone) and even contemplating an FPP.

Reading about music just doesn't do it for me - insert well known trope re dancing about architecture here. The last time I read a music review it was Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker waxing poetic about Los Lonely Boys and so a couple years later when I saw a CD in the thrift store I bought it and I was not thrilled, Sasha, not thrilled.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:18 AM on October 20, 2009


Anything that brings James McMurtry to the light of day is sublime.
posted by docpops at 8:09 AM on October 20, 2009


docpops, I know! Saw him (self link; I took pictures) Sunday night; he was amazing as always, incredible show. If you ever get a chance to see him, GO.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:18 AM on October 20, 2009


Did anyone in the first 20 comments, and many in the comments after that, even read the article?!?
posted by rollbiz at 9:23 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


And what I mean by that is there seems to be a lot of people discussing how Pandora sucks because it doesnt' do what it wasn't designed to do, which leads me to believe that you didn't read the article.
posted by rollbiz at 9:40 AM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the article:

He likes to tell a story about a Pandora user who wrote in to complain that he started a station based on the music of Sarah McLachlan, and the service served up a Celine Dion song.

Thanks, Pandora. I finally won a heated argument I had about three years ago. That is, yes Celine Dion sucks but so does Sarah M. How did I know this? Why did I feel compelled to make an issue of it? Because my heart + soul + brain + whatever else it is that defines my "Taste" told me. Same way it tells me that Lee Scratch Perry is phenomenal where Gregory Isaacs is just, you know, reggae music.

Maybe what we need is the Pandora that is influenced only by those who have somehow, somewhere proven their taste, that would allow me to randomly tune it in, select DOWN TEMPO INSTRUMENTAL and get relevant Brian Eno, Aphex Twin, David Sylvian, Can, Tortoise, Beastie Boy selections ... without any danger of stumbling into the dubious thralls of Andreas Vollenweider, Yanni or John Fucking Tesh.

That is, a Pandora that only so-called tastemakers who have passed my own personal bullshit filter could influence.
posted by philip-random at 9:57 AM on October 20, 2009


Kattullus: For what it's worth, I always associate Bright Eyes "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and Be Loved)" with "Waiting for the Great Leap Forward" for various reasons. Of course this might require not hating Bright Eyes, which quite a few people do.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:24 PM on October 20, 2009


I don't dislike Bright Eyes, but the only concert of his I ever saw I fell asleep at (I was there to see his warm-up band, Arab Strap).
posted by Kattullus at 12:27 PM on October 20, 2009


Did anyone in the first 20 comments, and many in the comments after that, even read the article?!?

This. Is. METAFILTER.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:12 PM on October 20, 2009


Did anyone in the first 20 comments, and many in the comments after that, even read the article?!?

Don't know if you included me in that, but I admit I hadn't read the article, so I did.

It had some interesting stories, and went into details about the inner workings of Pandora that I wasn't familiar with, but the general overview of how Pandora worked was nothing new to me: I'm well aware of the differences between how Pandora and e.g. last.fm work.

And personally, as I say, I prefer last.fm. Pandora might be doing what it's designed to do, but that isn't very useful to me. YMMV, obviously.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:16 PM on October 20, 2009


rollbiz: "Did anyone in the first 20 comments, and many in the comments after that, even read the article?!?"

Nope. Not yet anyways. I've read how Pandora operates before. Do I need to read a pretentious 6 page article to understand it? I guess a NYTimes magazine doesn't have to focus on the "new" part of news, but you know, I do have other things to, and if it takes 5 pages to get to the part about how Pandora compares to other services, all I can really say is.... TL;DR.

Besides, I've used Pandora, but not yet tried out Last.fm; I really should try it out and see how it compares.
posted by pwnguin at 2:34 PM on October 20, 2009


It helps to know how a tool works when you're using it.
posted by Kattullus at 8:09 PM on October 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


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