Music taste prediction down to a science?
August 29, 2005 11:10 PM   Subscribe

Pandora. Bound to draw comparisons to, LAUNCHcast, and Musicplasma, Pandora (formerly Savage Beast) is a music discovery web application that recommends music based not on popularity, usage habits of other users, or genres/categories but on the deconstructed elements of how the music itself sounds. Fruit of the Music Genome Project, music analysts have for more than five years spent 20 minutes analyzing each song in its ever-growing database for nearly 400 distinct attributes, so when you ask it, "Why is this song playing?" It answers, "Based on what you've told us so far, we're playing this track because it features electronica influences, mild rhythmic syncopation, surreal lyrics, use of call-and-response vocals, and string section beds." (YES! Thank you!) Currently live on public beta. [Flash, 128kbps streams]
posted by Lush (44 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
cool--i put in Stars, and Emiliana Torrini, and it gave me whole bunch of people i've never heard of : >
posted by amberglow at 11:20 PM on August 29, 2005

I like that because I entered Elvis Costello's "Radio, Radio" as my first song, it called my custom station "Radio, Radio Radio"
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:27 PM on August 29, 2005

I think I broke it. I put in a bunch of my favorite artists, and now when I ask it why a certain song is playing, I get a "One Moment Please..." message for like forever.

It was cool up to that point though.
posted by willnot at 11:48 PM on August 29, 2005

I put in Camper Van Beethoven as my Seed band. Everything it has suggested so far I enjoy (mostly familiar--some new) but it isn't taking me into any new territory. Now I am lying to it in order for it to take me to somewhere new.

In all fairness, the first CVB song it suggested was "Eye of Fatima Part I" which, though I love it, is hardly representative of that band's lexicon. This particular case is not fair, as the appeal to CVB is their diversity and this sort of software is designed to hone in a specific style--completely worthless if the trait you value in a band is their unpredictability.

That specific gripe aside, this is really, really cool. I'm sure I can coax it (with some well-placed deception) into showing me some great new stuff.
posted by sourwookie at 11:50 PM on August 29, 2005

If you can't skip songs anymore, navigate away from the page. Load a flash page, any flash page, go to settings and delete the Pandora file from the global storage space. Go back to Pandora and you can start all over again.
posted by riffola at 11:51 PM on August 29, 2005

I had to tell it I didn't like 70's Aerosmith for the sake of diversity--that hurt.

I just can't seem to break it of it's desire to feed me straight-eighth power pop.
posted by sourwookie at 11:53 PM on August 29, 2005

I like "extensive vamping".

Well, like, DUH.
posted by WolfDaddy at 11:57 PM on August 29, 2005

why is nothing happening for me? Is it me/my work firewall, or am I missing something?

Looks like a great idea... would be nice to hear...
posted by wilful at 11:57 PM on August 29, 2005

"We are having unexpected technical difficulties. Our engineers are scrambling to fix the problem. Please try again later."

You bork it!
posted by WolfDaddy at 12:06 AM on August 30, 2005

This is super awesome. I had great results starting with artists Monolake, Luomo, and The Whispers. I didn't care for the songs for my Annie Lennox and Prefab Sprout stations, although I will admit that the songs pulled up for those stations were a good fit. Because of Pandora, I added four CDs to my wishlist.
posted by clyde at 12:07 AM on August 30, 2005

My music taste is erratic eclectic and subject to fickleness, for I lavish my musical love on a per-song basis. Excellence can be fluke-a-rrific and sometimes the same artist or even the same album can have stuff I don't like - a large part of why some of the tools above have been way off the mark (for me, personally) with recommendations. I don't think even *I* can pin down what it is I like about my favorite singular songs, except a predilection for syncopated beats and rich melodies. With Pandora, it's nice to know that whether I listen to Stars or Sebadoh or Poe, it'll find a common thread that runs between them and base recommendations on songs that have a similar DNA, so to speak. That just rocks my socks. This is the way to go!

I also like it because it's not social, and thus not cliquish. (Just because other people like one artist and collectively like the same other artists doesn't do it for me.) And I don't have to play songs for it to recommend songs, and I don't have to download/buy them before hearing them; it's right there, right away. Minimal effort, instant gratification. :P
posted by Lush at 12:09 AM on August 30, 2005

Hmmm. I'm having an early-Google type reaction..."Yeah, right...lets see if it finds...oh, wait. It did?"
posted by effugas at 12:12 AM on August 30, 2005

I like what I'm getting, but...

It simply will not get away from the appx 120 BPM, straight/8, syncopated vox, major key tunes--no matter what.

Now my attempts to "evolve" it have been slowed. Previously, when I claimed not to like something, it switched to the next song. Now when I claim not to like it, it says it will move on to something new--after the current song is done playing.

Given what I want to do with this, it simply won't work in real time. I wonder if that restriction is disabled in the paid service?
posted by sourwookie at 12:20 AM on August 30, 2005

Hmmm...i call rubbish on this. I give it 'New Order' as my artist. The first track it picks for me - "I Just Want You To Know" by "The Backstreet Boys"....
posted by metaxa at 12:22 AM on August 30, 2005

Advice (first Pandora Hack?):

I like Garbage. But maybe four of the top ten selections were Garbage -- the point is, I'm looking for things I haven't heard. But the first band I liked that I hadn't heard of was Denali -- so I created a radio station centered around them, and now I've found:

katy rose
ana johnsson
the kills
cathy davey

Of course, your tastes may vary, but this wildly improved the quality of what I got back. My suspicion is that "big bands" have a popularity filter, thus Garbage returning a slightly Garbage-y Britney track.
posted by effugas at 12:56 AM on August 30, 2005

There are some interesting things here -- it does seem to be able to get certain inchoate qualities of music consistent from one song to the next, and I really wish I could get that on On the other hand the "quality" of the music seems to vary a little more widely, as does the mood. It's better at matching an artist than it is at matching an individual song, in that sense. Even if they "sound" the same they aren't necessarily in any kind of intellectual harmony. This seems to work more for creating ambient/background music than discovering new artists, although I'll keep working at that.

I just wish I could combine's knowledge of my musical profile . with the smoother transitions this offers -- and feed what it plays back into my profile!

Interestingly that you can only subscribe annually or quarterly, not monthly. Also interesting that they offer no free option other than the 10-hour trial (which can surely be gotten around somehow). Also, there's no overt community aspect at all; you can't even browse your own statistics, let alone your friends (or potential friends) -- which is a big hobby of users. I don't think these are crippling but they may hamper its growth -- on the other hand this may show they're not trying to "get big fast".
posted by dhartung at 2:06 AM on August 30, 2005

Musicstrands [disclosure: I company I work externally for] is also working on music recommendation technology, but based on «what the user plays», with good results. Then it combines the information with other users' lists and a giant database of songs and records. MusicStrands gets the «playcounts» from your iPod/iTunes, or you can upload your song lists. This is not the same than «tell us what do you like» or «what you have bought» but a more realistic approach. People interested in this kind of technologies may want to take a look.
posted by alvy at 2:07 AM on August 30, 2005

The first song it plays is from the artist you initially input (or if you put a song, it plays that). If you keep the guide open, it says:
"To start things off, we'll play a song that exemplifies the musical style of [artist] which features [list of 5 characteristics]."
Then at the beginning of the next song, it says:
"From here on out we'll be exploring other songs and artists that have musical qualities similar to [artist/song].
This track, [song title] by [other artist] features [list of characteristics]."
In my experience, thumbing down the non-artist song causes it to play another song by your original artist, and if you thumb down the next one after that, it plays yet another song by your original artist, as if to say "Well, what DO you like about this artist's music?!" - which I suppose helps if, say, you only liked stuff from a rawer stage of a band's career. The more you tweak, the better it gets - or I'm just lucky. Slate reckons it's "more likely to deepen people's tastes than broaden them".

There's also a nice gushy profile of Pandora over at TechCrunch where Tom Conrad (dis)claims:
"Apparently, sometimes people like certain kinds of music that they think is pretty darn fringe/indie/hard core. And sometimes, when they look at related music after Pandora has put it through an objective technical analysis, they see stuff by britney spears/hilary duff/[insertcraphere]. Pandora isn’t broken. The listener is. :-)"
posted by Lush at 2:18 AM on August 30, 2005

Hmmm...i call rubbish on this. I give it 'New Order' as my artist. The first track it picks for me - "I Just Want You To Know" by "The Backstreet Boys"....

Ah, I got Alanis Morrissette instead... then I put in The Thrills and got Billy Joel. Then I tried with The Libertines and got a string of Blink 182-like American stuff... It really doesn't work like that, does it?

I got better results with stuff that's not really rock or pop, like hip hop or electronic, but not as good matches as you get on I don't even like the idea in principle. To me the relationship between liking A and B has a lot more to do with something that can't be put in precise terms and can't be analysed, rather than what specific instrumentation or vocal harmonies or rhythmic sincopation it 'features'. I don't care about any of that. It's too dry and technical and it doesn't really tell you anything about the character of the music.

I think is a lot better at this precisely because it is entirely chosen by users, so it tends to reflect that kind of undefined association a lot more accurately. Sort of like a radio programme would do. You still skip something once in a while but more than half the matches are perfect, and you can also put in more than one artist to refine the search. Oh, and it's free.
posted by funambulist at 2:55 AM on August 30, 2005

heh, I picked pink martini, and it played only the english songs from their albums and consequently, instead of getting recommendations for nice multi-lingual groups, I got light pop.ish stuff.
posted by dhruva at 3:25 AM on August 30, 2005

Hate the interface, the lack of preview and editorial control.
However, this sort of loose categorisation, interpretation, combination and relation (that wasn't supposed to sound so contrived) is exactly what I need at the moment. I've become somewhat trapped in never-ending spirals of amazon's "also recommended" so this may help me branch out a little.
Apparently I'm also one of only 18 people in the Western world not to have heard about

What I also need is John Peel back. I need someone to say "listen to this apparently random track, you may hate it now, but it's good for you in the long run and it made me honk like an excited goose".
posted by NinjaPirate at 3:28 AM on August 30, 2005

it apparently never heard of roy budd, but other than that i'm impressed.
it seems to work better if you input a song name and not a band. i typed "the noise of carpet" and got a very nice selection of rocking tracks with vocal harmonies, female vocals and organ. i don't think i would've gotten such a precise selection if i'd only typed "stereolab". and out of five, two have been by artists i never heard of. all but one of the selections were very good.
"cantaloupe island" (herbie hancock) led to mingus and lee morgan. sweet!
posted by Silky Slim at 3:35 AM on August 30, 2005

Apparently I'm also one of only 18 people in the Western world not to have heard about
you and me both!
posted by Silky Slim at 3:38 AM on August 30, 2005

I entered Radiohead and after about three songs was presented with "Cryin'" by Boston. I don't know if I should laugh or cry.
posted by josephtate at 4:53 AM on August 30, 2005

I entered Jeff Buckley and after a few interesting tracks by bands I didn't know, I got 3 Doors Down. I think Jeff's rolling in his grave.

I'll play around with this a bit more to see how I like it, but it seems promising so far.
posted by MsVader at 5:27 AM on August 30, 2005

I like it, I ended up buying a dozen CDs from artists I never heard of this weekend. The way it seems to work best is to pick an artist you like and know, listen a bit until something new comes up and then if you like it use that artist to make a new station. This is a lot like listening to late night Detroit rock radio in the late 70's and early 80's.
posted by substrate at 5:44 AM on August 30, 2005

What I don't understand is why I'm getting almost exclusively LIVE tracks. Eight out of the twelve songs I've heard so far have been live tracks. Weird.
posted by MsVader at 5:59 AM on August 30, 2005

The music analysis parameters seem so banal and basic.
posted by realcountrymusic at 6:18 AM on August 30, 2005

I have to say I'm in agreement with dhartung - if they were able to combine Pandora with my profile to determine what I already like, I have to believe that I'd end up with radio that's insanely personalized and would be able to pump out music I'd never heard of yet liked right away.

Heck, I already think that knows my music tastes better than I do, considering the number of recommendations I've received over the last year of use that were just so dead-on correct. Fully half of the music I listen to now I discovered because of that site. I'm already thinking that Pandora might do at least as well, just from a few minutes of playing around with it.
posted by evilangela at 7:46 AM on August 30, 2005

I kind of like how you can have multiple stations based on different artists. My profile has a lot of different and separate branches. I don't really want to mix the 80's nostalgia with the trance with the indie.
posted by smackfu at 8:03 AM on August 30, 2005

If you go over your quota of 'skips' for the hour, you can just keep switching between the popup player and the windowed player, it picks a new song when you do that.
posted by mfbridges at 8:04 AM on August 30, 2005

I like how it's all chastened when you tell it you don't like something -- "I will NEVER play this song AGAIN!" I'm enjoying my "World Shut Your Mouth" station, though it is sticking pretty close to the Julian Cope corpus so far.
posted by escabeche at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2005

The music analysis parameters seem so banal and basic.
posted by realcountrymusic at 6:18 AM PST on August 30 [!]

i keed, i keed

posted by effugas at 9:01 AM on August 30, 2005

I tried it with jazz. My seed tune was "Sidewinder", by Lee Morgan. It found "True Blue" by Tina Brooks (which I'd never heard of), and "Adam's Apple" (Wayne Shorter) and "Doodlin'" (Horace Silver) both of which I'm familiar with and like.

I have to do some more listening, but so far it gets a thumbs up. Sounds like seeding with a song rather than a band works pretty well.
posted by Daddio at 11:34 AM on August 30, 2005

I think I broke it.
posted by smackfu at 12:37 PM on August 30, 2005

I think a music search engine would be a better use for the music genome project.
posted by TwelveTwo at 1:47 PM on August 30, 2005

This was great until I started going about my business and it started to play an Asia song. (Based on my Wilco recommendation?)
posted by kyleg at 2:14 PM on August 30, 2005

So far, I'm pleased and surprised. I started with a single band, Skinny Puppy, and it returned this cool cover of "Whip It" by What is Hip?. Doesn't seem like Skinny Puppy, but I liked it a lot. Then I entered some more names: NiN (I hate it that I'm now afraid of admitting in public that I like NiN—but I have since "Broken", dammit), Ministry, Aphex Twin, Smashing Pumpkins, Front Line Assembly, a couple others I've forgotten. So it's given me (as of this moment): What is Hip?, A Touch of Class, System Syn, and now is playing Skinny Puppy. So far, I've liked everything and I've not heard of any of them (excepting SK, of course). I like other sorts of music, but I'm sticking to one theme (in terms of my loose preferences) with this "station".
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:37 PM on August 30, 2005

Yeah, it just played Limp Bizkit, which I had to kill (too bad it doesn't have an "with extreme prejudice" option).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:43 PM on August 30, 2005

I highly appreciated the fact that one of the qualities it gave for Mr. Bungle was "excellent musicianship".

Then it made me listen to disinteresting things.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 3:21 PM on August 30, 2005

Ha ha Stephen Malkmus, Pandora has your number, you "breathy male lead vocalist!"
posted by escabeche at 4:28 PM on August 30, 2005

(I think I would be more open to if I didn't share a computer with persons possessing extremely different musical tastes (to put it mildly). And if the clients/plugins supported older OSes better.)

Music preference is of course very subjective and not necessarily partial to homogeny, but I like that Pandora is technical and thus completely unpretentious.

Putting in individual songs does yield better results and I'm happy with what I'm hearing, but what I'd really like is an option to tinker with specific genes, or at least be able to give varying weights to them so that it won't keep recommending songs with a "paired vocal harmony" if one would instead prefer to focus on the "use of a string ensemble".

On a lighter (darker?) note, I wonder if music genomes will let us compare song structures and make it easier to single out horribly derivative and formulaic songs/bands like Nickelback's How You Remind Me / SomeDay and a whole string of frighteningly homogenous chart-toppers.
posted by Lush at 5:21 PM on August 30, 2005

i signed up to pandora a few weeks back and i liked it. does anyone know if they will charge for this any time soon?
posted by triv at 5:03 AM on August 31, 2005

I like that they have an attribute called "great lyrics." I mean, "great" is totally subjective ... but heck they applied it to one of my favorite bands (The Mendoza Line). Can't complain.
posted by joe_murphy at 3:56 PM on September 15, 2005

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