Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Personal Radio

I have recently started to listen to the 'Inside the Net' podcast with Amber MacArthur and Leo Laporte - http://twit.tv/. One of the more interesting web services discussed in the back catalogue of this podcast is Pandora Internet Radio - Pandora Internet Radio - Find New Music, Listen to Free Web Radio. I have really enjoyed playing with Pandora. It has a neat, easy-to-use flash interface. It loads quickly on my wobbly broadband connection... and it has re-introduced me to the pleasure of play list serendipity.

Pandora works differently from many Internet audio sites (and programs like eye-toons) because it does not simply shuffle music that you have pre-specified in some way. Similarly, it is different from conventional radio because it does not play a one-size-fits-all playlist as a broadcast. Instead, the user selects a favourite tune or artist (in my case I reverted to my childhood and selected a tune by Free) and the software creates a 'station' which will play music that is similar to the tune selected. This means that you get to hear ye olde favourites (Bad Company, ZZ Top) but you also get to hear music by artists that are unfamiliar to you ('Reason to Be' by Joe Prichard). The beauty of this system being that these 'known unknowns' are playing music that you might well like, as it has been selected because it is very similar to song that you selected. There is also a thumbs-up, thumbs-down function and the opportunity to skip a certain number of tracks each hour. You can also seed your playlist with extra tracks to create a more varied listening experience.

Pandora works because of its ability to play music that you might enjoy. It is based on the rather pretentiously-named Music Genome Project.

The brains behind the project note:-

we set out to capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level. We ended up assembling literally hundreds of musical attributes or "genes" into a very large Music Genome. Taken together these genes capture the unique and magical musical identity of a song - everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony. It's not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records - it's about what each individual song sounds like.

However, despite disliking the name of the project ( I am guessing it is supposed to be a little tongue-in-cheek) I think that its output is quite brilliant when it is applied to Pandora. It is a great listening experience. Masses of serendipitous encounters with forgotten favs and acts that just got passed the radar. I have also found myself hunting down the artists I have enjoyed and buying the odd track on i-tunes. I have also set up a number of different stations to create a varied palette of listening. Perhaps most significantly, I have found myself excited about music for the first time in ages.

The site has a number of economic models. I have being using the free version (which has banner ads). You can pay a small fee and not be bother with the ads...though I have to say that I have been using Pandora in a minimised window and the ads are not visible until I decide to find out the name of the artist I have been enjoying (which is not much of a burden).

Thank you Pandora!

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