Published on October 7th, 2005 | by Greg0
More Cheap/Free Music
On a slightly different track is Pandora, a website/music player/recommendation system that simply asks for a name of a song or artist and creates a streaming playlist based on that information. Pandora is based on The Music Genome Project, which is basically an attempt to classify music by harmonics, instrumentation, and themes instead of the typical way of determining “people who like X might like Y”. The Wall Street Journal recently posted a decent article about the system, but fails to go into any real depth on Pandora.
Pandora’s simple interface hides a decent streaming music player, and a really good recommendation system. The basic idea is that you get the first ten hours of personalized streaming music for free, and pay $36 for a year-long subscription if you like it. You can’t get a list of similar songs, or download tracks (except by purchasing them from iTunes or Amazon), but you can listen to complete songs and take a look at the album cover, artist, and title. Also, you cannot go back and replay a song, or fast forward through them, but you can skip to the next track and conserve some of your ten hours of playtime. Unfortunately, if you try to go through too many songs, an error will pop up warning you that due to license restrictions you can only skip so many. Oh, and due to “overwhelming demand”, they are limiting their free version to one hour per day.
It’s easy enough to simply enter a song or artist and use it as a background music player. But your experience will be much better if you customize the playlist in a few ways. First, you can click on the individual songs and rate them (though only positively or negatively). Second, you can create a new radio station based on a track you heard (which essentially starts a new playlist). Finally, you can click the “Guide Us” button, then add more kinds of music to the station. According to their FAQ, Pandora has a library of 300,000 songs from 10,000 artists- but note that they don’t cover classical music, and Latin music has its own separate branch.
In our tests, we started with a fairly well-known offbeat pop artist, The Eels. The first song it played was an Eels track, I guess just to make sure that it knew who we were talking about. The next tracks were interesting, accurate, and surprising- a Guided by Voices track “I am a Scientist” followed by a song by Chris Speeding, an artist I hadn’t heard of. After a Pedro the Lion track, we decided to add a little more eclecticism to the playlist.
Adding The Avalanches (an excellent sample-pop group) and the more popular Postal Service skewed the mix towards electronica (a couple of new dance mixes felt similar to The Avalanches but missed the lyrical and vocal quality of The Postal Service). Adding Pearl Jam, though, turned the playlist into an odd blend of guitars- not a bad thing necessarily, but a tad confusing.