Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hooked on Pandora

In high school, I was a music geek.

If it was playing on MTV (you know, back when the M stood for "music")--and even if it wasn't--I was listening to it: Rock, Pop, New Wave, R&B, Synthpop, Metal, Glam, Punk, Hiphop, Ambient, Raggae, Techno. I was in the stage band, marching band, concert choir, show choir, and high school musicals. I thought I'd be on top of what's new on the music scene for the rest of my life, unlike my parents who only listened to Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, and Elvis.

Then I went off to college and, without my noticing it, I settled into a music rut. Listening to the same ten albums that fit in my CD Walkman carrying case. Tuning in instrumental and classical radio stations (read: white noise I wouldn't be tempted to sing along with) when I studied.

Worse still, when I graduated from college and headed out into the real world, I got hooked on talk radio and eventually found myself listening exclusively to NPR and BBC news radio.

And that's the way it's been, until now!

This week, I discovered Pandora Radio. It's a perfect blend: I can be my own personal DJ, with the ease of a mindless radio broadcast, yet none of the commercials. Best of all, I don't have to risk a lawsuit by downloading all the songs I love but can't afford to pay for.

Here's how it works: you select an artist or a song that you like, and Pandora plays other music that has similar qualities. As you listen, you can give a thumbs up or down for each song, and Pandora will learn what your tastes are. Each song that you add to or ban from your "station" has a direct and immediate impact on what's played next. With the ability to create and share multiple stations, you can quickly tune in something that fits your mood.

The brains behind this tool is the Music Genome Project, where they've broken down songs to their sound essences and created a list of "hundreds of musical attributes, or 'genes'." Not unlike Library of Congress Subject Headings and the materials listed in our library catalog, Pandora labels each song with the musical attributes that comprise it. When you indicate that you like a particular song, it finds other songs with shared "genes" and puts them into the queue.

Pandora is free and my account is accessible anywhere I can find an open internet connection. I'm truly enjoying listening to a wide variety of music once again. As they say on the Pandora website:
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.

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