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Thursday, November 17, 2005

Pandora's Music Box

Pandora is a service created by the Music Genome Project that helps music lovers find more music like the music they love (it was mentioned in this space previously, but deserves further consideration). The Project has created a database of around 300,000 songs by 10,000 artists (no classical thus far, and they are working on a separate project for Latin music) and uses it to make automatically-generated music recommendations in the form of a streaming playlist. Last month, the Wall Street Journal had a feature on them, and profiled one of their analysts, Bob Coons:
Mr. Coons's official title at Pandora is "music analyst." He spends as much as 20 minutes on each song, carefully pausing and rewinding as he fills out a report describing features like rhythm, key and the singer's vocal range. In all, Pandora can track up to 400 pieces of information on each song. Some of those traits are relatively straightforward -- whether a song includes a keyboard as an instrument, or is by a female singer. Others can be more nuanced, he says: "Is the voice nice and pure, or is it real gruff, like Joe Cocker? Is the saxophone sweet like Stan Getz, or is it growling like Charlie Parker?"
It works like this: you enter the name of your favorite musician or song, and Pandora creates a "radio station" that streams similar music. You can help it at any time by telling it you love or hate a particular song, and even click on the "why is this song playing" link to have a look under Pandora's hood and discover what features of a song are the ones that it's calling similar to the song/artist it built your station around. You can have up to 100 stations, and stations can be built around more than one artist (though the focused results you get with a single-artist station may be more useful). I fed it Mouse On Mars, and it immediately came back with a Ricardo Villalobos remix of Thomas Dolby's One Of Our Submarines. So far, my experience has been pretty positive -- I've already discovered a couple of new artists, and I was impressed that it took 4 or 5 songs before it got around to recommending Aphex Twin. I suggest you check it out.


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