Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pandora: Internet Radio That Works

I'm always on a quest to find more great music. Recently, a dance friend sent me a link to, telling me that it's a cool radio station, but I basically blew her off by saying, "I have 30 years of music in my collection, so I appreciate the suggestion, but I doubt I'll listen to it."

With XM satellite radio at home and a premium system in my car, one more station didn't sound very promising. I decided I should check it out for a few minutes, just to "be nice" and not totally blow off her suggestion.

Boy, was I wrong. Pandora is a different concept and worth checking out. I'm a little late to the party, as Pandora claims it has over 30 million subscribers so far. I'd never heard of it. (It's playing in the background for me as I write this article.)

Pandora starts with your preferences and builds from there. You tell it songs or artists you like, and it creates your custom "station(s)" finding other songs that match your preferences. They call these example tunes or artists "seeds," and they shape the station's starting point.

Conventional radio stations establish their own play list, trying to predict what tunes will relate to their chosen audience and attract more listeners (and advertisers).

In Pandora, after seeding a station with some examples, it finds similar music and you start listening. You continue to refine the station with a "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down" icon on each playing tune. If you give the current tune a thumbs up, you hear the tune more often, and it finds similar songs in its vast database. If you dislike a tune and give it a thumbs down, Pandora won't play it again, and it avoids playing songs that are similar to the ones you dislike.

Over time the station plays more music you like and less you dislike, which greatly improves its value. You can also add additional seeds if you want more variety in the station or create different stations for your different moods.

In addition, you can share your stations with your friends, and they can start with your preferences but modify to create their own version if desired. Soon the station reflects their tastes rather than yours.

Pandora has a decent set of genre stations, including "salsa" in the "Latin" category, so you could easily start with their stations and tune it to your liking. I'm impressed with the generic version, and as a test I set up a few of my own. (I'll share a couple stations I created toward the bottom of this article.)

If you start with any existing station, once you thumbs-up/down a tune, the station becomes yours, and you can modify the station name and/or add your favorite tunes, refining its play list to suit your tastes.

Below are a few test stations I set up. If you don't modify them, they remain "mine" and will update with any changes I make in the future. (I'm not sure why you care what I like, I'd modify to to your tastes if I were you...)
If you start new stations (which I recommend), I find it generally does better with specific songs rather than specific artists. Most artists have a wide range of tunes, and I rarely like all their material. Starting with some favorite songs gives the station specific examples, and that's worked really well for me. In a couple cases artists have worked for me, so if one method isn't giving you what you want, try the other or combine artists and specific tunes.

I've have found a set of great tunes I had never heard before. Sometimes I find alternate versions of tunes I like, sometimes just tunes that are new to me.

For example, I have some Usher tunes I like, but I never listened to his much older material. Pandora found the tune, "How Do I Say" based on some of my other tunes and that song was featured in my last "Musicial Pulse" article. I doubt I would have found that tune on my own, but I love it. Pandora also found 20 other new tunes for me the first month, and I already have an extensive collection. There are links for buying tunes on iTunes or Amazon, so you can easily download your new favorites for your iPod.

Pandora pays royalties just like other radio stations, so if you're a heavy user (more than 40 hours per month) you have to either pay an extra 99 cents per month (when you go over 40 hours) OR upgrade to their premium version for $36 per year. If one month you listen to less than 40 hours of music, it's totally free. They warn you if you are close to exceeding the 40 hours, so you can stop listening until the next month, or pay the dollar and continue unlimited for the month. You can (and should) pause the station if you're not listening; that makes it easier to keep listening free.

Because of music licensing issues, Pandora is only available in the United States. I hope they can change this at some point, but for now that's the official word. (Thanks to David S. for pointing that out to me, I had no idea.)

Give it whirl and let me know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately Pandora only broadcasts to US users.

    Although you can get around that using US based proxy servers it's not very convenient for non US based salser@s.

    That said, Pandora is indeed amazing.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero