Pandora Rocks

Not long ago, my buddy Dan sends me a rather innocent-looking link to a site called “Pandora“.

The concept behind it is neat. You tell it a band, and it tries to find music that’s similar to that band. It’s tied to the “Music Genome Project,” a program designed to identify elements in music that distinguish songs from each other (or, in this case, match them to each other.)

Of course, I first put in Shriekback as my band. Pandora dutifully produced several songs it claimed might sound like Shriekback. I listened to them and then gave each a thumbs up or thumbs down to say whether I liked it.

Results were mixed. I got a couple things I didn’t like. The second song it picked was “One Word” by John Cale and Brian Eno, which I loved. The most Shriekbacky tune I got was “This Big Hush” but that’s probably because it’s a Shriekback song.

The most frustrating thing was that the only feedback you could give were a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down — you either like it or don’t. That’s fine, except that doesn’t really address the point of the site, does it? There were plenty of songs I heard that I liked, including “One Word,” but didn’t feel were like Shriekback at all. Picture a venn diagram…in one circle are people who like Shriekback and in another circle are people who like, say, “One Word”. I happen to be in the overlap, but I don’t think my status there means much to any other Shriekback fans.

(On the other hand, Pandora just picked a Depeche Mode song for me, another of my favorite bands. Maybe it does know something…)

What was really interesting, though, was hearing songs in the context of “I think this might be like Shriekback.” I heard a song by the Thompson Twins that I wouldn’t normally have heard or associated with Shriekback. It was interesting to listen to it thinking, “What about this song is similar to this other band?” and actually sort of being able to pick out a common thread.

I next tried Fountains of Wayne and in addition to getting even more songs that actually WERE Fountains of Wayne, I got ones that again I liked, but I didn’t think were overly similar. John C. was meanwhile rolling with a Matthew Sweet-inspired station and was having pretty good luck.

Unfortunately, Pandora has never heard of Ultra Vivid Scene.

Pandora’s Flash-based and will probably get sued by the RIAA eventually, so you should probably check it out sooner rather than later. It’s a neat way to discover some new music, and fun to play with.

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4 Responses to Pandora Rocks

  1. David Thiel says:

    Hmm…when I typed in “They Might Be Giants,” the first song it fed me was one by They Might Be Giants. Then it gave me “Firebase Ripcord,” by someone named Neil Michael Hagerty. In that it wasn’t about depression, death or James K. Polk, I’m not sure that it was very much like They Might Be Giants. But it appears that it’s going for similar tonal qualities rather than content.

  2. Apparently it works better if you give it a song rather than a band.

  3. Tom Conrad says:

    The funny thing about Ultra Vivid Scene is that “they” (really just kurt ralske) are pretty much my favorite band – and I’m the CTO at Pandora. We were just talking about this totally unforgivable omission on Thursday. The discs are on order and this will be remedied soon. Thanks for listening.

    Best,

    Tom
    CTO @ Pandora

  4. charlie says:

    Course if the RIAA was smart they’d use the site (or at least the idea) as a from of advertising. Doubt that’ll happen though.