Pandora revolutionizing the radio industry

by Staff

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Stefan Walters / Staff Photographer

Internet radio site www.pandora.com is transforming the way people listen to music. Based on the concept of traditional radio 8212; listening to an externally chosen playlist of songs 8212; Pandora Radio allows users to pick specific genres of music to be played. Based on user feedback, the site then “learns” what songs are most likely preferred, generating a listening experience unique to each user’s customized station.

“Just drop the name of one of your favorite songs or artists into Pandora and let the Genome Project go,” Pandora’s Web site states. “It will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music … to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice.”

The Music Genome Project is Pandora’s heart and soul 8212; a computerized jukebox of more than 700,000 songs by 80,000 artists, with new tunes added every day. Pandora Listener Advocate, Jonathan Segel, said that each song within the MGP is categorized by hundreds of different attributes.

“For example: Does the lead singer have a breathy voice? How distorted is the rhythm guitar? What key is it in? What tempo? Time signature? Are the lyrics about love? Sex? Loneliness?” he said.

This massive undertaking of assigning 400 attributes is assigned to 50 Pandora employees: musicologists whose sole purpose of employment is to listen to and analyze music. Song after song, hour after hour, Pandora has added a human touch to a chiefly computerized means of attaining music.

“Pandora does not use machine-listening or other forms of automated data extraction,” the Web site states.

Each song is analyzed in about 20 to 30 minutes by a musicologist. After being categorized, the song is placed in a computerized algorithm. From this process, each song can be picked to play based on how well it matches a user’s preferences. The more a listener uses the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” buttons for the songs played on his or her station, the better Pandora can fine-tune its next selection.

Users can create as many as 100 stations, allowing for a nearly infinite list of musical opportunities. Since its founding in 2000, Pandora has hooked 35 million listeners and adds 65,000 more per day.

Despite Pandora’s vast selection of music, listeners are not able to choose a specific song to play, only songs sharing similar qualities. A user is first asked to input a specific artist or song; Pandora’s search engine begins churning. The MGP’s careful engineering will then determine what array of songs have similar characteristics as the example given. A playlist will be generated; the listener can only fine-tune from there.

A basic membership to Pandora is free, and allows 40 hours of musical enjoyment per month, assuming the listener can stomach the occasional advertisement. If a user wants more than 40 hours of music, unlimited playing time for the rest of the month can be purchased for 99 cents. Users are also given the option to upgrade even further to a Pandora One account. This can be purchased for $36 a year, and in addition to unlimited playing time, users hear no ads, get a high quality stream, and other customizable options.

A refreshingly original fusion of science and art, Pandora Radio allows users to become their own disc jockeys. They submerse themselves in music that they appreciate and enjoy, while simultaneously being exposed to new songs of the same genre.

To start building a personalized station, visit www.pandora.com.

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