Saturday, November 16, 2019Light Snow -5°C
Media, Music

Music Notes: Playing with Pandora

Posted by Jer / May 23, 2006

pandora.jpgscreen grab of Pandora's jukebox

I’m sitting here listening to Pandora, the free music streaming service that plays whatever you tell it to. Pandora also serves up new music you (hopefully) haven’t heard based on your previous selections. Wolf Parade’s Shine a Light kicks things off. I am giddy as a little school person, waiting anxiously for the next track. Modest Mouse comes on. Predictable, yes, but obviously related. MM is followed by The Anniversary and then the Charmparticles, two bands I am unfamiliar with. I immediately question whether I know anything about music anymore until Morrissey begins to play.

Pandora is the result of hard work from the good folks at the Music Genome Project, who have spent the last five years compiling a massive database of music. Each song is coded according to hundreds of musical attributes or ‘genes’. The advent of the internet and digital files may have brought us unprecedented access to music but it failed to tell us how to sort out which 1,000 songs we should keep in our pockets. Pandora answers this technological problem, fittingly, with more technology.

I start a new station and, sticking with Montreal bands, I plug in Stars. Mae, Moxy Fruvous (yikes), and Junior Senior play in response, each with varying levels of similarity to Torquil Campbell and co. The Anniversary comes on again. Apparently they are the Kevin Bacon of both Wolf Parade and Stars.

Amazon and iTunes capitalized on the “customers who bought item A also purchased item B” mentality, and Pandora is a more elaborate version of the idea. As more and more services like this evolve, they underscore the fact that accessing content is no longer the problem. Sorting through it is. Why bother spending time looking for new music in clubs or record stores when complex algorithms and software calculations can just tell us what we should like?

Before I leave Pandora, I start a station with The Anniversary. Bryan Adams comes on. So do the Killers, Lea Kruger and the Wallflowers. We can argue all day about how accurate Pandora’s predictions are or about the impact sites like these might have on the way we discover new music. Some of Pandora’s picks surprised me, in a good way, and led me to music I hadn’t heard before. Others scared me. My music’s DNA apparently links me to bands I never thought I could be linked to. It’s like when “scientists” tell us that our DNA links us to monkeys. Yeah, right.

Add a Comment

Other Cities: Toronto