Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pandora Internet Radio

So a few months ago I heard about Pandora internet radio for the first time.  I mostly ignored it because I have a pretty good music collection and didn't really have much interest in it.  However, recently I decided to try it out for no real reason.  I like it quite a bit.  It is pretty easy to set up and then does a good job of playing music you'll like.

In case you haven't heard of it, Pandora is a pretty simple website where you can enter bands or songs you like and it'll play those bands and other music it thinks you'll like.  You don't even have to sign up, just go there and enter a band name and it starts.  I registered because it was painless and I wanted to be able to save my preferences.  It did want to know my birth year and zip code, but luckily it had no way of knowing if I was telling the truth.  After that I just had to start entering bands.  You only have to enter a single band, but I wanted variety.  I entered about 50 bands that have the highest play counts in my media player.  It's a pretty wide spectrum of music, from prog rock to hardcore, but I generally like a variety in genres of music while I'm listening to it.  If you want to hear my station you can at this link:

However, I recommend you just make your own station with bands you like.  Once you create a station there's a link to add variety... If you click that it lets you type in a band name and within a few letters usually knows who you want.  It's pretty easy, although there didn't seem to be any way to mass import a list of bands.  I just put them in a spreadsheet and copy and pasted the names.

As for how the playback works, it very good.  It has played some pretty obscure stuff like Math The Band and Defiance, Ohio.  Most of what it plays though is not the bands you enter, but similar bands.  Even with 50 bands entered only about 1 out of 5 will be a band I've ever heard of.  That's good though as finding new bands is the main reason I'm using it.  Already I've heard quite a few bands that were really good.  It apparently analyzes songs based on a few hundred criteria and then finds songs that are similar to ones you like to play.  When you hear a song you like you can click a thumbs up, and if you don't like it you can click thumbs down.  If you click on a song that played there is an option called 'why was this song selected?'  If you click that it tells you the criteria that match your preferences.  For example here are some songs it's played and why:
Hot Water Music - The Bitter End
punk roots, a subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, mixed minor & major key tonaility and a vocal-centric aesthetic

Apocalyptica - Path
hard rock roots, minor key tonality, melodic string accompaniment, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation and mallet percussion

Metallica - Jump In The Fire
hard rock roots, a subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, repetive melodic phrasing and minor key tonality

As far as genres goes it clearly tends to play similar songs in a row, but still plays very different stuff.  Generally it has played 4 or 5 songs that fit into one category then jumps to a new one.  Again this is exactly what I would want it to do.  If you only wanted to listen to one type of music at a time you could make different radio stations for the different types.

It does have some negatives though.  First despite what I was told it does have audio ads.  They are quite reasonable though.  There is only ever one ad played at a time, and they are about 10-30 seconds long.  It seems to go about 6 songs between ads.  I'm sure this will increase as it become more popular, but even one 30 second ad per song would be fine with me.  My biggest problem with the ads now is that I've only heard about 5 different ads, and they are just repeated.  I don't see any visual ads on the page itself, although I'm using Adblock+.

The next two limitations I've not experienced first hand yet, but read them on Wikipedia.  First off you only get 12 skips per 24 hours.  So you can't be super picky about what it plays.  If you want to hear one specific band or song you should just be listening to your media play anyway.  The next limit though is a big downfall.  Wikipedia claims you only get 40 hours per month for free.  40 hours is ridiculous short for a month.  I'll listen to 40 hours of music in 3 days easily.  I suppose for someone with less free time than me (read: everyone) this would last longer, still I'm sure most people will reach this limit before the end of the month.  I'll have to see if I actually reach this limit.  If so I guess I'll still use it just to find some new bands every month.

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