My New Best Friend at Work

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Wow, to think I call myself a music fan and didn’t know about this fantastic service available online! Have I got your attention yet? I decided that I had better write a blog post about a most excellent music service available for free on the good ‘ole cyberspace. I’m talking about Pandora, and my best advice to give any readers right now is to just go there and learn about it. What’s that? Not enough information you say? Okay, how about this in a nutshell: Pandora is a music-matching service of sorts, call it musical ESP. You like a certain song or band? Well, pop in that name, and instantly, the service creates a ‘radio station’ for that kind of music. First, they play you a tune you likely know very well, then the fun starts. Pandora will follow that up with different songs and artists which fit into the musical genetics of the song or artist you input. How is this possible you ask? Well, the roots of this service has to do with the Music Genome Project. To quote wikipedia:

The Music Genome Project, created in January 2000, is an effort founded by Tim Westergren, a 1988 graduate from Stanford University and spearheaded by a group of musicians and technicians to “capture the essence of music at the fundamental level” by using over 400 attributes to describe songs.

Yup, each an every song in the database is catalogued on many different levels to classify it, like a unique living creature. This enables the new stations you create in Pandora to play music you are highly likely to enjoy.

The amazing part about this service? Well, it works. It really works. The beautiful part is that by using Pandora, you will be exposing yourself to new artists, and maybe finding musical gems you would have never uncovered yourself. Think of it as the old days of mixed tape swapping, and spinning 45’s at your friends house, without needing to leave your house or office. Whatever you’re in the mood for, you can listen to it. Of course, I’m certainly not the first person to read about or write about this service. For a couple well-written, and interesting articles on it, click here (C-Net) and here (Fast Company). Also you might want to just read the Wikipedia entry on Pandora. The music genome concept is much more encompassing than the simple Amazon model of ‘those who bought this also bought this’. It truly does tailor the actual sounds for you.

Another great feature is that if you don’t like a song that it pulls up for you, all you need to do is click the thumbs down icon to say that it isn’t what you like at all. Pandora will then re-tweak the parameters to avoid that kind of song. I will pass along a little unsolicited advice though; Just because an artist pops up that you think you hate, give it a chance. They beauty of the system is that every individual SONG is classified, not just artists specifically. For example, I had a Phish station, and up popped Red Hot Chili Peppers. Not the most likely pairing, but the song it picked was ‘Show Me Your Soul’, which definitely shares some musical characteristics with Phish. So it’s worth listening to each song at least for a bit before deciding to black ball it.

Another concern I had was that I’d get bored of stations, since all the songs on a certain station will sound the same. Well, again, Pandora is one step ahead of me. You can actually add artists to your station, so you can mix types in one station, to truly get a mix of music, instead of all the same stuff all the time. Not to mention that you can configure up to 100 stations once you’re registered (free). A word of caution though, the service is for U.S. users only, so you might have to return to good old 90210 for your zip code when you register ;-). However, this is not a music-stealing site, and is actually widely supported by the artist community. They just don’t have approval for streaming everywhere in the world, since a lot of the music is subject to copyright laws. Most major labels have signed up for US streaming, but not outside of the country. All the audio is streamed (at 128 kbps I think), and is commercial-free (for now). The site is ad-supported, but those ads are only on the site, no audio commercials at all (for now). The service has been a boon to some new artists, because it allows artists not signed to a label the chance to be heard by a wide audience, which is likely to enjoy their music. The site even invites bands to submit their music to be catalogued. Not all material is put into ‘rotation’, but if it makes it on, it could definitely be a sales booster. Oh yeah, did I mention if you like something, you can also buy it from iTunes or Amazon with a click. You might have to act quickly though. If you miss an artist, it might be a while before you hear them again 😉 Luckily, all the songs played in a session can be scrolled through.

You can also learn more about artists, their music, and other similar artists by going ‘backstage’ by either song, artist, or album. In short, I’ve finally found my ideal workplace music source. Music I want to hear from all sorts of different artists, commercial free, and not repeated in my iPod, which is my preferred bussing-to-work music solution. Oh, and Kevin, did I mention that Pandora works seamlessly with Slim Devices (which, btw, has been acquired by Logitech)? Well, that’s enough from me about Pandora. Quit reading this and go try it out. You’ll probably find a new artist that you really like! Don’t bother trying to find Comfort Station or the Picklecatz though, we haven’t been catalogued ;-). My current favourite? Gotta be my ‘Linkin Park Radio’. For some reason, listening to heavy, angry music makes work that much better!

***Update (even though I just wrote this – and haven’t posted yet)***
Now that you’re hooked on Pandora, I highly suggest you also download Pandora’s Box, an application that allows you to put Pandora into your task tray for ease of use (for PC people). You no longer have to see any ads, and you can easily vote on the songs, change stations, and even pull up a window that automatically gets the song lyrics for you. You can also change a setting so that it actually logs the songs you like. Sweet. Don’t forget to also check out the integrated ‘Pandoralicious Stations’, which is found under the ‘view’ menu of the app. This is basically a community of radio stations submitted by users. Yeah, I probably didn’t mention it, but you can also share you’re newly minted stations with friends. Best part? I didn’t need admin privileges to install it. What’re you waiting for? Get goin’! Hmmm, for you Mac-types, you also have an option, it’s called Pandoraman (more info here).

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