Sunday, April 27, 2008

programming your own radio station

When I'm at work, I like to have something on in the background. I'm not always paying attention to it because I have people coming into my office or calling me on the phone, or I might be working on something where I'm either concentrating enough that I don't hear anything else or I might even need to concentrate enough that I have to turn off all distractions. But generally, having something on that I can enjoy makes the work and day go by better and faster.

During the early part of the day, I listen to Frosty, Heidi and Frank, an FM talk show that also streams on the web. That usually takes me through lunch, but then after lunch, I'm not sure what to listen to. I used to listen to KFI, but most of their topics used to get me upset, so I gave that up. I have of late resorted to listening to ESPN streaming online, but since it's not football season, it's not nearly as interesting as I'd like it to be, though I do enjoy getting news and bits of information and opinion about sports topics that I don't follow as closely.

But sometimes, I just want to listen to music. I haven't been able to find an online streaming radio station that I like, and I do have an iPod, but then I have to remember to bring it and carry it around and plug it in at work.

And then a friend told me about pandora.com, where you can basically program your own personal radio stations online. The idea is that songs can be grouped into categories not based on genre per se, but rather, based on structure and components. The presumption is that if you like a particular song that has specific structure and components, you might enjoy other songs that have the same qualities. They refer to this as the Music Genome Project.

It's pretty easy to start. The main screen asks you to type in an artist or song, and then it takes it from there.





Of course, I typed in "Phil Collins".

It came back with an analysis something like that I liked music with a strong solo voice and strong defined notes, so that was going to be the basis of the music that it was going to offer to me. It randomly picks songs that it thinks fits the criteria, and you can click on the song to tell it whether you like it or not. If you tell it you like it, then it adds it to your playlist. If you tell it you don't like it, then it immediately stops playing and gives you another song. If you don't give an opinion at all, then it seems to keep it on the playlist, though not playing as often. You can also do other things to manipulate the playlist.

It's a free service, but it only lets you listen to a certain number of songs before it requires that you register to continue listening.

So for my "Phil Collins radio station", it has given me songs from the following artists:

Genesis
Peter Gabriel
Mike and the Mechanics
Fleetwood Mac
The Cars
Sting
Johnny Hates Jazz ("Shattered Dreams")
Chicago
Bryan Adams
Journey
U2
Cyndi Lauper
Don Henley
The Police
Elton John
Paul Simon
Steve Perry
John Waite ("Missing You")
Peter Cetera
Don Henley
Hall and Oates
Foreigner
Heart
Starship


Some of the artists, like Genesis and Peter Gabriel, are probably not surprising choices to offer me, but I was amazed at how much of the other stuff it offered me was stuff that I really like, even stuff that I haven't listened to in a while. And it's not offering me every song in Phil Collins' catalog, but only particular ones that fit the set of criteria it initially came up with. I expect that if I put in a particular Phil Collins song that doesn't conform to the criteria of the Phil Collins songs it is already giving me, it might generate a whole different list of songs, though perhaps from the same artists.

It has given me some songs that I've rejected from the playlist. It gave me one Pink Floyd song that I listened to a couple of times, but it's not one of their songs that I know and to me, it didn't fit the criteria, so I eventually took it off the playlist. It has also given me some specific country songs and other genres and artists that I'm not fond of that I've said no to.

I'm a little surprised that it hasn't given me anything of Dire Straits, since I also really like them, and some of their songs would seem to fit the criteria. I figure at some point, I'll start other radio stations with Dire Straits as the lead-in and with Pink Floyd and other artists and songs that I like to see what comes out of those.

Here's a little more information about the background of pandora.com, and at least it seems they do understand the significance of the name they've chosen for their website, though they've conveniently ignored one fact. Yes, Pandora was curious, but that curiosity led to her releasing all the evils onto the world - that was one thing that made me hesitate to even try the website. Things are going to be fine for a while, and then what evil nefarious thing is it going to do to me or my computer? So far, so good. But I really wish they'd picked a different name.

Someone I know told me a story about a company that was comparing themselves to the wizard in "The Wizard of Oz". Yeah, well, you might not want to use that as an analogy unless you know what the wizard does at the end of the story.

1 comment:

Lucia @ Pandora said...

Hey Cindy -

Lucia here, from Pandora. I hope you don't mind if I leave a quick comment. :)

Thanks for listening! It's great to hear that you've been enjoying playing around with the service.

In terms of the name 'Pandora': I understand your trepidation, but it's also important to note that at the bottom of Pandora's infamous box was Hope... : )

- Lucia, with Pandora

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