Musical genetics and the future of “radio”

March 1st, 2006 | by ian |

What if the radio just knew what you wanted to listen to? Could a radio station learn what kind of music you like? Would you listen to a channel that can play songs you have never heard but will probably like? Well thanks to Kirsten, internet lurker extraordinaire, and by way of the multitalented DJ Croll , I now have access to such a magical radio at Pandora:

Pandora is dangerous: in one day I have found a dozen artists I never heard of whose music I really like. When you “create a new station” it simply asks you for the name of a song or an artist, and it automagically creates a station playing music that is thinks is similar. There is a little bit of tweaking involved, either by adding more songs and artists to the station or via their handy menu:

The thumbs up and down are probably the most useful. If you give the thumbs down the song stops playing right away and the radio station learns from its mistake and moves on. The favorites is an easy way to keep track of songs you like that you’ve never heard before or you had forgotten about. The explanations for why Pandora decided to play any given song are pretty interesting but probably only relevant to music majors:

Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features demanding instrumental part writing, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation, a clear focus on recording studio production, heavy syncopation and vocal harmonies.

So how do they do it? Their name for it – the music genome project – reminded me of David Cope who used computers to analyze Mozart’s 41 symphonies and composed a 42nd symphony which managed to fool many experts . But with a little digging I realized that Pandora relies heavily on real people’s analysis and categorization of music, which is probably for the best. The more I have used the service the more it seems that they are more sophisticated with certain genres of music, and that there is a lot of obscure music that hasn’t been added to their database yet. Which is all good, since they give you more than enough to work with.

You can also share your radio stations with friends, for example the “progressive house” station in the top image is not my creation (clearly for those who know me) . Folks interested in trying a similar service with a somewhat different approach make sure you check out the popular I found it required too much input for me which is why I like Pandora. Free, easy, and it rocks out to your personal beat.

Good luck getting any work done as you build your private radio empires…

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