Is Pandora One the One?

I’ve been a fairly consistent user of Pandora since I first read about it on December 30, 2005 (ain’t it great the way your blog becomes your personal archive of thoughts, both good and bad?).  I have several Pandora stations, a couple of which are over three years old.  In that time, I have finely tuned my likes and dislikes and, generally speaking, the Pandora algorithm knows what I like.  And given that my music preferences are broad in some ways and narrow in others, that’s no mean feat.

image The thing that allowed Pandora to map my musical genome is the thing that distinguishes Pandora from much of its competition: the music genome.  Pandora figures out what you like, not based on the band or the song, but based on the content and structure of the song.  If you think about it, using a mathematical algorithm is a much more logical approach than trying to link together similar artists.  I like country influenced rock and roll, with acoustic sonority, major key tonality and steel guitar, among other characteristics.  Generally speaking, Pandora knows that I am much more likely to appreciate a similar song by an artist I’ve never heard than a wildly different song by a band I am familiar with.  The difference between the Stones’ Loving Cup and Get Off My Cloud is greater than the difference between Exile on Main Street and some of the Deadstring Brothers records.

Another example:  while writing this post a great song by Hecla & Griper played on my alt. country station.  I know a lot of music, and I’d never heard of Hecla & Griper.  Note to the RIAA: thanks to this great online streaming station, I just bought a copy of Songs: Ohia.  So put that in yer pipe, and all that.  Wow, here’s another great song by Luna, another new name.  If you like music, it’s simply impossible not to dig Pandora.

Recently, Pandora began offering a premium subscription service, called Pandora One.  Among the benefits are no ads of any kind (something I’m definitely willing to pay for), a new desktop application (see the photo to the left), high quality 192Kbps streaming, and an extended interaction timeout (you can listen longer without clicking anything before the app times out).  All of that sounds very worth the $36 annual fee, and I have gladly subscribed.

But there is one significant drag.  Fast forwards.  Previously, you were allowed to fast forward (e.g., skip) only 12 songs a day.  With Pandora One, the daily limit is gone, but you are still limited to 6 skips an hour, per station.  Sure, you can “thumb down” a song and it won’t play again, but I take my thumbing seriously, and I hate to taint it by using it as a de facto skip button.  Sometimes I’m just in the mood for another song, and I’d like to have unlimited (or at least a lot more) skips.

As I noted the other day, I have recently started using Slacker Radio, in addition to Pandora.  It has a lot to offer, and the interface, while not particularly Firefox friendly, is really good.  I like the way you can tinker with the new/old, hits/deep cuts, etc. settings.  Mostly, I like the fact that with the premium account ($48 a year) you can fast forward as much as you like.  If Slacker Radio allows unlimited skips, why doesn’t Pandora?  Surely it’s not about the $12 cost difference?  I’d pay at least twice that to add unlimited skipping to my Pandora stations.

At the end of the day, both services have a lot to offer.  I find myself listening to Pandora more, because I have been there longer and my Pandora stations are more mature.  While I continue to believe that Pandora’s mathematical approach works better, unlimited skipping is clearly an advantage for Slacker Radio.

If I had to choose, it would be Pandora by a nose.  But fortunately I don’t have to choose.

A two (or more) horse race is good for consumers, and these are both strong horses.