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.

More Pandora Goodness: Kent’s Hand-Crafted Blues Mix

pandoraI’ve had an alternative country oriented Pandora radio station for years.  A lot of thumbs up and thumbs down have mapped a pretty specific genome: mid-tempo alternative country (not Americana, which generally bores me to tears) songs.  I love that station and listen to it regularly.

But it was time to diversify.

Over the weekend, I created my second station.  Kent’s Hand-Crafted Blues Mix.  If you know these names, you’ll love it:  Junior Kimbrough, Otis Rush, Byther Smith, Jimmy Reed, Otis Spann, Luther Allison and Pee Wee Crayton.  Give it a listen!

Where It Ain’t in Music Discovery

I have to disagree with Fred Wilson about finding new music.

Pandora and are absolutely, positively and without a doubt the holy grail of music discovery. I have discovered more good, new music on those sites in the past month than I have in all of my years of blog reading.

It’s not about spoonfeeding- it’s about algorithms (be they mathematical or social) that help you find music you like, but have never heard. Whether that’s music on a 20 year old record or music freshly uploaded by the artist is immaterial.

I have traditionally favored Pandora slightly over, but with the new design and added features, has pulled even in the two horse race for dominance in music discovery. Here’s my page for anyone interested, and here’s Fred’s.

If you, like me, are an alternative country fan, you can add Twangville to the mix for a trifecta. If you like live classic rock, add one more site to the list: Vault Radio.

And I have to agree with Bob Lefsetz, particularly when he writes:

I’ve got XM. I’ve got Sirius. I’m not living in the world of terrestrial. I never want to hear another commercial AGAIN! I just want music. All the time.


“Remember how you used to rush home to play your favorite records? How you needed nobody else in the room to feel joy? How you played the same track for an hour straight?”

I remember the first time I heard Paul Kennerly’s ensemble record The Legend of Jesse James. I listened to Charlie Daniels sing Northfield: The Disaster over 100 times in a row over a week or so. Not one other song entered my ears that week. It was spiritual. And it’s still one of the best songs I have ever heard.

Now back to Fred.

He says that the place to mine for new music is the mp3 blogs. He gives no link to them, because they are distributed. It’s like those cats in that commercial. They’re out there somewhere, but getting them to one place is a chore.

Yes, there’s The Hype Machine, which I think is a pretty neat web site. But unless it wants to change its name to The Next RIAA Defendant, it is going to be limited in the scope of music it can include. Don’t get me wrong, I like The Hype Machine, but Pandora it is not.

Blogs are great, and some of them feature good new music. But, in general, blogs are where it ain’t as far as discovering new music without a lot of unnecessary effort. Heck, even podcasts are far better suited for that purpose. One of the reasons we do the RanchoCasts is to help people discover new music.

New music doesn’t mean music that was just made. It means music that is new to the listener. When I became a huge blues fan a decade or so ago, a new universe of new music suddenly became available to me- little of it made after 1980.

I’m all about unsigned bands and new music that hasn’t been manufactured by the star maker machinery behind the popular song, but let’s not get carried away.

There is an almost unlimited universe of new music waiting at Pandora and And it doesn’t take herding cats to find it.

Pandora and Move Over

Here comes Vault Radio.

If someone decided to create a radio station that would capture and keep my attention to the exclusion of most other musical endeavors, they could not do a better job that this.

Here’s the skinny from the Vault Radio page:

Bill Graham and his concert promotion company, Bill Graham Presents, produced more than 35,000 concerts all over the world. His first venue, the legendary Fillmore Auditorium, was home to many of rock’s greatest performers – Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Prince – and the list goes on and on.

Graham taped thousands of live performances and stored the tapes in the basement of the BGP headquarters.

These tapes and the concerts they captured lay dormant until the Bill Graham archive was acquired by Wolfgang’s Vault (Bill Graham’s given first name was Wolfgang) in 2003.

Vault Radio is now playing selected tracks from these concerts in an FM-quality, 128K digital radio stream. Songs will be added to and removed from the radio show on a regular basis. We will be broadcasting unaltered live performance music from many of the greatest bands of the last 40 years. The music you hear on Vault Radio has not been sweetened or polished. You’ll be listening to what the band played that night – nothing more, nothing less.


Cheers indeed.

Steve Newson on Pandora

Steve Newson posted about his love for Pandora recently, setting forth why he likes it better than

I found two things interesting about his post.

First, he gets to the central difference between the two applications. is based on what people who listen to the same artists you listen to like. It’s a social recommendation thing. There’s nothing wrong with that- it just is what it is. Pandora, on the other hand, actually plays songs with the same musical structure as songs you have indicated you like.

It reminds me of a running debate I have with another songwriter I know. I believe very deeply that someone with a nice voice could sing any lyrics at all, even nonsense, and if the melody, arrangement and playing are great, the song will be generally considered a good song. I know that when I hear a song on the radio that grabs me, 95% of the time it’s because of the melody and arrangement and the playing- not because of the lyrics. My friend thinks that’s hogwash and that a song needs strong, well crafted lyrics to be good.

He’s a guy and I’m a Pandora guy.

Second, Steve mentions Howie Day. Here’s a small world moment: a good friend of mine (who grew up in Maine) is a friend of his. I heard about Howie long before he became popular. I still haven’t heard much of his music, but I’ve heard a lot about him from my friend.

I enjoy both and Pandora. I just find that the new music I hear on Pandora is consistently closer to what I like than the new songs I hear anywhere else.

Pandora – Discover Music You Like


I saw a link this morning for Pandora over at Ken Leebow’s blog. Ken had great things to say about it so I checked it out. Pandora is a web service that takes the name of a band or song you like and plays similar songs you might like. I’ve tried this before with other music services and have never been all that impressed. But this time it was different.

I used Whiskeytown as my starting point and Pandora preceeded to play a bunch of songs, most of which I had never heard, that were very good. I heard songs I liked by Grant Lee Buffalo, Peter Case and even a couple I hadn’t heard by Whiskeytown.

After a few songs you have to register for either a free, ad supported, account or a paid, ad free, one. I’m going to check out the free account and if I keep hearing good new music, I may upgrade to the ad free version.

Pandora is part of The Music Genome Project, which maps songs by melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, etc. to create groups of similar songs. Based on my listen today, it seems to work really well.

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