By Shamus Posted Wednesday Aug 4, 2010

Filed under: Music 152 comments

Using Pandora the other day, this advertisement popped up next to my music stream:


So in the middle of listening to Timo Maas, Deadmau5, and Daft Punk, I got an advertisement for a bluegrass music festival. I have this picture of some guy listening to American folk music and getting an ad to go see The Crystal Method in concert. It makes me laugh.

I don’t write about music here very often. This is because I know nothing about music and my tastes aren’t broad, interesting, or exotic enough to appeal to other people. In fact, I’m the worst sort of music fan: Both elitist and pedestrian. I’m incredibly picky, I’m irritated by music outside of my tastes, and I like a lot of what most serious music fans (and musicians in particular) would dismiss as mainstream fluff. In general, I don’t get into a band until after they’ve sold out. I’m like the guy who is really passionate and fussy about which brand of greasy cheese-dusted junk food he’ll eat.

A few years ago I found out about Pandora and the Music Genome Project. The system purportedly classifies a piece of music based on 400 different attributes (genes) like gender of lead vocalist, level of distortion on the electric guitar, type of background vocals, etc. It can supposedly find new music you’ll love based on music you already enjoy.

In less than an hour I denounced the entire thing as a sham and gave up on it. Each new song it presented was more grating and distasteful than the last. I kept telling it I hated what it was playing and it kept finding new music that was even further from what I wanted. I think in that run it tried giving me both twangy country and violent hard-core gangster rap.

But I’ve been writing a lot in the last couple of years, and I prefer to have music when I write. So once I’d worn out everything in my collection I gave Pandora another try. I don’t know what they changed, but the thing works like magic now. I admit that my musical needs are a lot more specific than simply “I need to like this”, but Pandora seems to have figured it out:

1) Electronic. I come from a family of musicians, and I’m sure if they were less polite they’d tell my that music is made with instruments and not by some nerd on a computer. But… junk food, remember? Beep beep doot beep doot beep bew bew bew!

Munch munch munch.

2) NO LYRICS. This was something Pandora could not seem to comprehend the first time around. If I’m trying to write, the last thing I want is someone pouring words in my ear. (Which are usually 90% drivel and 10% incomprehensible anyway, so I generally don’t see the point.) A sprinkling of little four-word clips of movies or robot voice phrases is usually okay.

3) Slightly varied. I get agitated when a song loops the same hook for three minutes straight. (Usually categorized as “trance”, but not always.) Even if the hook is good and even if it would be good for dancing, relentless repetition puts me off my flow. I stop typing and start waiting for the song to get to the next bit.

4) Not too aggressive or fast. Even if the song is otherwise enjoyable, too much speed and energy can put me off my flow. I don’t usually want a soundtrack for kicking asses.

5) There are always exceptions. Naturally. Songs which seem to meet all of my normal criteria will still get a thumbs down from me. Songs which seem to break the rules sometimes get a pass. I actually hate doing this. When I give thumbs up to a song which breaks the above rules, I worry that giving Pandora my approval will train its heuristics is give me music I don’t like.

And then there are songs that might confuse it. This song has a woman’s voice, but not lyrics. I must make this clear: If this piece were distilled into liquid form, I would drink it, and I wouldn’t stop chugging until it was gone or I passed out. (It actually gets going at the two minute mark, if you clicked on the link.) But does the woman’s voice sample count as “vocals”? If I approve of the song am I going to get Lady Gaga shouting about her p-p-p-poker fa-fa-fa-face? These are the things that I worry about when tending my Pandora station.

But anyway. Credit to Pandora. I don’t know how they did it. I certainly wouldn’t know how to go about finding music that will work for me. It would be time consuming and I’d probably be lousy at it. And yet someone wrote software that can pull it off. Automatically.



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152 thoughts on “Pandora

  1. acronix says:

    What I find funny is the name. They decided to give their “music-box” software the name of a mythological lady who released all evil into the world by opening a box.

    I guess “Orpheus” didn´t sound so good.

    1. Raygereio says:

      Prometheus would have also sounded okay, I guess. Then again, maybe they didn’t want to invite the divine punishment of having their guts eaten.

    2. Michael says:

      But it makes perfect sense.

      You tell Pandora that you like this one type of music. She reaches into the “box” to get it out, and in turn releases thirty or forty other types of horrible crap you don’t want.

  2. Sagretti says:

    Pandora is quirky sometimes. It’s my girlfriend’s preferred internet radio, but sometimes she screams bloody murder at it. Its preferred torture is playing her Nickelback songs after she has marked about every single one of them as “hate.” I guess they need a “hate with the passion of a million fiery suns” button.

    I haven’t had much success with it, but that’s mostly because my listening preferences are sometimes incredibly diverse, and sometimes I just want to hear some quiet acoustic plucking or 70s hard rock. Thus I get pretty much any random song the system wants to play me. And occasionally, Nickelback. I swear they must be sponsors.

    Another interesting service is Last.Fm. It also bases recommendations on what you like, but it collects data on everything you listen to on your music player as well. I just wish I wouldn’t have listened to so much Jimmy Buffet in my younger days.

    1. Will says:

      Learning software is pretty amazing stuff, but the real trick is that it’s learning software. Like a person, you need to give it time to learn, as the software advances the time it needs to learn is less and less, but it always needs that time to learn.

      Don’t expect Pandora to just instantly pick up on your tastes, you’ll need to give it a bunch of instances to work off and learn about, the more you give it, the faster it’ll learn.

      1. Mari says:

        I spent six months of listening to Pandora 10+ hours per day. Is that enough yet to hate that it still can’t seem to get it right picking music for me? One of the ones that annoys me most is in humorous music. I love humorous music (think Dr. Demento, Ray Stephens, Weird Al parodies) so I have a station set to only humorous music. Now when I’m listening to music to laugh at I have one particular thing which I despise: politi-social statements. I don’t care if I agree or disagree with them. When I want to laugh it is not a desire to laugh at the same things about which I want to endlessly debate on the interwebs. I don’t wish to laugh at, say, immigration reform. There is a particular artist for whom this is a very common subject matter (socio-political stuff, not immigration reform). His name is Stephen Lynch. I do not hate all Stephen Lynch songs. Some I find quite amusing. But I do not want his political songs. Apparently, though, Mr. Lynch sponsors Pandora along with Nickelback. So there I am grooving to some Weird Al, some Barenaked Ladies and Fountains of Wayne and they shove some more socio-political rhetoric from Stephen Lynch at me.

        1. Kevin C says:

          The trick with Pandora is to start with one seeded station, then sort music you DO like from that into other stations (i.e. 70’s hippy, 80’s punk, 80’s big hair, 80’s heavy metal, etc…). If you don’t like it, just thumb-down it. That original station should have seeds from things that are similar to keep the range that it pulls from pretty narrow. You can always do this with another station too (you get 100 stations to setup).

          After a while, you will have multiple stations that are targeted with what you like, and then you can listen to those individually or do a “Quick Mix” where you select the stations you want to hear in “shuffle mode”.

          It takes some time, but I’ve been using them for years. Other than the occasional Johnny Cash song (really, WTH?), it does a very good job.

          1. Atarlost says:

            Johnny Cash shows up because his late stuff is very different from his early stuff. Most of his stuff is country or folk, but his last five? albums move towards rock, some of it surprisingly modern.

            Other long career musicians that changed their style significantly might cause similar problems.

            1. Mari says:

              Which is why, for instance, I tell people I like “early gospel/ballad Elvis” to distinguish from “rock ‘n’ roll Elvis” or “Vegas Elvis” and enjoy “Brit-pop Beatles” as opposed to “psychedelic Beatles.”

              Even genres of music do this. For example I enjoy “70’s/early 80’s country music” as opposed to “90’s beer drinking country music” or “40’s yodeling country music.” And everybody’s favorite genre, “pop” music, isn’t even a proper musical genre. Compare the pop charts of, say, the 1950s to the pop charts of the 2000s and you’ll find that the two “pops” have virtually nothing in common. Pop music today is primarily hip-hop/R&B while pop music of the 50s was more rock ‘n’ roll with a liberal sprinkling of bebop.

              1. Abnaxis says:

                This is why, whenever I make a new Pandora station, I seed it with a specific song, not a specific artist. Practically all the artists I like have been making music for twenty years or more, and it’s natural that their styles have changed in that time.

        2. Will says:

          I have to ask Mari; how exactly do you expect Pandora to be able to work out which songs have political humour and which do not?

          Asking Pandora to only find a certain type of music that does not contain political messages is asking a bit much.

          1. Nidokoenig says:

            Since she’s listening to humourous songs, it shouldn’t be that difficult to classify them by what the humour is based on. It’s another layer of complexity, but it’s a neccesary one to serve the needs of people who listen to that kind of song.

            Me, I gave up on automated recommendations when Amazon recommended Ishtar to me.

            1. Will says:

              It’s probably harder than you’d think; analyzing musical format is mostly a matter of comparing the sound bytes and soforth. The computer can pick up the underlying themes of a composition and compare it to other themes.

              How in the hell is the computer supposed to understand different kinds of humour involved in the song? I mean, before you can even get there you need to teach it how to understand languages and do voice recognition in the middle of a piece of music. Then you have to teach it recognize humour in all it’s forms.

              1. Nidokoenig says:

                Or you could just let users mark it for themes. I know the service is based around the idea of automated recommendations, but if the only way to do something is manually, do it that way.

              2. Alrenous says:

                Pandora’s music genomes are sequenced by humans, the software heuristics simply work with the given genomes. This is why it can simultaneously be so great for Shamus (and me, though I can’t anymore get it in Canada) and so badly for Mari. They can’t sequence every possible type of gene, so I’m guessing they skipped the politics gene. Or something similar. For the genes they do sequence, Pandora is unparallelled.

                Edit: apparently, or something, since Joshua points out they do discriminate on politics.

        3. Joshua Macy says:

          Pandora’s “attributes” for lyrical content include Political Lyrics and Political Satire Lyrics, so it ought to be possible to train it for what you want. Unfortunately, there’s no way yet to directly say I want to include or exclude this value for that attribute, you have to live with what it infers from the things you say Like and Don’t Like. Sometimes that lets you find out things you never knew about your taste, but sometimes it’s frustrating when it gloms onto some irrelevant commonality when it’s really you just hate Bruce Springsteen’s voice.

    2. Tizzy says:

      Another interesting service is Last.Fm. It also bases recommendations on what you like, but it collects data on everything you listen to on your music player as well.

      That could be a real problem if you’re trying to use internet radio for a change of soundscape…

      1. Sagretti says:

        Like Pandora you can also just tell it to play music similar to a certain artist or genre, so it gives you that option. But it’s nice to be able to listen to my own music mostly, and then have something give me good recommendations when I just feel like listening to something new.

    3. Joshua Macy says:

      Check her actual thumbs up/down settings in the station. Two thumbs down on an artist should ban the artist from the station, unless the artist has any thumbs-up song at all in that station or the artist is one of the seeds defining the station. If there are two thumbs down for Nickelback and no thumbs up, and Nickelback doesn’t occur in the seeds, then if Nickelback still plays that’s a bug and should be reported to Pandora.

  3. Ian says:

    I use Pandora from time to time in my car and I’ve found that its biggest problem is that it takes a lot of babysitting to really get a usable “station.” If you only put in one artist you’ll typically wind up with an extremely narrow selection (for instance, I typed in “The Offspring” and 90% of the stuff that it played was from The Offspring. If I wanted to pick what I listened to, I’d use my Rhapsody account). However, if you type in multiple artists you can wind up with an overwhelmingly large selection of music, some of it completely unrelated to what you put in. For instance, somehow putting in Venetian Snares, The Flashbulb, and Squarepusher into one station wound up getting me something completely unlike any of the artists that I punched in.

    Of course, in both cases, as I “liked” and “disliked” certain songs, the selection was either narrowed down or broadened. After a month it’s pretty close to what it “should” be (quotation marks used because there’s no doubt that someone else’s Snares/Flashbulb/Squarepusher station would be much different than mine due to our unique tastes).

    1. Pickly says:

      I use Pandora from time to time in my car and I've found that its biggest problem is that it takes a lot of babysitting to really get a usable “station.”

      Definitely, definitely, true.

      I listen to it a lot, after stumbling into a combination of Nox Arcanam, Rammstein, and Peter Gabriel seeds, plus some likes and sislikes, that I really enjoy listening to, but attempts to create other stations have often not worked out as well.

      As others have mentioned, it will often do something completely unexpected.

    2. JP says:

      As someone else said above, the solution to this is to seed stations with songs, not artisis. Most artists have very diverse songs, especially if they’ve been around a while. But seeding a station with 2 or three songs you like that (you think) are similar, should get you a much better selection.

      But yes, any new station will require dedicated thumbs upping and downing at first. Don’t start a new station unless your willing to actively rate it for the first hour or two.

  4. kilmor says: is another great online ‘radio’ site, but without any of the restrictions of pandora (you can jump around in the song, repeat, select specific songs to play with playlists, etc). Its radio feature(which is trying to do something similar to pandora but not as complicated) is all right, at least if you want to listen to random new music.

    1. Caffiene says:

      Thanks for that! Pandora and dont work for my location, but this seems a perfect replacement so far.

  5. Justin says:

    Heh, I had a similar experience with Pandora’s ad services. I did a stint of data entry for a few months earlier this year and had to have some music very similar to Shamus’ to keep me focused and sane. For most of that time Pandora had an unfortunate ad featuring some overwrought “hick” screeching about “Deerfest 2010” and how I should “c’mon down, y’all” to enjoy a day of deer mania complete with every food imaginable made from deer. Needless to say, I spent a few minutes being unamused every hour on the hour.

    But Pandora does seem to be hit or miss sometimes. I seeded a station with the Raconteurs’ “Carolina Drama” one day and managed to get all the wheezing indy rock I never wanted to hear. So the next day I deleted the station and retried and got exactly the stream I wanted. Of course, it ultimately turned itself into a Led Zeppelin/Jimi Hendrix marathon which wasn’t what I had in mind, but I didn’t complain. ^^;

    1. Robyrt says:

      I have a Pandora station set up for medieval choral music (it’s great background music for work) and it will regularly send me ads for hardcore gangsta rap. I think this is because they couldn’t find any ads that matched the music it was actually playing.

      1. NotYetMeasured says:

        Yeah, I think they are just getting advertising off the ground, so they don’t have such a variety that they are tying it to your musical choices. I used to get ads for the local lacrosse team, before I bought up to Pandora One (~$30/year) which is ad-free.

      2. Gothmog says:

        I see below that you can actually share stations… (Thanks, Shamus!) I’ve been trying to build a similar choral station without much luck. Do you think you could share yours, perchance?

  6. Ross says:

    My wife has a world music station she set up using Enya and a couple other similar artists as the initial reference point. Still, about every 4 hours, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, Pandora will whip out a seriously hardcore rap song on that station.

    1. John says:

      From some comments I’ve seen on Pandora forums this tends to happen when you have an artist that spans two genres. So when you “like” them they pull in the other genre. So my guess is that some rapper has a “featuring Enya” because they sampled her or something.

  7. eri says:

    I imagine the underlying software hasn’t changed too much; what has changed are the relational webs that its users have managed to create over the course of the site’s lifespan. It’s no good to have something recommend music based on human tastes if it has no reference point to go by; now that it has a no-doubt colossal database of the musical tastes millions of people, and there are bound to be common strains throughout them that it can follow.

    Pandora actually isn’t very good for me. I listen to a lot of folk metal, black metal, death metal, Viking metal, as well as some avant-garde and ambient stuff, and while some might say my tastes are elitist, it’s really more a case of me liking music that is actually good. Sadly, Pandora can’t really keep up with that; it knows the right genres but it can’t get the bands right. I can plug in some excellent death metal like Suffocation, Timeghoul, Bolt Thrower, Vader, etc. and it’ll feed me back some horrible metalcore garbage like Killswitch Engage. I can’t tell if this is because the record companies are in on it and pay money to promote mainstream junk, or if my fellow metal fans really just do have awful taste overall.

    Of course, that’s not to say Pandora doesn’t work, because it does frequently enough to be a viable way of finding new music. I’d just rather take word of mouth from people I trust and a few samples on YouTube or MySpace, rather than a computer. As an actual music listening service, I find it vastly inferior to my existing music library, or a radio run by actual human beings.

    1. Raygereio says:

      while some might say my tastes are elitist, it's really more a case of me liking music that is actually good

      Heh. Thank you for a good chuckle.

      1. eri says:

        I can’t tell if that’s meant to be snide or not. I was serious, though – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having elitist attitudes, so long as those attitudes are rationally founded. Audiophiles, for example, are frequently attacked by people who assume differences in audio quality and reproduction are superficial or insignificant; I would posit that those people simply don’t know what they’re talking about and either don’t have the exposure, the ears, or the care to get caught up on those sorts of subtleties. In much the same way, I’d argue that my tastes in music are elitist, but I guarantee you I can not only justify all of them, but can also substantiate why I think other music is inferior.

        1. DrMcCoy says:

          Audiophiles, for example, are frequently attacked by people who assume differences in audio quality and reproduction are superficial or insignificant

          Of course, sometimes, that’s true. For example, audio plugs coated with gold. And especially network cables with gold connectors. :P

        2. Brian says:

          Audiophiles as a class are attacked because people judge them by their most visible minority, and that minority happen to be complete wingnuts.

          You might find them amusing too, once you have met a guy who spent three thousand dollars on a new AC power cable, and literally raves about the “amazing new breath and airiness” in his sound quality, even though experts and oscilloscopes point out there is zero difference over the sound he had with the $20 original power cable.

        3. Pickly says:

          I'd argue that my tastes in music are elitist, but I guarantee you I can not only justify all of them, but can also substantiate why I think other music is inferior.

          Yes, this is a snicker worthy example of elitism right here.

          Since artistic tastes vary, and the type of preferred music is quite subjective, there isn’t any sort of “justification” for why a type of music is better that will apply outside of your own tastes.

          1. eri says:

            I don’t mean to say that things like music are objectively better or worse than another. What I was saying is that I can argue my opinion adequately. However, if you start playing that post-modern “there is no such thing as truth” card then I’m going to have to start snickering myself.

            1. acronix says:

              “There is no such thing as truth.” is an universal truth, as we all know.
              It´s also an universal paradox, since it´s treating itself as true. And if truth doesn´t exist, then it can´t be true that there´s no such thing as truth. Ergo, there is truth!
              For chuckles, I´d say “There is no such thing as truth; only different degrees of lies!”

              Anyway! I´m curious how someone could justificate music tastes Care to mention yours here? (Unless you think they´ll start a flame war or a Summon Troll Horde)

            2. Pickly says:

              You’re responses continue to show the same snicker worthy quality of the original one. (Such as throwing around the philosophy jargon in a comment about whether you like certain types of music. Which isn’t really applicable here, as there’s a difference between “There is no truth” and “different people enjoy different types of art/music.)

              Just to put the previous comments right next to each other:

              it's really more a case of me liking music that is actually good

              I don't mean to say that things like music are objectively better or worse than another. What I was saying is that I can argue my opinion adequately.

              1. acronix says:

                I think the jargon is aplicable. He was using it to answer yours:

                “(…)there isn't any sort of “justification” for why a type of music is better that will apply outside of your own tastes.”

                If there is no truth, then you are right and there´s no justification. However, if there is truth, then there´s some kinds of music that are good and some that are not. Then the fact that different kind of people like different kind of music doesn´t make all music equally good, it just means that some people like bad music while some like good music. At the same time, that different people have different tastes in music just means there´s some people that have bad taste and others have good taste.

                And now we´d argue what constitutes good music and fail miserably at reaching a concensus!

                1. Pickly says:

                  Then the fact that different kind of people like different kind of music doesn´t make all music equally good, it just means that some people like bad music while some like good music.

                  This would be the case of “good” was a word with a specific meaning, that provided something to be compared to. (If people were talking about loud music vs. soft music, this argument wouldn’t have come up.) “good” however, is quite a subjective, slippery word, and is more a statement of opinion, or a statement of a preference, and those by nature will change from person to person. Because if this, there isn’t a solid meaning of “good” for one person to compare to another, and thus, no method of saying that music is “good” for everybody.

                  (By comparison with computer games, someone could say that “RPGs last longer” or “RPGs have more progression” than civilization type games, and most people would probably either agree, or challenge with extra information. Arguing over which is better, though, leads to a bunch of back and forth that goes nowhere.)

                  Bringing in the philosophy jargon also kind to fits with the “look how cultured I am” type of idea that comes from the “I just listen to good music/I can justify my music” comments above, which keeps it funny to read. :)

                2. acronix says:

                  I agree with that. We would need to define good, and we´d be already doomed even before starting, since “good” is too diverse, as you point out.

                3. Falcon says:

                  Here you hit the crux of the issue. I would consider myself like eri, in that I also am a musical elitist. My musical tastes are highly developed, and can be quite specific (not to say that I only listen to a small range of music, not even close.)I know exactly what I do and don’t like. My definition of good requires a certain level of complexity, and musical theory into a song. Verse/ chorus/ verse/ chorus with a musical hook doesn’t cut it. Progressive rock, progressive metal, jazz fusion, and neo-classical being several styles I consider good.Does that mean that the music I like is the only good music, no, but to me it is. If I were to say that the music I like is more developed, complex, or musically diverse than mainstream rock it would be a matter of fact, but to say it is better is a matter of opinion.

                4. silver says:

                  The English language is broken here. It has a word “good” but what needs is a word “good-for” which, had it existed, would sound completely wrong if not immediately followed by a noun. As in “that music is good-for me”. Then you just grammatically couldn’t talk about “good” in such nebulous, misleading ways.

                  1. Joe says:

                    I believe the grammatical construct you are searching for is “I enjoy that music.”

            3. KremlinLaptop says:

              Okay, I have to ask… were you part of an ARG like an year or so ago — I can’t for the life of remember the name of it, had stuff like The Sisters, phonecalls to people and so forth — with most of the participants in one IRC channel?

              ’cause I swear there was a guy I had an argument with that had this same exact view and it starts out on the matter of elitism and music. (Suffice it to say I disagreed, but that’s another matter.)

        4. KremlinLaptop says:

          Yeah, sorry, no. I actually used to work with audio equipment/mixing for a living for quite a few years and the amount of ‘golden ear’ bullshit was staggering at times; interestingly it’s most prevalent among ‘hobbyists’ people who don’t work with audio but just spend oodles of money on it. I suppose if I unloaded a fat wad of cash on some over-priced audiosetup I’d want to convince myself it’s absolutely and completely superior to something that is a fraction of the price… even if there’s no measurable difference.

          Not that a measurable difference is enough to give you an audible difference; human ears just tend to not be that sensitive.

        5. Avilan says:

          I don’t agree with you, but I think that might have more to do with what we consider elitist attitudes.

          The way I see it, it is extremely wrong, because all it really means is that one is berating, insulting and looking down on other people, and nothing else. Especially when it comes to matters of Taste (unlike, say, actual education, and facts) when it is completely unfounded to begin with, since all taste is personal (and no taste is better than any other) and therefore a von Oben attitude is just a way of making yourself feel superior by laughing at others.

          Now, you might mean something else entirely.

        6. Namaps says:

          Now, I don’t know much about metal, but thank you for saying this. Lately I’ve noticed I’ve been getting kind of annoyed about people’s attitudes about music. People call me and elitist and a snoot all the time, but I don’t really think that’s the case. To expand on Shamus’ food analogy a bit, it feels as though people are calling me stuck-up for saying a chef trained in culinary school can typically make much better food than a burger-flipper at McDonald’s. Now, there’s plenty of gourmet food that I don’t like (French and Cajun cuisine come to mind) and there’s some fast food I legitimately enjoy (I’m weak for Panda Express in particular) but that doesn’t make the former bad or the latter particularly exceptional in any way. It’s just what I like. The same is with music.

          There’s nothing “wrong” with liking pop music, just like there’s nothing wrong with enjoying fast food. But it’s an entirely different thing to claim it’s all the same. To say that the quality of music is merely a matter of taste borders on insulting. Certainly, as with food, there’s an unshakable subjective element whenever someone tries to evaluate a piece of music, but it’s in no way wholly subjective. When it comes to the saxophone Fela Kuti is no Charlie Parker. Not even remotely close. Fela’s out-of-tune squakings border on painful, whereas Charlie Parker was such a remarkably talented played that a large reason for his musical experimentation that helped eventually establish bebop and radically changed jazz and saxophone playing forever was simply because swing and big band weren’t challenging enough.

          I guess what got me all riled about the whole thing is that NPR started a series on pop music a while ago. While NPR has always had an affinity for certain types of hipstery music that I thought got perhaps just a bit more attention than I would give them if I were the one deciding these sorts of thing, their pop series was just too much. It’s as if gourmet food critics started a series on fast food and deep-fried county fair novelties and everyone took it totally seriously. It’s just absurd. Again, I don’t mean to say that there’s anything wrong with liking pop music, but I just feel like serious musicians deserve a bit of respect. To say that 50’s rock’n’roll musicians or modern pop musicians are just as good as any string quartet or mridangam virtuoso seems like a bit of a slap in the face to people who spend a great deal of time and effort building a sophisticated and advances technique.

          1. Namaps says:

            Quite a few typos in there =/

    2. Brian says:

      The record companies are not “in on it.” That’s silly.

      Pandora can only go by categories that are tagged in its database, like the instruments or the musical choices or the overall genre. Being “actually good” is a subjective judgement and so isn’t in the database. If band X is identical to band Y in all ways except that you like the first one, a computer isn’t going to be able to tell them apart. =B^)

      1. eri says:

        Excuse me for assuming that the record companies would want to draw some sort of profit from the manipulation of musical taste on an international scale. Maybe I’m a bit cynical, but I think it’s silly to assume that payola is dead.

        1. Kevin C says:

          Pandora actually has to pay for the music to play….and it’s not available world-wide. In fact, Canada is blocked from getting Pandora because they aren’t licensed to play the music there (and being sourced from Pandora). [that’s about 2 years old, so it may have changed by now, but it still demonstrates the point]

          Also, the restrictions on skipping songs is related to their licensing agreements.

          There are quite a few things on there that I don’t see tied to major record labels. Look for “Nookie in the Mail”, “Bad Astronaut”, “Stephen Lynch”, “Pansy Division”, or “Tom Lehrer”. (Note: The first 4 push the “politically correct” envelope.)

          Find my stations by looking for [email protected] at Pandora. The “Off the Wall” station has most of those in it…the others are more self explanatory.

          1. Mertseger says:

            In fact, Pandora active solicites and forages for non-label recordings. Howver, they are a bit snooty about their music curation: once a cd or album has been selected to be coded with genome traits, only a subset of the tracks are analyzed, and, as far as I can tell, unless a particular track is search for by some number of distinct users that album will never be considered again. If you have a favorite track off an obscure album for which other tracks are already on Pandora, you will never see that track become part of Pandora. Even Tim Westergren’s erstwhile band, only has four tracks off their sole release, and no more tracks by Yellowood Junction have ever been added. I’d like to seem them become a bit more completist in their curation.

      2. Mertseger says:

        Actually, at least one of the traits common amoung the underlying genomes (which are NOT the same as the “focus traits” which are listed in the “why are you playing this” screens”) is the quality of the musicianship. Of course, since these judgements are made by the listening team some variance occurs (some wag on the team coded all the available tracks of The Shaggs with traits which lead tham to have the focus trait “great musicianship”). However, these traits tend to be less important to the selection algorithm than things like tempo and insturmentation, and, furthermore, the feedback system is wholly inadequate at raising the importance of those traits if they are important to you. We were pleading with Tom (Conrad, Pandora’s CTO) to provide an advance user interface back in 2006, but they’ve far more focussed on the explosion of mobile platforms.

  8. DrMcCoy says:

    I used to try out Pandora, back in the days when it was still working here in Germany. Interesting, but not really my thing, because I tend to listen to different stuff depending on my mood, and then generally the whole discography of one or several artists in line.

    I also have no problems with lyrics while I work and I even listen to podcasts while doing rote stuff like refactoring code. When I have to think about something, I pause the music, when I have leeway I listen more closely to the lyrics. Got my music player hooked up with hotkeys, so pausing, nexting, etc. doesn’t even take a second.

    For finding new music, I like’s recommendation a lot more. I don’t have to immediately decide if I like something and I can check them out when I want, in my own time. I also follow several legal and not-so-legal blogs highlighting bands in specific genres, they help a lot with finding small “underground” bands. (In my defense, when I like a band, I then buy their releases. Except where not possible, due to no shipping to Germany, no copies left (especially when the band is already disfunctional), etc..)

  9. Antman says:

    Sounds interesting. i just went to check it out.. but got “We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S.”. ok. moving on then… lol.

  10. MrKite says:

    “Oh that website Shamus found seems to be interesting, let’s try it !”

    “We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S. We will continue to work diligently to realize the vision of a truly global Pandora, but for the time being we are required to restrict its use. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative. ”


    1. Nyctef says:

      You might want to try , which I use. I don’t know how it compares to Pandora, but it seems to work pretty well

      1. Moridin says: is available for free only in UK, Germany and US. Which is a pity. I used to listen to Pandora. Then it stopped working. Then I started using Then it, too, stopped working.

    2. NotYetMeasured says:

      They are even having trouble in the U.S., because of the way royalties work. Online radio has to pay much more (on a per listener basis) than traditional radio. I hope they can make it work because it really is an incredible concept and service.

      1. (LK) says:

        I’m hopeful that this issue will be resolved in due time.

        In intent it’s essentially a tariff, meant to cause hardship for internet radio, to protect traditional broadcast radio stations.

        Laws based solely on such unveiled animus towards competing businesses can and do get passed, but rarely last very long.

  11. Brian says:

    Pandora works a lot better if you start out with multiple songs you like. Don’t just give it one song and expect to get a good station; give it at least three to five so it has something to work with.

    If you start with just one song, it’ll randomly pick some qualities to decide what to try next. So if you make a station with, I dunno, Evanescence, it might randomly guess that “prominent female vocals” is your preference and start playing Fleetwood Mac. Then as you thumbs-down on everything it offers, it gets run out of ideas and assumes you don’t like anything. The station goes bad as it has to reach further and further afield for guesses.

    If you instead give it a handful of songs as a seed, it will look at what those songs have in common, and go from there. This is far more likely to stumble on exactly what you like about those songs, rather than using some random incidental quality which you don’t care about.

    Note that a single-song station can work very well if you happen to get upvotable songs near the beginning, because that’s considered the same as manually adding them to the station. But if it starts out with a run of crap it usually doesn’t get better without help.

  12. LintMan says:

    Shamus, have you listened to BT (Brian Transeau) at all? That youtube song reminded me of the Tori Amos stuf on BT’s Ima album.

    1. GreyDuck says:

      Seconding the BT recommend… sounds like “Ima” and “This Binary Universe” might be up Shamus’ alley. And parts of the new one, “These Helpful Machines,” as well, I suspect.

      Me, I’m more into the “sell-out” albums like “Emotional Technology” and “Movement In Still Life.” Takes all kinds, I guess. :)

  13. asterismW says:

    My biggest gripe about Pandora is the unbalanced way in which it repeats songs. On my “Broadway” station, I can hear “Do Re Mi” 10 times for every instance of “Ya Got Trouble”. It doesn’t seem to realize that when I snooze a song, I might not want to hear it all that often; as soon as the month is up, it plays that song just as frequently as before.

    Still, I love it, and have a paid subscription so I can listen to all the music I want (instead of being limited to a measly 30 hours a month) and not have any annoying commercials or ads.

    1. Shamus says:

      I’ve noticed this as well. The song I linked above comes up once a week. Other songs play once an hour, which works out to 8 times a day. Which works out to a ratio of 56:1 between a song that I enjoy and a song that I REALLY, REALLY love and want to hear more often. And there’s no way to even this out.

      1. Blurr says:

        This is probably also due to licensing. Some artists/labels have more lax regulations, and possibly it’s cheaper for Pandora to play some songs.

        1. Mertseger says:

          Nope. The royalty deal they worked out with SoundExhange is on a fixed per play basis no matter who the artist is.

          All the evidence of my listening expeience (4+ yrs of ~30 hrs per week) is that the repetion is essential random within the space defined by the seeds on a station. If you privide only a few tracks for a station, there will be great repetition. If you provide artists have have many tracks on Panadora, and lots of other tracks, you’ll have very little repetition other than that which occurs by chance.

        2. asterismW says:

          I’ve wondered about that, and thought that was probably the case. Still, I wish the rating system was less binary than simply thumbs up or thumbs down. Give me a progressive system:

          0: Never play this again
          1: Hardly ever play this song
          2: I’ll listen to it as filler
          3: Neutral
          4: Hey, I kinda like this!
          5: LOVE IT! Play it often!

          And with that progressive system, give me an easy way to change the rating. (For those who don’t know, if you “thumb up” a song, and later decide you’re only neutral about it, you can’t simply remove the thumbs up rating. You have to go into a list of ALL your rated songs, find the one you want among possibly hundreds of entries, mark it for deletion from that list, and then save the list. It’s a royal pain.)

          1. Pickly says:

            Agree that those changes would be quite useful.

            I did read on some FAQ type post (I forget where) that using “I’m tired of this song” for some songs, and saving the dislike button for particular styles that are disliked (compared with, say, songs that generally are similar but for some reason just don’t quite work), and this method has seemed to help somewhat when I’m adjusting my stations.

          2. Lambach says:

            I always wished there was a way to say what I like or dislike about a song. because so many times Pandora focuses on the wrong things until the station becomes exactly what I hate about the music it plays.

  14. wtrmute says:

    That music you linked to really reminded me of the Sharon Apple songs from Macross Plus, although I didn’t like it as much as them. Kanno Youko FTW!

    Upon review, it seems that most of them *do* have someone singing, although I cannot for the life of me make out the words, so I guess I filtered them out. Regardless, 90% of all music I listen to nowadays is religious, so I guess that de gustibus et coloribus non disputandum est

  15. Wil K. says:

    Apparently, I’m absolutely in love with minor key tonality, according to Pandora. I don’t know if that’s true, but it seems like stuff I like (and have often already heard) comes up based on this guiding point. (I guess MGP is credit to playlist.)

    Probably my biggest problem with Pandora is that it is very poor at mixing different types of songs. I’ll add electronic and prog and post-rock, and it’ll seem to *only choose tunes very similar the one added most recently*. Which is annoying, because I like a fair variety of stuff, and Pandora rarely explores beyond what I’ve recently inputted. And I’d hate to think what it would do if I added some of the stuff I like in less abundance, like Gojira (it’s really quite humourous listening to (thrash?) metal about *windfish* and I always like to think that’s it’s one giant Link’s Awakening tribute; and, it’s also pretty proggy and neat).

    Anyway, based on your little notes, maybe you’d enjoy Bluetech? (, It’s ambient elecronica, but seems to retain its freshness even over long songs (5-8 minutes) by varying beats up quite a bit.

    Saru is an extremely rare gem that I found via Pandora, and have been thoroughly enjoying. It might be too repetitive for your tastes, though. (I don’t know why, but it makes wonderful background TF2 music for me.)

    1. Arnsholt says:

      The reason mixing wildly different genres works so badly is probably pretty simple. Pandora obviously uses some kind of statistical machine learning to do its magic, and the problem it solves probably assumes that the reason you like these particular songs is that they’re the same in some measurable way.

      It’s possible to take a collection of songs and learn a way to group them into classes of songs you like because they are similar in some way (Cluster analysis), but that’s different from what Pandora wants to do, and combining the two is most likely non-trivial. Would be awesome if they managed to do it though. =)

      1. Tizzy says:

        Don’t forget that you also need a lot of data before these types of methods can really work their magic. I think it’s a very tall order to go beyond the simple genre classification, especially that even something as simplistic as genre is already a problem for many artists. (That is, unless you want to devolve into silly and arcane sub-sub-sub-genres, but this has its own problems too, since you would be excused to think that, given their names, mathcore and nerdcore would be similar genres, but it turns out they’re not — AFAIK at least, I’m not a specialist of either.)

        So given enough time and data, Pandora might yet surprise us, even if they keep the same underlying engine.

      2. Wil K. says:

        I actually meant more that Pandora is terrible at getting that I like different things about different tunes – frex, its “station mixing” mechanic is awful, and usually just gives me a long series of alt rock-ish stuff followed by a long series of electronica before apparently randomly finding its way back to other styles.

        There’s no way to say “I want more variety” without pretty much breaking its thoughts. (You can thumbs up or do nothing, which I’m pretty sure it takes as passive approval, thereby continuing Pandora’s pigeonholing; you can thumbs down and then lose exposure to stuff that was still pretty enjoyable; or you can add a song, which causes Pandora to freak out and start a big chain of songs like the fresh one, without coming back to any others like the previous seed song.) It’s not that Pandora is playing stuff that’s bad, it’s that its system gets tighter and tighter the longer it goes, and so rarely seems to branch out.

  16. Deoxy says:

    Not that I didn’t like this post (the programming part was particuloarly interesting), but with that intro, I expected some kind of “advertisers are stupid and here’s why” post (which, based on your DRM writings and a few other things, I think you could do quite humourously), so the actual post was, well, unexpected.

    Also a little more personal than usual (not a bad thing). Or perhaps just “differently personal”. It’s almost like writing about politics (though much less likely to end in nuclear-Armageddon flamewars) – just something completely unexpected.

    Actually, I would like to hear your take on some things, politically, as you almost always have really good reasoning on things (even when we disagree on things on other topics, I can see generally see your reasoning on things and find our points of disagreement to be opinion/preference sorts of things rather than basic logical stupidity). Of course, such a post would need to be very carefully disclaimed at the top, etc, but I’m afraid that even here, with your freakishly polite and genteel followers (by internet standards), it would end poorly.

    Now I’m disappointed. And it’s entirely my own fault for even thinking about that. :-/

  17. Vladius says:

    I’ve found that it works better if you make multiple stations. When I first went into it, I piled everything from 80s new wave to classical movie soundtracks to symphonic metal to R&B in there and I think that it got kind of confused. Eventually, it ends up learning what it is that you really want, as you described, but it needs to the “trial period” as it were to figure everything out.

    1. NotYetMeasured says:

      Agreed. Some seeds (songs or artists) work better than others, too. My favorite song is “Sympathy for the Devil” but apart from finding a few covers I didn’t know about, my first station based on it was a bust. It never really coalesced but continued to play a mix of folk and heavy metal.

      Another tip is that when you make different stations, don’t use thumbs up and down on every station according to “what I like” but rather use “does it fit the station?” Otherwise all of your stations will eventually be playing exactly the same music and you won’t find as much new music.

      I have very diverse musical tastes but I’ve been able to make stations for a lot of them: “Hip Hop with heavy Rap/Pop elements,” “TripHop Downbeat,” “Hair Metal,” “Electronica,” etc. More than half of my music purchases these days come from discoveries on Pandora, and I still listen to a wide variety of regular radio stations for about 40 minutes every weekday.

  18. MattM says:

    Any chance you’d be willing to share a link to this station Shamus? It sounds like worth trying and adding to my own mix of stations that depend highly on my mood and task at hand.

    1. Shamus says:

      Sure. Hopefully this works. Their “share this” feature is quite baroque.


      1. Ben says:

        You realize that you now have the added stress of having the entire world able to judge what music you “like” and “don’t like”? :)

        You didn’t like Doin’ Time by Sublime? NooooooO!

        1. Shamus says:

          Yeah. This could be bad.

        2. Tizzy says:

          I like Sublime, but I can see how it’s not necessarily good music to write by.

          Actually, my intake of music has drastically decreased because I can’t work and listen to music at the same time.

      2. Ian says:

        So, uh, how much of Closer by Nine Inch Nails did you listen to before you gave it the axe? :p

        1. Shamus says:

          Most likely until the point when Trent started running his mouth?

          1. Wayoffbase says:

            Did I just find the one place on the internet that hates Trent Reznor as much as I do? Awesome, I’m home.

            I’m 31, so I grew up during NIN’s peak of popularity, I can not think of another artist from that time that has held up so poorly to overexposure. One of the adult contemporary radio stations here in Phoenix actually plays “Closer” sometimes.

            1. Vekni says:

              Only a few years behind you and I find his voice incredibly grating as well, as well as the “OHMYGOD HE SAID FUCK IN THE CHORUS OF A RADIO SINGLE” hype being the principle reason for ever hitting it big.

            2. silver Harloe says:

              Except Shamus didn’t express an opinion of NIN/Trent specifically, he just pointed out that his ALL CAPS rule #2 is “NO LYRICS” and, well, the guy is singing in that song.

      3. MattM says:

        Thanks for sharing, will definitely give a listen tomorrow for working on docs. My favorite is when it does get things right and suggest artists with whom I’m unfamiliar except as a name that somebody mentioned in some long forgotten conversation.

      4. Volatar says:

        Thanks for sharing Shamus. I just started listening to Pandora again and was going to send you an email asking for you to share your station, but now I don’t have to :)

  19. Dante says:

    Good music choices…I’m learning to dj house, techno, trance, hard dance, and hardcore, and all I listen to is electronic music.

  20. Kdansky says:

    Pandora does not work here. Royality laws are great!


    Streaming music through a proxy is not much fun either.

    1. Phoenix says:

      I’m using Hotspot Shield right now to listen to Pandora from Germany. Bandwith doesn’t seem to be a problem, it works just fine.

  21. BFG9000 says:

    Who doesn’t like Gaga? YOU don’t like GAGA?!?! GAGA!!!

    “It’s just a matter of opinion!”

    1. Shamus says:

      I actually don’t mind her songs. But I can’t write words with her singing.

      1. Irridium says:

        Same here more or less. Love the music, but not so keen on the lyrics.

    2. Nidokoenig says:

      I don’t like hearing her sing either, to the point where I can’t listen to Poker Face but love Brooklyn Rage, the parody from YuGiOh the Abridged Series.

  22. Vipermagi says:

    re Lyrics or not: I always wondered why people deem Idiot Prayer by Porcupine Tree an instrumental song.
    Go to 3:00 (or listen to it all the way if you like Progressive Rock type things; quality isn’t that good though). Are those not vocals?

    I might give Pandora a try some time. Looks pretty interesting, and I could always use a bigger playlist. Thanks, I suppose :)

  23. Kanodin says:

    My stations tend to go in cycles. They start out with a small range that slowly expands as I click the like button. This leads to a nice plateau period where it has just the right amount of variance and exploration for a while. Inevitably though it then starts exploring secondary and tertiary features of liked songs resulting in a station that sounds nothing like it used to. Then it’s time to end that station and start a new one off the new artists found in the plateau period.

  24. Mari says:

    My other problem with Pandora (aside from the Stephen Lynch complaint above) is that much of my musical taste tends to run to the…really, really old. Not that I don’t enjoy modern music (I’m actually rather broad and eclectic in my tastes) but I also frequently just need to hear, for instance, “The Old Lamplighter” or “Mam’selle.” These are songs that date back to the 1940s and Pandora isn’t so keen on songs like that.

    1. Mad Flavius says:

      So when you said “really, really old” I was so excited. I had my Manifold Medieval Motets station all up and ready to give out, with the joys of Josquin and Byrd and Tallis…but then I realized it was about 400 years too old.


      *sad retreat back into the Cave of Early Music Obscurity*

      1. Mari says:

        Oh, believe it or not I would LOVE a link to that. Like I said, eclectic and broad. I have many, many collections of Medieval and Renaissance music and my love for the Baroque composers is the stuff of family legend. I have yet to find a genre of music which I unilaterally dislike (except maybe reggaeton, yeah, I really dislike all reggaeton I’ve heard)but I’m selective within many genres (highly selective within some like rap, where I only like very rare songs).

        Share away, especially if you have anything heavy with Busnoys or Dufay.

        1. Mad Flavius says:

          Huzzah! Well, upon further reflection, I recognized that this particular station is sadly light on Du Faye…I’m actually more a fan of the Renaissance motets than medieval, at least for this station. So, in light of this, I have renamed it to Manifold Masterful Motets (the alliteration is important…really) and the link is below, if you are still interested:

          1. Mari says:

            My thanks to you, sir! I’m listening now and could keep doing so all day and well into the night. Unfortunately the children are demanding that I go chemical the pool so they can get in it. Silly kids, can’t imagine why they’d rather swim than enjoy sublime music in the air conditioning.

  25. Factoid says:

    I actually don’t listen to that much music. I’m weird like that. As a result Pandora doesnt’t work very well for me, not because it can’t learn what I like, but because I don’t use it enough or rate enough songs to actually tune the thing.

    Since I can just as easily NOT be listening to music and be perfectly happy I usually turn off pandora after about the third song I don’t like.

    Ideally there would be an unlimited skip feature so that I can rate a song, skip to the next one instantly, rate it, skip again, etc… Then I can burn through a few dozen songs very quickly and get it tuned for how I like it. I just don’t have the patience to sit through music I don’t like to get it tuned the way I want.

    They should really just add a netflix style rating system so that it presents me with a full page of songs it thinks I might like, I rate the ones I’m familiar with and then let it go to town building my profile.

    1. Wil K. says:

      As far as I’ve seen, you can easily skip songs in Pandora. Thumbs-downing something automatically skips forward, and there’s a fast forward button next to pause.

      1. Wil K. says:

        I WAS SO WRONG.

        There is a limit on skipping songs, which I have most unfortunately found out by being subjected to *Limp Bizkit* right after the limit was reached. Aural mutilation was somewhat avoided by my mute button.
        A plague upon your house, Pandora…

        1. krellen says:

          If you pay them, they’ll let you skip as much as you want. They still have to pay their royalty for a skipped song, so they only let free customers cost them so much money an hour.

  26. Danakir says:

    Ugh, yet another program not available outside the US due to ‘licensing’ constraints. >__<

    It'd be nice for once if people outside the freaking US could enjoy these types of quirky and interesting pieces of software.

  27. Valaqil says:

    I like Pandora and get some use out of it without much fuss. However, there is one thing I wish I could do: Search for elements/”genes” and create a station based upon _those_.

    Now, let’s be honest: Your typical non-musician (that’s me!) may not understand what they mean, or be able to use them well. Most people probably would rather continue the current method of creating stations based upon artists/genres and simply clicking (dis)like, if I judge correctly.

    Even so, I wish that I had the _option_. I might do horribly with it, but I almost _always_ click the “Why was this song selected?” I know, by now, that I like antiphony, major key tonality, etc. (Although, again, I’m not sure what all of them mean.) I’m curious, and want to try!, a station that looks for songs that match my settings, but aren’t restricted by genre or artist. I’m probably missing something cool “out there” that I’d enjoy if I could search for it. And, no exaggeration, I’d pay for the privilege to try this, if only on a trial at first.

    1. Kevin C says:

      Send it into Pandora as a suggestion. I did that with one of the ideas I had (merging stations) and not only did I hear back, but they offered to send out a T-shirt or baseball cap as a sign of thanks (yeah, it’s promotion for them, but it’s still an investment into a listener).

      And that was before I paid for the Pandora One service.

      1. Valaqil says:

        I’m not sure whether it would be better to reply to you, or, immediately below you, to Metseger. It’s for both, although there’s no telling (this late after the OP) whether either of you will see it.

        I did in fact write to Pandora. One of their courteous staff (Merts was correct, very nice people), told me that they basically don’t think it would be a good idea. The reason I got was that they want the UI to be simple and easy to use. I was told that it wasn’t how they wanted to interact with the userbase. Maybe it is just simplicity, maybe it is IP. In any case, I was given this suggestion: Create a station. Use song seeds to tailor it. I’ve tried that and it works okay. I’m reasonably happy with it, although I’d still like to play with more options, to satiate my inner-geek.

    2. Mertseger says:

      Tim (Westergren) said that they’d look into advanced user feedback like this back in 2006. However, it’s not as simple as it looks. The focus traits that are listed for each song are NOT the same as the traits within the genome used to define the song for selection. Instead, the focus traits are derived from the underlying genome traits. Furthermore, there is not one genome, but several genomes which vary by genre (rap has its own, pop has its own, classical has its own, etc.). Pandora has been pretty guarded about the underlying genomes in order to protect its IP; thus, it may well be that have never created the advanced user intereface becasue there was no way to do so without giving too much information to competitors to duplicate what they’re doing.

      They do have a highly courtious response staff: however, I’m pretty sure that most suggestions are ignored. Sarah McLaughlin has had the album art from an Elvis album associated with one her albums for years, and it’s never been fixed. As far I can tell, they have absolutely no clean-up crew for such inevitable db issues.

      1. Lonestar says:

        I have to ask you this, Mertseger, You didn’t happen to frequent the message boards of years back did you?

        1. Mertseger says:

          Apparently not: I do frequent some on-line comic fora, but no anime at all (that I can recall).

  28. Tesh says:

    Pandora and the genome project are fascinating bits of programming… but not terribly useful for me. It’s not bad, exactly, and I’ve found a couple of great artists as variants from my seed songs, but overall, the system runs too far on its tangents, and I have to keep reining it in. It almost always picks the wrong variables to run as baselines, so instead of getting things that maintain the sound I’m looking for, I get some wacky tangents.

    Of course, that *was* almost a year ago, I think, so maybe it’s better now. I gave up on it when it started the ads.

  29. Athan says:

    “Slightly varied. I get agitated when a song loops the same hook for three minutes straight. (Usually categorized as “trance”, but not always.) ”

    YEAH THAT. The one thing guaranteed to turn me off any music is when my brain starts ‘itching’ because the same loop has been going too long. From what you said about ‘3 minutes straight’ I think I have a lower tolerance for this than you, Shamus.

    Along with this is a ‘flat’ lyrical style, which is why I don’t like most Rap. Eminem is OK as he puts some intonation into things, others not so much.

  30. Joe Cool says:

    Pandora works well for me, but then I have a very simple musical taste algorithm: I like everything written before the year 1900 and almost nothing written after.

  31. Cthulhu says:

    It took me a couple months, but I’ve gotten Pandora to more or less understand my taste in late romantic-era composers. It has a very hard time with “I don’t want to listen to piano preludes” (I swear it will happily play prelude 27 when the first 26 all got thumbs down), but it’s pretty good at this point. I’m loathe to go through the headache of training it to my taste in other genres/eras/styles, though, because I know I’ll have to unlike a ridiculous amount of stuff before it figures out what I want.
    Also, its classical music library is severely lacking. I mean, some of the more obscure stuff I’m not surprised they don’t have, but no “Death and Transfiguration”? Weird.

  32. PinkCoder says:

    I have to agree with several people here who state that Pandora works better after tweaking it for a about a month. I thought my music preferences were random, but after two or three weeks, I found that I rarely had to go click another up or down thumb.

    Even with its occasional song hiccups, I think Pandora is amazing. The nuances of sound and personal opinion seem so complicated that I would have thought an application like this would be decades in the making. I can’t wait to see where we are in another couple of years.

    Finally, I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that your music tastes so closely match my own. I don’t often find other people that enjoy techno, especially other geeks. I tried your channel for a about an hour and forgot I wasn’t listening to my own. In case you want to try a slightly different variety: Pandora Station Link

    (Though I don’t have the problem with vocals that you do, so there is that.)

  33. Octal says:

    Oooo, that song you linked to is good. I need to go send someone that link. :)

    You might like these four, especially “Through the Angles of Space”. (“Property of the Crimson Corporation” is a bit heavier than the others.)

  34. Susie Day says:

    When I first started using Pandora, it didn’t work at all … But I’ve learned some tricks. First, never seed it with a song that you really like, they can’t ever actually play that song. I usually seed it with a few artists similar artists and then one song that typifies what they have in common, but not one that I especially like, then vote up all of the good songs.

    The hardest station for me to get right was a Hannukah station. Pandora assumes that if you’re listening to “holiday” music that it must be Christmas music. It’s slightly weird to have Silver bells crop up when you’re expecting the Dreidel Song. It took about three tries before I got a combination that Pandora understands, and now I just have to contend with all of the REALLY BAD Hannukah music out there.

    Has anyone else noticed how after a few hours, Pandora goes into a warped zone where it plays weirder and weirder music, testing your limits of taste? If you don’t stop it, it just keeps wandering farther and farther away from what you were listening to.

    1. Pickly says:

      I may not listen to it in long enough bursts, or the station I have set might not be typical, but it seems to cycle more for me. I will play a string of really fun music for me to listen to , than will drop to some more forgettable/less interesting stuff, than throw another burst of really great stuff, etc.

  35. Johan says:

    I can’t read, write, or really do anything when listening to music with words. I guess I’m just not good at multi-tasking.

    The only exceptions are songs I’ve heard SO often that the words blur into the music themselves, some Phantom of the Opera songs that I have adored since childhood, for example.

  36. froogger says:

    Odd nobodys mentioned Spotify so far. It’s a great streaming service, but I do miss the options provided in and Pandora to compare tastes and discover something new. Been searching the net for a service that provides this, but no luck. So far I’ve only found heaps of sites where you can share your lists, but none that allows comparing. Shouldn’t be too hard to make, should it?

    BTW, great track Shamus, thanks (and kudos for Kubrick of course, the patron artist of geekness).

  37. silver says:

    Without having looked at your music list, I can say that I aggressively agree on point #2 : Lyrics interfere with my programming for the same reason they interfere with your writing. I co-opt a lot of my lingual skills to organize code, I guess.

    Groups with many many good songs of the form you describe: Loop Guru, Juno Reactor, Not Breathing, Orbital.

    How are you on “strange noise”? Ever listen to anything by Autechre?

    Future Sound of London: the song “Papua New Guinea” off Accelerator (actually, several tracks on Accelerator are good, but PNG rules). Also their album “Lifeforms” is completely different from the rest of their work, and should be tried independently of one’s opinion of Accelerator.

    As I mildly disagree on point #1, I can mention California Guitar Trio and the _instrumental_ works of King Crimson and 70s Yes.

    Since I disagree on point #3, you will probably find Rapoon and Windsor for the Derby too repetitive for your tastes.

  38. Mephane says:

    Well, this Pandora project sounds pretty cool to me, and I’d like to try it out…

    Oh wait. US only. Not that they’re the first service that blocks anything outside the USA or North America. Hell, on some days, more often than not a random Youtube link would result in a “this video is not available in your country” message. I know there are workarounds, but on the other hand some random Youtube clip isn’t really worth the hassle.

  39. Coffee says:

    Ahem… At the risk of getting too nerdy, I recommend following the elders of Zion Cluster and investing in some good Dub…

    the first taste is free

  40. Taellosse says:

    I love, love, love “Halcyon” by Orbital. That is among my favorite non-lyric songs. I wish more of Orbital’s music was like that (though I also like much of their other stuff), but most of it is much more techno/electronic.

    You might enjoy Yoko Kanno. Japanese artist who does the Ghost In the Shell OVA soundtracks, among other things. There’s often lyrics, but most of them are in Japanese, and, to me, foreign language singing and wordless chanting are almost the same thing. My favorite song by her, “Home Stay” from the first Ghost In the Shell series soundtrack, is recommended. That song is the reason I bought the CD, actually. There’s some other decent stuff on there, but that song really got into my head.

  41. As I was reading Shamus’ description, I was thinking to myself “I bet he’d really like stuff from Orbital….” And there you go.

    I use, but I don’t have any real justification, it just happened to do a better job on the day I tried it out.

    My problem is that apparently I like edge music in a lot of cases. For instance – I don’t like much country. I *love* The Dixie Chicks. I have yet to find a station that can figure out what it is that I love about Dixie Chicks, and find any other music. Most of them go straight to Kenny Chesney, or Garth Brooks, or something else.

    Similarly with Pantera – I could listen to Cowboys from Hell or Primal Concrete Sledge for hours. But when I let a station go with it, they immediately come up with some screaming death metal that I find horrific. I skip 10 in a row, and then give up on it. So I don’t know what I do, but I confuse them a lot.

    Still, Bare Naked Ladies does a really nice mix for me, as does the Cranberries, so….

  42. KremlinLaptop says:

    I would suggest SomaFM, their stations have become my regular background music at work and at home: good streams of electronic, ambient, etc music.

    Yet even with SomaFM, which I adore, tens of dozens of Spotify playlists and so forth I’ll most likely end up putting on some LP and moving the needle back to the start a bunch of times because I’m picky about what I listen to too. (Also it’s an LP because I only have some of this music on LP, not because I consider analogue superior to digital, audiophiles need not apply.)

    1. kikito says:

      Yes. SomaFM’s Groove Salad is usually good (sometimes the songs err a bit on the repetitiveness, but is isn’t very often)

  43. Blake says:

    I remember Pandora!
    I used it for a while when it first came out.
    Then they made it inaccessible in Australia.
    Just tried them again then for the first time in years, apparently they “will continue to work diligently to realize the vision of a truly global Pandora”.

    Stupid licensing restrictions.

  44. Jeysie says:

    I think the thing I love most about Pandora is that it’s incredibly eclectic. When you’re someone who loves stuff like barbershop, doowop, acapella in general, folk, etc. it’s kind of a pain to find places to listen to that music. But Pandora has a crapload of it.

    It’s great for discovering new genres, as well. I used to think of myself as kind of ambivalent about metal… I like the hard rock guitar riffs, but I hate whenever it starts drifting into the atonal stuff.

    But after seeding a station with Trans-Siberian Orchestra on a whim (one of the few metal bands I managed to consistently like), I discovered this blissful genre of music called “symphonic metal” and now have several bands I should probably buy CDs for whenever I’m not so broke…

    1. Will says:

      Ooh, you’re new to Symphonic Metal? Great stuff. I ran into that genre a few years ago and i’ve never looked back.

    2. Friend of Dragons says:

      I had a similiar experience when I seeded a station with a bit of a strange mix of Ensiferum(viking metal band) and Loreena Mckennit(folk)… It responded by playing some folk metal(think the band was Elvenking), a genre I hadn’t encountered before but now love.

      Also, Symphonic Metal is pretty awesome too.

  45. wootage says:

    Hey, you have the exact same music “filters’ that I do. Some beat, not too fast, not too slow. NO LYRICS. Especially not “omg how hot my **** is for you really RIGHT NOW BABY” lyrics – which is 90% of all lyrics nowadays.

    Try St Germain sometimes if you want electronica + jazz background music. Just found the artist, and I like his music so far.

  46. John Beltman says:

    Hi Shamus,

    I love that song as well. It is by Orbital like some other people pointed out. It is also on the Hackers soundtrack, which you should have just because of the movie! It is also a great soundtrack with some similar music on it. I listen to it very regularly. Maybe try and get a few compilation albums with similar music and use them to find bands you like. I was going to suggest Underworld and the Ministry of Sound Chillout albums.

    You could also try finding a DJ forum, telling people what you like and asking for their suggestions!? (I don’t know if that would work or not but I might try it)

    All the best,


  47. beno says:

    If you’re looking for instrumental electronica you can download for free, there’s me!

    We also found this from the guy who did the Carl Sagan song meme on Youtube recently – a couple of albums worth of free music – I’ve got this on my iPod pretty much permanently at the moment for when I’m doing technical stuff.

    Carl Sagan: “A Glorious Dawn”

  48. Russ says:

    For those of you who don’t want lyrics, but would like to try something other than electronic create a Pandora station based on “Russian Circles” or “Explosions in the Sky.” I guess I would describe it as Instrumental Alt Rock.

  49. Gildan Bladeborn says:

    I love Pandora, but I use it a little… differently than most people. To whit: I have precisely two stations. One I seeded with Dvorak and a couple other Romantic period composers, and it just plays classical – this was created mostly so I could have something completely inoffensive to listen to while in a work environ.

    The other station I based off of the music of mellow folk/pop singer Sarah McLachlan (initially). At first I would mostly get a lot of similar music (with a few odd divergences), but over time I would add various artists who appeared on the station as additional seeds in an attempt to get it to play more of their songs, and while that shifted the feel a bit the station was still pretty consistent.

    Until I got it to start playing Dutch Symphonic Metal Within Temptation that is – my mellow low-key station had started playing some VERY different music, which I discovered I actually quite liked. And thus was born the great experiment!

    The rules are simple: You can only add a new seed to the station if a song from that artist/group has already appeared on the station based on the existing musical seeds – if it hasn’t already played, you’re not allowed to “prompt” it to start playing it, even if you already know you’ll like it; music has to appear on its own before you can steer the station further in that direction. Because all of my first seeds can be directly linked back to me seeding Sarah McLachlan, and all each subsequent new music seed can be linked back to those, etc… I can honestly say I arrived at Swedish Melodic Death by seeding Canadian Folk-Pop. I find that endlessly amusing.

    That station now plays a colossal mish-mash of genres and I’ve thumbed up (and down) so many individual songs that I’ve actually exceeded the system’s ability to display them (though it still clearly is remembering my selections). I never know what it’s going to play from one moment to the next.

    1. Volatar says:

      I’ve got a station somewhat similar that I named “Whatever the hell Pandora wants to play” that plays everything from Smooth Jazz, to Nightwish, to the Tarzan soundtrack. I love it :)

  50. Mom says:

    Everyone likes bluegrass.

  51. Galad says:

    This is only loosely related to the topic at hand, but you could help me a good deal with a specific answer. Over the past year or two my music taste has become quite specific and I was wondering if someone could help me find a good internet radio since listening to the same 4-5 bands gets old at some point, no matter how good they are to me. I’m into symphonic metal, to name a few – Haggard – if I were a smoker, this would be a top quality Cuban cigar to me ; [url=]this[/url] is a good example. Turisas is a different taste of awesome to me, like Manowar, but with less pathos and more liveliness – [url=]Like this[/url]. Lastly, while I dislike growling vocals, sometimes they make for likeable music, like with Hollenthon – [url=]Example[/url].

    A couple of slightly more famous bands I enjoy immensely are Therion and Sonata Arctica. With those guidelines in mind, is there any internet radio, you can recommend me, or at least a way to find it myself? Thank you very much.

    1. Gravebound says:

      Try Shaman/Korpiklaani, Cruachan, or Suidakra. (Not really the same, but similar)

      Also, my favorite music to work to is The Angelic Process (Ambient/Death/Drone are the usual descriptors…but more listen able than that categorization would suggest). But I draw a lot more than I ever write and it really sets the mood.

      And for people who like Prog Rock/Metal you should really check out Ogre Upstairs

  52. Galad says:

    uh, I tried posting a comment basically asking how to find an internet radio corresponding to my taste(symphonic metal) and the system considers my comment posted but I can’t see it here? Could that be because I tried including youtube links? I was told “no duplicate comments allowed” when I tried reposting it.

    1. Shamus says:

      Restored. I dunno why it does that sometimes.

  53. TehShrike says:

    I’m late to the party, but here’s my current ambience/instrumental playlist which you might be interested in:

    Ratatat (LP3, 9 Beats, Classics, Ratatat)
    Abstraction (Nature’s Echo)
    Sefiros (Discography)
    Apocalyptica (Apocalyptica) – though their older albums would probably be considered a bit less of an ass-kicking soundtrack.

  54. Vegedus says:

    Pandora doesn’t work here, and hasn’t for a long time, which makes me sad. If they at some point decide to take Grooveshark away from me, there’ll be a bloody revolution.

    Also, I can relate to the music taste thing. I also tend to be elitist, yet mostly into mainstream stuff :P.

  55. Tomcat says:

    After seeing your.. ” peculiar and specific” music tastes may i recommend “locust toybox” ( he releases all his stuff for free and it might be your kinda thing

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