Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Music Post

Before I get into gushing about Pandora, let me ask that you give Emiliana Torrini a chance. If you like mellow, folk-inspired music like Iron and Wine or Feist, you'll like Torrini. If using the word "folk" turned you off, just pretend I didn't write it. Her voice is incredible and you'll love it unless you just have to be able to headbang and/or pop and lock to everything you hear. Try finding "Today Has Been Okay," or "Sunny Road". If it doesn't work for you, that's fine. Just don't tell me or I may think less of you.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. I'm really glad I gave Pandora Radio a renewed chance. As evidenced by the blog, I had been a huge fan of, and I still like that site. It's basically the same thing as Pandora, anyway. I think the main reason I had become a hardcore user was because I knew a lot of other members there from other areas of my life and could use them as musical reference points in my sonic explorations.

Of course, then was blocked by the Internet filter at my school and I was left tuneless and depressed for several months of fluorescently illuminated work. Luckily, Meaghan reminded me about Pandora. I already had an account from when I first came across the site before I had a work situation that involved more than an hour of independent work that allowed for extended music sessions. After all, the radio and grading papers in a room by yourself are far from mutually exclusive. Working in a room full of people, not so much.

After a few weeks of noodling around on Pandora, I think I may actually prefer the lady who owned a box to the ultimate frequency modulation. The Pandora site is set up so that you can access information about the music, your profile, and other areas of the site without stopping the music. On, unless you were playing the radio in a pop-up window, whenever you navigated to another page of the site, the music stopped and you had to start over with a new song. Even clicking the radio to play in pop-up mode restarted the station, meaning you had to wait until the station got to a song you didn't care about missing. Considering that both sites are easily tailored to your tastes, finding a song you don't like takes longer than on traditional radio formats. The only other way around that quirk of's design was to right click and choose open in a new tab or window, which worked, but required an extra click and the ability to remember to always right click.

Of course, I can't find a widget on Pandora like the one in my blog side bar that tells you what I've been listening to, but that's a small price to pay, really.

The main difference between and Pandora that I've noticed in content is that Pandora seems to play a wider variety. I'm assuming this is a basic difference in the algorithms used by the two sites to choose artists and songs for the listener. I get everything from old country to alternative and old-school hip hop on Pandora. That pretty much describes my musical tastes, though, so I don't mind. I also get the occasional Linkin Park, Disturbed, and Metallica song. I'll let the Metallica slide if I'm in the mood, but I've been clicking the thumbs down icon on the other two to try to get them out of future queues. I'm not sure why Pandora thinks a guy who digs Willie Nelson, Iron and Wine, and Modest Mouse would want music for angry teenage boys.

The real shame is that Sirius/XM don't have something like Pandora or as an option. I'd be willing to pay for their sports and news stations as long as I could have a customized station or two that played songs based on my personal tastes. Not only would I have to sit through fewer songs that suck while driving in my car, but I'd have to sit through fewer instances of one song played every thirty minutes. I've sat with and Pandora playing for hours without a repeated song. I'd hear a few songs by the same artist in those stretches, but never a repeated song.

Of course, there is that portable Internet radio player being advertised now, but I have no idea if it's any good. If it is, perhaps I should pick one up.


Julie said...

I still haven't checked out Pandora. It's not an approved website at work and when I'm home it's tv, ipod or quiet.

I really think you'd like Sirius. Matt's favorite channel is "Left of Center" although I think they may have renamed it after the merger. When you have as many channels options as you do, you just have a channel that gives you new options in your chosen genre.

Plus the best features are the sports & song finder alerts. Matt gets to pick three or so songs and any time that song comes on any station, the radio will beep and he can push the button to change to that station automatically. Same thing for sports. It will beep to let him know there's a Falcons game on and then he can just look down for the score or push the button to switch to that station.

And you should give Pandora a break. It was not so long ago you were blogging about being an angsty teen. Perhaps Pandora is reading your blog and this is why you have Metallica.

Hank Gay said...

Pandora and work (or at least used to work) on radically different models. Pandora pays trained listeners to come in and enter characteristics of songs, e.g., gravelly vocals, boomy drums, etc. Then they pay attention to the characteristics of the songs you thumbs-up and thumbs-down and try to find ones that are matching your record for the current station. As far as I know, the thumbs-up/thumbs-down doesn't carry over between station. is strictly a "people who liked A also liked B" proposition. Theoretically, Pandora should be able to do a better job for you as an individual, but doesn't have to pay people, so they tend to have LOTS more information to work with when trying to guess what you'll like. Pandora was more my speed the last time I tried them, especially now that they've added classical (a glaring hole the last time I tried them). And there you have it: a completely unsolicited description of how two services used to work (although they probably don't do it that way anymore). :-P

Mickey said...

Wasn't geared to strictly the indie rock side of things? Or did I make that up just because that's where I lean?

Since my last job I think I've listened to internet radio once.

Courtney said...

I have a musical recommendation for you: Frank Turner. He's my newest obsession. Think Irish folk punk, but not as charged as the Dropkick Murphys.

Jacob said...

Julie: I've been using XM (now XM/Sirius) for a while now. I borrowed my dad's radio for a long trip, he decided he didn't want it anymore, and then they forgot to stop paying for the service. It's fine for short trips, but even just the four hours from our house to Kim's parents it starts getting old in a hurry. I'm not fond of having to constantly change radio stations, so I pick the one that tends to be the least offensive (Ethel on XM and Alt Nation on Sirius, although there's a college themed station on there that I like too) and wait through the crap. A lot of times I'll just switch it back to NPR because the music station has gotten stale. I probably use my MP3s as much as I do the satellite radio and even with 6,000 songs on it, it even gets a little stale sometimes. Pandora and are much better with that. Even when I get a song I don't like, I can click a button to ban it forever or if it's a song that I like but it's being played too often, on Pandora I can click a button to ban it for a month and on both I can click a button to just skip to the next song.

Hank: It seems to me that collecting data by giving you songs that users with similar tastes liked would be much easier to produce an accurate playlist than just matching songs with similar qualities. Identifying the qualities seems so difficult and subjective, and a lot of times the difference between a song you love and one you hate is nearly impossible to identify.

Mickey: I don't think so, but you wouldn't hear the junk if you entered in the kind of music you liked. I get a lot of stuff from the major labels, but it's bands like Modest Mouse who aren't exactly Top 40 usually.

Courtney: I'll give him a try if you promise to give my recommendation a try and get back to me.

Chris said...

I prefer not to be able to pop and lock to anything that I hear, thank you very much, so I'll give your folksy chick a try.

I've been using Pandora lately, too, but I actually do have a little trouble with songs repeating within the course of a couple hours. Maybe my stations are too narrowly focused. I haven't really explored all the options on the site.

Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?