1/08/2006

SEDUCED BY PANDORA

I've posted below my recent Herald on Sunday column on a new service I've been using called Pandora. I urge you to take a look if you're at all interested in discovering good, new music. Some of my readers are also now Pandora converts...

Internet radio opens a Pandora's box
Sunday July 16, 2006By Peter Griffin

I've been spending a lot of time listening to Pandora lately, and I like what I hear.
Pandora is the best new thing in internet radio, a service that, once configured properly, will deliver you a constant stream of music you will actually like. Since I've started using Pandora, commercial radio hasn't had a look-in and even my newly acquired iPod sits unused as Pandora plays.

There are thousands of internet radio stations that let you customise play lists. Most of them are free and provide music in very good audio quality. But none have the intelligence of Pandora.
Based on your musical choices, Pandora goes off and searches its 10,000-artist database for musicians with the same "DNA". I started with a U2 song and was taken on a musical journey through the work of The Police, Peter Gabriel and several artists I'd never heard of before.

As you listen to the songs you can click thumbs up or thumbs down icons to indicate whether you like or dislike the track that's been served up. If you don't like it, Pandora will alter the algorithm used to hone the music selection. After teaching Pandora over the course of a couple of dozen song selections you'll soon get a random playlist that is uncanny in the way it matches your musical tastes.

But a surprising feature of Pandora is that it won't necessarily play much music of the artist you initially request. I punched in the name of composer Hans Zimmer, who is behind the soundtracks for films like The Thin Red Line and Gladiator. But Zimmer didn't feature often; instead, a large range of composers I'd never heard of was served up. I was soon scribbling down the names of these artists because I'll be looking for their albums to buy very soon.

Pandora was launched last year and is the face of the Music Genome database, a play on the Human Genome Project which sought to map human DNA in its entirety.

Pandora categorises music according to dozens of elements, including melody and rhythm, orchestration and lyrics. It finds traits that link various characteristics of music and groups songs according to these traits. It means that you can discover new music by slowly moving beyond artists you love.

I simply put my laptop on top of my stereo, connect the audio cable and stream Pandora's music through my stereo. The audio quality is very good, though you'll really want a minimum 256Kbps broadband connection. The audio stream itself is low-capacity so won't chew through your download cap.

Here's the only hitch with this wonderful service: Pandora is currently only offered to US residents due to issues around international music copyright. The way around this problem is, however, very simple. When signing up you'll be asked to enter a five-digit US postcode to prove your residence in the country. Just enter 90066, a Los Angeles post code or Beverly Hills 90210. There are more listed at www.usps.com.

Pandora is a free service if you agree to have adverts placed amid the songs and on your computer screen. US residents can use their credit cards to pay US$36 (NZ$38) and sign up for a year of ad-free listening. Services like Pandora give you a customisable listening experience without the inane blabber of deejays. The advertising is less intrusive and you get to listen to exactly the type of music you want.

FEEDBACK:

From Geoff:

Your article about Pandora must rate as the most useful piece ofinformation I have received this year!Its fabulous. You are obviously a musophile. I have got about six streamsestablished, from Chillout Electronica to celtic vocalists.....Thanks a million for the write-up!!!

From Deck:

Brilliant article on Pandora -- thanks very much for the lead. I like it so much I'd like to reproduce your article on my Blog ( www.hazen.co.nz/blg) if you don't mind. I've pasted the whole thing there temporarily, but I'll remove it if you wish or edit it down to "excerpts" -- your call.

From Jack from LA:

Thanks for the article on Pandora, it came up on my Google news alert for Peter Gabriel. Who knew I would find such great information about something in my neck of the woods 1/2 way around the world.

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