Monday, October 6, 2008

Josh's Review: Pandora

I'd like to introduce my husband, Josh, in his inaugural blog post!

After 18 months of the Brown Family Blog, the day has finally come. I have been asked to "guest" post on the blog (even though one of those "j's" in the blog banner technically does stand for Josh). I'm not sure that I can live up to the high literary precedent that Jessica has established, but I'll give it my best shot.

The subject of my first post will be none other than a profound review of an internet application that Jess and I have come to enjoy over the past few weeks. is free, streaming, online radio site that is aligned with the Music Genome Project (more on this later) and adapts to personal tastes to deliver a customized radio experience. Pandora has been around since 2005, but for those of us who are not early adopters (or not incredibly perceptive of the world around us), I will provide an introduction. I even hesitated to check it out after my friend Patrick mentioned it, but I'm glad that I finally looked into it.

When I first went to the Pandora website, I was asked to input the name of a band that I liked. I entered Counting Crows (my favorite band) into the box, and the "Counting Crows Radio" station popped up on the screen. I don't remember what the first song was, but I remember that I liked it. I was intrigued. I renamed the station "Josh Mix" and decided to give it more information with which to build my radio station. The first three artists that I added were longtime favorites The Beatles, Pearl Jam, and Jackson Browne. Shortly after that, I added more of my favorite artists (Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Oasis, Damien Rice, The White Stripes, Neil Young, Dire Straits, The Shins, and Joe Purdy among others), and the station changed to reflect those tastes.

While it is fun to enter bands and see the content change, there is another way to personalize the music mix of the station. When songs are played, I have three options for each song. I can give the song either a thumbs up or thumbs down, or I can give no opinion. If I give a thumbs up, Pandora will play more songs like this in the future while a thumbs down will have the opposite result. Over the first 40 or so songs that were chosen, there were songs by artists such as The Wallflowers, Audioslave, Merle Haggard, Ray LaMontagne, The Postal Service, The Eagles, Radiohead, The Doors, Elliot Smith, Joshua Radin, and more. Probably 25% of the songs are from artists that I specified, another 50% are from other artists whose music I am very familiar with, and the rest is pretty new to me. Jessica also has a station of her own, so she isn't stuck with my musical taste when she wants to listen.

One of my favorite things about Pandora is that the music isn't bounded by traditional genres, but it seeks to play music with similar traits (the Music Genome Project rates all songs on a total of 400 dimensions). While some of these traits imply genres (they'd be nearly useless if they didn't), no song is excluded based on genre. As someone who enjoys hearing new music, the chance to hear a wide variety of new music is the biggest advantage over just letting my iPod play on shuffle. Ever since I let my satellite radio subscription lapse a few years ago, I have missed the exposure that I had to new music. Pandora has helped to fill this void somewhat, and I have already heard a few interesting artists. There is also a bookmarking feature on the site that allows me to keep my eye on a certain artist or song.

Although there are a lot of things that I do enjoy about Pandora, there are some limitations to the service. There are only 4 opportunities to skip songs in an hour, so you may have to sit through some songs that you don't want to listen to. While this is better than traditional radio, the advantage does go to the iPod in this regard. A little troubling also is the fact that I have probably only listened to 200 songs or so, and a few have come up 2 or 3 times. While this in itself isn't a problem, I'm hoping that there is a great enough variety that I won't have heard everything there is to hear after a couple months. Pandora does give you a short description of why it plays each song, but, being the nerd that I am, I would love to see it mapped out and get a better idea of how the Music Genome Project groups songs together.

While not a perfect solution, Jessica and I have really enjoyed our "discovery" of Pandora, and we wanted to pass it along. Along with the website, there is also an iPhone application that could be a great way to listen to Pandora on-the-go. I can't give a review for this, as I don't yet have an iPhone, but it seems like it could be fun. Unfortunately, there has been some talk that Pandora may not be able to operate if the music industry ever delivers on their constant threats to raise their royalty rates, and I hope that this doesn't come to pass. The web radio is a very fun diversion (especially for those that are looking for a little variety in their music). All in all, I would give Pandora a pretty strong recommendation, and I'm glad that I signed up.

This wraps up my long-winded review of Pandora, and I'll fade in to the background as Jessica regains command of the blog. Maybe some day I'll pop back up, but I guess we'll have to see.


djn.winkandasmile said...

Welcome! We will have to give that a try :)

Dave and Jenni said...

Thanks, Josh. We have tried Pandora in the past and like it, although mainly I use it to find new bands and then download them on i.Tunes. Overall, though, I agree with your review.

Chrispy Critter said...

Josh is a natural. Matt LOVES pandora! I will have to give it a try.

Erika said...

Good job, Josh. Hope you survived your first blog :)

Lynn said...

I have yet to check this out, but my husband found this as an application for his iPhone, and it has become one of his favorite applications. Thanks for sharing!

BTW, great new look, Jess!