Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Opening Pandora's Box: Streaming Radio That Only Plays What You Like

It's been out for quite a while now and I'm a little embarassed to be such a late adopter, but this morning I came across a fabulous Web site that just might change the way you think about Internet radio: According to the website, Pandora Media (formerly Savage Beast Technologies) has a single mission: 'To help you discover new music you'll love" and I think they've succeeded. The best part is that the service is completely legal and pays royalties - so the artists are getting paid. Pandora grew out of a unique concept founded 5 years ago by Tim Westergren called the Music Genome Project, which tries to break down songs into unique and discrete units (i.e., song type, instrumentation, melody, etc.)

Pandora as a free or paid service lets users generate up to 100 unique radio stations by simply picking a favorite artist or song. If you don't like seeing the advertisements with the free service, paying $3-4 a month seems very reasonable to me. The software uses the "genome" of the artist or song to instantly generate a streaming playlist of related songs. Adding new songs or artists to a particular radio station, or by giving a thumbs up or down for individual song choices, immediately changes the stream. Careful attention to the music's feel and genre is apparent by the similar choices delivered during my test. You can easily rate each song as it plays - providing real time feedback. (I like the fact that Album art is automatically displayed too...)

It's really intriguing because once you've "programmed" your own radio station (which is inherently much cooler than letting some other DJ do it for you), songs from up to 10,000 artists begin streaming in (major labels too), and the whole thing can be shared and e-mailed to friends. The fidelity isn't bad either... If you spend a little time with it, one could think of it as a favorite "iTunes playlist in the sky" that follows you around wherever you have an internet connection, but the best part is that you didn't have to pay for any downloads to make the playlists! One could argue that it's just another music rental service with no permanent ownership of the soundfiles, but I think this is a different animal because by learning your tastes it adds added value to the music listening experience...(Oh, and there's no DRM to worry about or licenses to transfer when you're computer crashes.)

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