There was an excellent article in TidBITS today about a music streaming and recommendation service called Pandora. It piqued my interest, as I’m always keen to explore new music, and was curious about how well it would actually do at finding music I’d like.
The idea is that you give it the name of an artist or a song you like, it classifies that music (by musical characteristics, rather than conventional genres), and it plays you a series of tracks that share some similarities with that music. You can indicate that you particularly like a track to hear more songs like that, or that you dislike it to exclude that song and those like it.
I decided to feed Pandora the artist Sufjan Stevens as a big challenge. I think his music is pretty unique, so I wondered what it would come up with. “Take that Pandora—think you’re so clever, don’t you?” Well, actually, it is pretty clever. I rather expected that I’d either get a lot of artists I knew and liked (Tom McRae, Damien Rice and so on), or that I’d get stuff that didn’t fit with my taste at all. In fact, I only got a couple of artists that I knew, and a good handful of exciting, interesting music that was completely new to me.
Particularly good new finds included José Gonz´lez, Alasdair Roberts (glorious Scottish accent), Willy Mason and Diane Cluck (great lyrics and a distinctive voice). The surprising thing was how few tracks on the stream I disliked, and that the music—while bearing a slight resemblance to Sufjan’s music, wasn’t just a bunch of Sufjan wannabes. Pandora does seem to manage to extract that indefinable something that appeals to you, and find other music sharing that quality.
My only minor gripes with the system are that the player seems to consume a lot of CPU cycles using Firefox 1.5, and that there doesn’t seem to be a way to view a history of the tracks you’ve listened to, so that you can look up their work after you’ve listened to it (you can, however, click the current track to buy it at iTunes Music Store or Amazon). I also don’t yet know how repetitive it gets if you listen for long periods of time. However, these are churlish comments about a very clever, useful—not to mention free—service. If you’d like to listen to my Sufjan Stevens Radio Station, here’s the link.