Pandora: Opening a Better Box
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Tim Westergren and Pandora open up new worlds of music to countless internet surfers every day.
The virtual ubiquity of the internet in homes and dorm rooms around the world has both helped and hurt musicians over the past few years. While some bands and labels enjoy an accelerated spread of recognition by word-of-mouth (or is it now word-of-keyboard?), both legal and illegal downloading took its toll on the economic side of things in 2005, arguably the worst fiscal year in non-digital music industry history.
One of the factors leading to this is the advent of digital music and peer-to-peer sharing--the less legal 21st century version of the cool older brother who gives you his old Talking Heads vinyls. However, that little issue of illegality does make it a tad controversial and, well, risky. Enter the compromise: www.Pandora.com.
Pandora is like that one moderately hipster friend of yours; the one you can mention a certain band to who then lists off about ten others you've never heard of along with the guarantee "you're gonna love these guys." This friend is pretty consistently right about 70% of those recommendations, so you trust him and at least give him the benefit of the doubt in all of his music advice. We'll call him the Good Jukebox on Shuffle Friend. Pandora, an internet-based streaming audio player, is your new Good Jukebox on Shuffle Friend.
Pandora is a product of the efforts of the Music Genome Project, a daunting and seemingly endless quest to catalog and analyze all existing music in terms of music theory. Pandora works with the progress of the Music Genome Project to be the Good Jukebox on Shuffle Friend; type in the name of a band or song, and Pandora begins streaming songs similar in musical characteristics to the entry. Rinse and repeat with as many of your favorite bands or songs as you'd like. So far, the Music Genome Project has almost 60 years of non-classical music analyzed to draw from, analyzed in terms of about 400 different attributes. The analyzed artists range in popularity from Top 40 royalty to fresh-faced 20-somethings just out of the college town bar scene. Any elitist can find a new gem to brag about knowing before anyone else--with the exception of those at Pandora of course.
The Project and its internet manifestation were founded by Tim Westergren, who can add 'super-hero of new music discovery' to his resume that already includes 'accomplished musician', 'award-winning composer', and 'record producer'. Tim was kind enough to take some time and answer a few of my questions via email.
TWEED: First and foremost, I have to compliment you on Pandora's ease of use and comprehensiveness. In about an hour I had already become addicted to it and had about 15 new favorite bands.
TIM: We're very pleased to be facilitating addictive behavior! Particularly pleased that you're discovering new music through Pandora--we think that's the single most important part of an ongoing love affair with music.
TWEED: Can you give me a brief history of how the Music Genome Project came about and when the idea for creating a program like Pandora first entered your mind?
TIM: As a professional musician I was often frustrated by how hard it was for new artists to find an audience. My all-time favorite artist, a brilliant composer and musician named Judee Sill, died in relative obscurity several years ago, despite a c
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