December 22, 2005

Music to redesign your blog by

I've complained in the past about the inadequacies of collaborative filtering. A while back I heard an NPR segment on a radically different approach to predicting musical tastes, the Music Genome Project, and now it seems they've got a streaming music player up and running. Pandora starts by asking you to enter a song or artist you like (it works best with a song, I've found, unless all your artist's songs sound the same) then analyzing its content: instrumentation, melody, mood, vocals, rhythm, etc. It then plays songs with similar elements. You can then tweak a station by giving songs the thumbs up or down. And you can enter new songs or artists into an existing station (though apparently it just gives you songs that match any of your suggestions, it doesn't try to match them all). As Jason notes it's far from perfect, but it's also far better than, say, what Amazon thinks you'll like based on albums you've already rated.

It did pretty good on my own cruel test. For starters, it did not, unlike everyone else, give me a blank look when I told it that my absolute favorite band in the whole world is Huckapoo. Nope, Pandora just smiled politely and created a playlist of songs with "pop rock qualities, a subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, repetative melodic phrasing and major key tonality." That's the nicest thing anybody's said about Huckapoo since, well, ever. It started me off with Letters to Cleo and Kari Kimmel before moving on to Zetta Bytes and Sister Hazel, at which point I told it that if I'd wanted nothing more than B-grade Huckapoo wannabes I'd buy a Disney Mix Stick. It took the hint and surprised me with a nice Ronnie Spector song I didn't know (You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory), some Liz Phair, and a couple of artists I'd never heard of but quite enjoyed: Sarah Harmer and Sanawon. Who needs satellite radio?

You can listen to my stations using the share menu and my email address: radosh@gmail.com


My pal Jake notes that its archive of world music is limited, however. (The FAQ confirms this)

Update: Things you learn from having a Huckapoo radio station: The Bratz have an album. That's almost as sweet as Huckapoo having dolls.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


When this first came out I entered "Mozart" into it and it said "We don't recognize this artist."

Well, he's no Huckapoo, is he?

The FAQ says classical and world music are excluded. That makes sense if you think about the M.O. There'd really be no way to do cross-comparisons.

I guess that does make sense - I wasn't trying to find music I'd like, though, I was using it as a radio station and I wanted classical music. I guess that's what internet radio is for.

"You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory" is a cover of a Johnny Thunders song. One of the Huckapoos stole his last name, perhaps that's the connection.

Damn, that is a good algorithm. It doesn't sound like what I think of as a JT song. Is it a pop ballad when he does it?

Well, it's a slow-ish rock song, but it still sounds like Johnny Thunders. I haven't heard the Ronnie Spector version to compare. The original is available on iTunes, if you want to hear a 30 second snippet.

I put in artsy/folky stuff like Pentangle and it suggested "Water and Dreams" by the Feathermerchants. I've been listening to their albums almost nonstop on Rhapsody ever since.

Pandora didn't have Essra Mohawk (an old favorite), but nobody's perfect.

lindsay robertson - try Haydn. Or early Beethoven.

I think Pandora is really brilliant. What it is lacking in World Music, it makes up in electronica/chill. When I input "Un Simple Histoire" by Thievery Corporation, it immediately cued up "Una Musica Brutal" by Gotan Project, which is also a favorite of mine. Recognizing that it recognized my music was nice, but even nicer was discovering other music that I didn't know - like a Thievery tune that Sarah McLaughlin does vocals on.

Thanks for the tip.

I don't see any reason why they couldn't do classical: Type in Mozart and, as the poster above suggests, you'd get other classical-period stuff. Type in Philip Glass and you'd get minimalists---and maybe, if the algorithm got creative, Talking Heads or whatever. It would be great for those of us who don't know how Wagner, say, fits in with other composers.

With classical music it might be that there are more dimensions: if you just type in "Mozart," do you mean operatic, chamber music, symphonies, all of the above? (Stravinsky's even worse that way.) Or it could be a licensing problem with the classical music companies, who do things differently than their popular counterparts.

I'm very impresed with pandora! I invite everyone to check out my new station "WakeNBake" at stringtheory@mac.com. Mostly i like it because it's so easy and works so well, i'm finding lots of new music quickly. All the advantages of radio and none of the bullshit of managing your stupid itunes all the time.

funny. we built this same program in 1996 and called it firefly.com. ahead of its time, for sure.

I remember Firely. It was one of my first encounters with the failure of collaborative filtering to live up to its promise. Pandora works on a completely different premise that has nothing to do with other users' opinions.

well after four days of listening to "wakeNbake" non-stop it's gotten pretty repeditive. It's based on six artists and seems to have come up with a playlist of no more than a few hundred songs. it does seem to be a bit like an itune library, exicte at first, but then into a musical rut. maybe i just have to build some new channels.

Frighteningly, due to work (I swear) I have had to listen to clips from one of the songs from the Bratz album over and over again.

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