Personalized Music Stream: Pandora (and Last.FM)

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It's not about silent computing, but it's compelling... Sometimes, you're free floating on the web, and you don't even recall how you got there, but there you are... or here I am at 2AM on a Tuesday night, unable to get to bed because I can't stop listening to a personalized stream of music from an Internet radio station that's got me mesmerized... all after naming just one performer I was in the mood for: Madeleine Peyroux. Pandora describes itself as "a new kind of radio -- stations that play only music you like." So far, it's batting a higher average than any radio station I've ever listened to, and this is just after a couple hours.

The technology is based on the Music Genome Project, begun by a group of musicians to comprehensively analyze pop music using as many as 400 distinct musical characteristics. Each song that's streamed to your radio station (and you can create many) is referenced to albums, a bio, similar songs and artists, with a brief description of its major attributes. Your can give it a thumbs up or down to help tailor the station for you, or stay neutral, make no comment. Within about ten songs, it pegged the attributes that I like in Peyroux; in the last two hours, I've identified half a dozen artists and albums I must get a hold of.

This feels addictive. It also seems like a perfect marriage of computer and web technology with human skills and knowledge for a wonderful end: To connect more musicians to more people. I can't imagine anyone who likes music not trying it out.

I happen to be a SqueezeBox 3 user (some of you will remember my review), and a life-long audiophile/music lover. Here's another addictive thought: Squeezebox can be used to stream Pandora straight into your stereo. Sound quality is pretty good on my AC97 integrated audio card and Grado SR-60 headphones, so it should be a lot better on my main stereo.

It's not new. Pandora has been around almost two years. But I'd guess it's actually better now, and it will continue getting better as more and more music gets added to their databanks. Give it a try... especially with the computer that SPCR helped you silence. ;)

PS on the next day: A major downside is that Pandora is only offered to US subscribers for $36/year through the Squeeze Network. Devon told me about Last.FM, an alternative to Pandora which is similar, free and accessible everywhere on the web. There's a difference in the way your musical taste is profiled by Last.FAM: It syncs what you listen to on your computer with your music profile. They call it "scrobbling." Does it work as well? Try them both and share your experience in the forums.

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