A friend of mine once mentioned to me that there's a website that you go to and just tell them what song or artist you like and they create a playlist of songs that match your song's musical qualities and stream those to you. I didn't believe him and we had a bit of a discussion how it is really hard to sample recorded music because of the different instruments involved and the overlapping tones of those different musical instruments mixed with the vocal stream. I did acknowledge that it would be pretty neat if I can have some software that I can feed in a song in recorded format (mp3 or wma etc) and it filters out the different instruments and splits them into different tracks for me. What would be neater would be if the same software can transcribe the music for me. Being a bit of a guitar player, it would be really neat to have a software which I can simply feed any song and get the tablature for the guitar solo, for example.

Anyway, I forgot about that conversation until recently when my very good friend and guitarist Saad Ansari mentioned it again to me. Afterwards, I decided to visit Pandora's website to see what the fuss was all about. It wasn't what I originally thought it would be. They don't have a dynamic algorithm that samples music and attaches musical attributes to it. Instead, what they have done is gone through millions of songs and analyzed the musical qualities of each song and bucketed them based on their musical attributes - these attributes were assembled by the folks at MGP and number in the hundreds including attributes that relate to melody, harmony, rhythm, instrumentation, orchestration, arrangment, lyrics and vocals. This way, they are able to categorize individual songs and not just artists.

Anyway, the website was a simple page that just popped up this flash control that asked me to name a song or an artist that I liked. Being a huge Hendrix fan, I decided to put in Voodoo Child (is it Child or Chile, I can't still figure it out). It immediately popped up a couple of options since it found multiple entries with that name. I chose the one by Jimi Hendrix and then it gave me a message telling me that it is creating music that matches the qualities of Voodoo Child. After a couple of seconds, it started playing music. It started off with Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix and I thought to myself, "big deal, anyone can play another hendrix song to tell me it matches Jimi Hendrix's musical qualities", but I noticed that it popped up a message saying that it is starting me off with a Hendrix song deliberately and it thinks that this song closely matches Voodoo child's qualities of electric guitar riffs, an electric guitar solo and a dynamic male vocalist. This got my attention since those were they key things that I think of when I think about Hendrix's songs like Voodoo Child. So I decided to let it play songs that it deemed fit. After Manic Depression, it played a song by Pat Travers titled Snortin' Whiskey. I had never heard this song before and I really liked the song. The tone of the guitar matched very closely to what Jimi produced in Voodoo and I actually found myself really enjoying the song. The first thing that popped to my mind was to write down the name of the song and the artist so that I could get it off of iTunes or wherever I can find it the cheapest. This is when I noticed that if I hovered over the currently playing song (or any other song in the list that is playing currently), I gives me a couple of options. There is a thumbs up and a thumbs down icon to signal whether I like this song or not. I presume they use that information to dynamically update the currently playing station. Other than the two options there is a third option that pops up a menu that lets me do more actions on this song. One of the key things in there was that it lets me bookmark the song or the artist. If I decide to bookmark the song, it adds it to my profile which lists all the songs and artists that I have bookmarked with neat options like links to buy them from different sites or play a sample if you've forgotten what the song sounded like. I also get the option of buying the song from iTunes or Amazon directly from the same menu that lets me bookmark the song. It will also tell me why it played this particular song by specifying the key qualities of the song and how they match the qualities of the song that I used to create the station. If you think one song does not properly describe the kind of music you want to listen to, it lets you add songs to the station and then uses the qualities from all these songs to stream new music to you.

After spending an hour or so listening to music streamed by Pandora which included songs by artists like Neil Young, Ted Nugent and the like and after realizing that I hardly got a song that I didn't like(it passed my personal baseline test of playing SRV's version of Voodoo Child), I was sold on the idea and thoroughly convinced by the work of Music Genome Project. I signed up so that I could have free streaming for life and maintain upto 100 different stations. I created a Rock Ballads stream using some of the songs that I like. Also created a Metal Station using Judas Priest and Iron Maiden's music, although I found Pandora to be lacking in that department since it couldn't find some of the songs that I mentioned. It does find almost all artist that you throw at it, so thats still good enough for me.

Just fiddling around on the Pandora's website I found this neat utility that lets you get the bookmarked songs of any user and put them on your blog site. So just to promote my own musical taste and Pandora itself, I've decided to add my Bookmarked songs to my blog and you can find them in the side bar under my photo. I think that I will never again need to DJ songs for myself at work since Pandora is doing a great job of it and is simultaneously exposing me to so many songs and artists that I have never heard before. The only thing is that I have to go and open the website and have a browser window open all the time to keep the music playing.

Good work MGP ... cheers !!

Ali

P.S. Just as I was typing this post, I got news on PandoraBrowse. Someone went out and built a minibrowser to drop Pandora into your systray. Its far from pretty but it's nice to have for someone like me who doesn't want to have a browser window open all the time just for this.