Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Opening Pandora's box
The Pandora Radio app is a favorite among tablet and other mobile device users. Most of you know the deal: you open the app, type in the name of a favorite recording artist, and Pandora will instantly create a radio station that plays the work of that particular artist, and- here's the part that impresses people when they first hear about the service- also presents the work of additional performers you'll probably also enjoy.
For example, if you ask Pandora to create a Frank Sinatra station, you'll hear lots of Sinatra, but also a lot of Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mel Torme. Terrific, huh?
Well, it is until you start listening for a while and you stumble upon Pandora's true genius: turning a limitation into a selling point.
You see, within a month or two of enjoying say, the Frank Sinatra station, you'll discover that the real reason that Pandora mixes in a lot of artists working in the same genre of Sinatra is because, well, it simply doesn't have enough Sinatra songs available to fill a station with just Sinatra. It's the same two dozen Sinatra songs. And the Tony Bennett station (if you create one) doesn't have enough Tony Bennett material to just play Tony Bennett, and the Ella Fitzgerald station doesn't have... well, you get the picture.
See it now? Pandora's ingenious solution to this dilemma was to divert listeners' attention from its limited playlists by making it seem like the service's padding of individual stations with other artists' songs isn't a short-sighted budget solution but something cool: the ability to create a tailor-made radio station for those who like a particular artist.
The related discovery I also quickly made is that the Frank Sinatra station- which plays the music of Sinatra, Tona Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and a handful of others- is exactly the same as the Tony Bennett station- which plays the music of Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and a few others. Which is the same as the Ella Fitzgerald station, which plays the music of Fitgerald, Sinatra, and... well, again, you get the picture.
There's a lot less "tailor-made" creating going on when one discovers- to give a nod to classical music enthusiasts for a moment- that the Beethoven station is exactly the same station as the Mozart station.
And, again, when you scrutinize each individual artist? It seems to be the same twenty-five songs. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but I really do hear a lot of repeated songs if I listen to large blocks of Pandora during the course of a week.
Pandora Radio is still fun on my iPad and on my wife's Kindle Fire, and yes, occasionally Pandora does seem to add some new songs from an artist's backlog. But I just want to let Pandora know that someone out there has noticed the bit of polish and spin it mixes into the description of its service. And I can't be the only one.
Anyway, I'm in the mood for some movie music, so I think I'll put on the John Williams station I created. And I guarantee that within twenty minutes I'll hear Williams' Jurassic Park theme and Jerry Goldsmith's theme from Rudy. Guaranteed. Sigh, and I don't even like Rudy.