Saturday, November 1, 2008

The need for additional granularity in and Pandora

For those of you who are not familiar with, one of its features is the ability to associate artists with other artists that are (supposedly) similar to the original artist. So if you select the station that plays artists similar to Ladytron, you'll probably hear some Client at some point.

This is all well and good, and it usually works well, but it would be much improved if you were able to select songs that were similar to a particular song.

Let me cite an example. On Saturday morning, I woke up with the Who song "Music Must Change" stuck in my head. This song, recorded in the punk era as part of the "Who Are You" album, is a lyrical plea to acknowledge the changing face of music due to the emergence of the then-newer bands such as the Sex Pistols. Or at least that's the way I read lyrics like this:

Deep in the back of my mind is an unrealized sound
Every feeling I get from the street says it soon could be found
When I hear the cold lies of the pusher, I know it exists
It's confirmed in the eyes of the kids, emphasized with their fists

Musically, however, it was prog-rock to the extreme, with a full orchestra and everything. The music hadn't changed at all.

Just as an experiment, I decided to listen to the station that plays artists similar to the Who. Would I get a song that sounded like the song I was thinking about?

The first song I got was "The Real Me" from Quadrophenia, a rocker.

The next song? "Gimme Shelter" from the Rolling Stones.

As it turns out, actually has "similar song" data. Here is the similar song data for "Music Must Change." Again, not perfect, but "Carouselambra" and "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)," while not exact matches, are closer than "The Real me" and "Gimme Shelter."

Presumably has some reason to prevent its users from playing a true "similar song" stream. Pity.

Josefine Koehn recommends that Pandora be used for such a purpose:

Pandora is an Internet radio station, designed to help consumers discover more music they like. Music Fans simply have to type in the name of their favorite artist or song and the website automatically creates a streaming station which plays similar songs.

However, I run into issues there also. I've been playing with my Pandora stations every once in a while (usually when I have networking issues that causes me to get the "error 403 invalid ticket" message in, and I've recently been trying to define electronic music stations that are arranged by country (i.e. "OE Synth Deutsch," "OE Synth Norsk," "OE Synth Suomi," "OE Synth Svenska"). The only problem is that out of all the kazillion million jillion attributes that Pandora attaches to each song, "country" apparently isn't one of them.

By the way, I found "Music Must Change" on YouTube. While this is a live version, and therefore doesn't have the complete feel of the studio version, there's enough here to tell that this ain't "Anarchy in the U.K."

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