Friday, October 23, 2009

Pandora: Don't be afraid to open the music box

When your Winamp randomizer repeats the same 12 songs from your library of 8,000; when every radio station plays "We're an American Band" at least eight times per hour; when your Tally Hall CD has disintegrated from a year of continuous use in your CD player... then it's time to turn to Pandora.

Pandora is a free online radio station with a humongous selection of streaming music for your listening pleasure, but that's just the beginning of why Pandora is so great. Pandora gives you a great deal of control over the music that is played; you start by typing in the name of a specific song, composer, or artist you'd like to hear, and Pandora creates a playlist that includes your request as well as other music that you might like.

Super Mario Bros. Music BoxSeriously, you might actually like the music Pandora conjures up.

I say this because Pandora is in the business of mapping the Music Genome--that is, every single song is tagged with all sorts of attributes ranging from tempo to lyrics to instrumentation, so when you search for music in the same vein as "Disco Duck," Pandora's results will be much more dynamic than you probably deserve.

Once you've got a playlist going, you can diversify its sound by adding other songs and artists and composers into the mix. Why stop at Rammstein when you can also have Hindi rap and gypsy jazz?

Pandora isn't a total replacement for a traditional music collection, however; just because you request a song doesn't mean Pandora has it. And just because Pandora knows the artist you've requested, that doesn't mean you'll get to hear his or her music right away.

Fortunately, if Pandora starts playing anything particularly repulsive before getting around to "Muskrat Love," you can veto the song; Pandora will never play it again, and will be more careful to avoid playing similar songs.

Music notesThere are some other restrictions--for example, you can't rewind a song, you can only skip a certain number of songs per hour (it's a licensing thing), and you do eventually need to pay (a pretty reasonable fee) to listen to Pandora if you use it for more than 40 hours in a month--but you can read more about all that in the official Pandora FAQ. Or, you can just jump right in and figure things out as you go. It'll be an adventure!

If you're getting tired of your usual music selection, if you're looking to broaden your musical horizons, or if you just need to listen to some good music, try out

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