At MLA I gave a short presentation about Last.fm, explaining the differences between it and Pandora and why music librarians ought to be interested in it. We talked a little bit about the whole taxonomy vs. folksonomy thing, and why music people shouldn't discount Last.fm radio just because "similarity" is judged not by musical stylistic characteristics but by "people who listen to X also listen to Y".

Today I was messing around with the two, and I've decided that one way that Last.fm might actually do a better job of playing like music, stylistically speaking, is by genre. So, I wanted to listen to Hawaiian music. If you want to try to build a genre station using Pandora, you have to simply add artists that make sense given what you want, and then listen to it for a while, thumbing songs up or down depending on whether it sounds Hawaiian or not. Pandora wasn't very good at this, and one reason appeared to be that the kinds of things that make Hawaiian music Hawaiian weren't really counted as "stylistic" characteristics (for example, use of slack key guitar). As such, my attempt at adding a bunch of slack-key guitar artists to a station resulted in tracks being chosen because they had, for example, "folk influences, great musicianship, acoustic sonority, demanding instrumental part writing and major key tonality." Obviously a lot of music that is not Hawaiian will fit that bill.

On the other hand, I thought, Last.fm gives you the option of playing tag radio, that is, a radio station put together of tracks, artists, and albums that have been tagged a certain way. So, I tried the "Hawaiian" tag radio, with far greater success. While the music definitely didn't always match stylistically, all of it was definitely Hawaiian, with no exceptions. I got, for example, ska and reggae, hip hop, Britney-esque, and ambient psychedelic techno sort of stuff, but all with a Hawaiian flair--along with a good deal of traditional Hawaiian slack-key guitar, hula music, and Don Ho.

Techcrunch has more on Last.fm and Pandora. Note that Pandora has attempted to create special genre stations--probably because of this very problem.

It was a fascinating comparison, and I think I'll play around with it a bit more. What genre next?

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3 comments on "Genre Stations"


Lucia @ Pandora (http://pandora.com/people/pandoralucia/)
March 11th, 2008 at 3:20 pm

Hey Jon -

Interesting discussion fodder you've got going here! As a librarian who works at Pandora, I'm intrigued. Please feel free to email with any comments or questions you may have.

I have music librarian friends who are fascinated with Pandora...the way we have our music analysts categorize each song in our collection along hundreds of musicological attributes is like catnip to them. : )

The issue with Hawaiian music is that we're still working on that collection.

We do have a collection of Hawaiian music amassed in our CD library, but we haven't released most of it onto Pandora yet because we like to have a critical mass of matchable songs online in order to offer a reasonable listening experience.

Each style of music we release on Pandora requires analyzing the music differently -- each style requires different listening skills and music theory knowledge on the parts of our music analysts.

We started by adding music in Spanish and Portuguese (and hired bilingual specialists in those musical styles) and then we released classical, and we're moving on to Hawaiian and other styles next.

It's a massive undertaking, but we're really excited about it! We're expanding the kinds of music we stream constantly, and we add thousands of new and old songs to our collection weekly. In a few months, we hope to be able to offer excellent Hawaiian music stations, never fear.

We posted those genre stations below the Pandora music player as a way for people to dip into styles of music they may not already be familiar with. They may know the name of the style of music, but not any artists names, for instance.

But mostly, our listeners continue to input song or artist names to create their own stations... it appears they know what they want. :)

Thanks for the interesting post, Lucia, the MLIS at Pandora

Jon (http://jonhaupt.net/)
March 16th, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Hey Lucia, thanks so much for your comment. We had a great time at MLA chatting about both of your services, and clearly there is a lot of interest by music librarians in both Last.fm and Pandora.

I was beginning to think, while I was testing, that there'd probably be people working on it soon if not already, so thanks for the reassurance ;)

As for classical, I'm really curious to find out which service will first be able to manage multiple-movement works. I'm pretty sure that's what most people are wondering, actually... most people listen to classical music in groups of movements instead of randomly, and indeed when you listen to the radio on-the-air they play entire works. I'm not sure how that'll work out, but it will be fun when it does!

Cheers!

Jon (http://jonhaupt.net/)
March 16th, 2008 at 4:29 pm

Also, awesome to hear that there are librarians at Pandora! I'm not surprised, but y'know...


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