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May 19, 2006

Music Genome Project Opens Pandora's Box

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Somehow I missed the existence of the Music Genome Project. This brainchild of Tim Westergren, a composer and graduate of Stanford's Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. The infrastructure for the Pandora project was built by Westergren's dot-com company, Savage Beast.

As its name suggests, the Music Genome Project is an attempt to catalog hundreds of attributes of music. The technical infrastructure is there to support the human work of this cataloging - no software exists that can do this work because we don't know how to teach computers to analyze music to the depth that we can teach them to analyze, say, text. And now there is Pandora, a way to collect people's notions of their favorite music and, using the musical genome, recommend new things to them. The process is automated - you start with an artist and the system plays something (usually by that artist). You give it a thumbs-up/down response and things go from there. You can guide it at any point, giving more artists to add to the mix, asking for explanations of why something is playing, etc.

Past attempts at this sort of thing have tried to use social navigation techniques (most familiarly seen these days in places like Amazon where you get told "people who liked this also liked..."). These techniques deliberately attempt to distance themselves from the qualities of the items that are linked. If you get two country-and-western artists, it's not because the system itself knows anything about C&W - it's beceause the humans using the system know about it. Pandora takes just the opposite approach. If it works at all, it works because humans (mostly composers and musicians) have painstakingly recorded a tremendous amount of knowledge about what makes music be music.

I can see I'm going to lose a lot of hours to this thing. Oh, and did I mention it's shareable? You create a station and share it. They have licenses to stream music inside the US, and depend on you entering a valid US zip code (which might be secretly correlated with your IP address for all I know). The free version is ad-supported, or you can pay money for a no-ads version.

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: IP Use


1. Andreas Bovens on May 19, 2006 11:26 AM writes...

FYI, Steve Krause has written a nice piece comparing Pandora and ("Nature vs. Nurture").
Also worth a look is PandoraFM, which allows you to submit the Pandora tracks you listen to to your profile.

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2. Nick on May 19, 2006 5:47 PM writes...

I'm sorry you didn't found this sooner! Pandora is one of the coolest music services on the web and it's always finding new songs for me to listen to. And you have to love the fact that music majors, who know really technical things about music, are being paid to go through and essentially tag every song so that the system can figure out what musical elements you enjoy to make better recomendations.

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3. Cody on June 8, 2006 3:22 PM writes...

Pandora is the best web site/music service on the web!!! It is correct on my taste of music 90% of the time! And I have a wide range of taste (ex metal w/opera vocals, holly brook, ozzy, jonny cash) I would reccomend this service to any one!!!

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4. Kat on June 15, 2006 4:55 AM writes...

Believe it or not, I grew up in a household without music until highschool. Having no background with music, I found it difficult to find music that I liked because the stuff in the mainstream wasn't appealing, and sometimes slogging through the indie stuff was painstakingly slow.

To me, Pandora and the Music Genome Project is a Godsend, it recommends music without borders - you don't have to know what category something fits in, you just decide if you like it or not, and anyone can do that!

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5. Amy on June 15, 2006 6:34 AM writes...

Its so unfair that this site is oly fully available to you in the US. I got a tantalising snippet of its genius, then it told me i couldnt continue coz i lived in the uk. Does anyone know when this service is going to be liscenced to countries other than the states?

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6. Tom on September 5, 2006 2:18 PM writes...

I LOVE pandora!!! I have always liked music but i never really was able to find the stuff that is just for me. I also think that Pandora is great for new artists who want exposure, It will really help the up&comers to get known in their genre.

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7. Anonymous on October 19, 2006 1:53 PM writes...

Amy, just because you live in the UK doesn't mean you can't tell them you live in California. Sometimes to get what you want you just have to pretend to be American.

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8. Nemanja on April 21, 2007 6:48 PM writes...

It is great. And, I am not from the USA eather. I just entered New York Zip code. They must do that for legal reasons, but in fact, they are not restricting anyone.

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9. haavimb on July 17, 2007 1:25 AM writes...

does this work in sweden too. got any zip code i can use
thank you
haavvimb who misses his pandora

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