Friday, May 9, 2008

Stump Pandora contest winners

Casual Listening


May 9, 2008

Stump Pandora contest winners

We had three Pandora stumpers submit, and I'm going to give all three guest spots on Casual Listening in the weeks to come. They each won in a way I didn't expect, which was by finding a band that Pandora had never heard of. Each is indicative of a blind spot in the program: world beat, comedy, and small-shop indie rock (although Pandora's a lot better at this than you'd imagine). Here are the winners and their choices:

Bob Palmer picked Omme Kolsum, one of the most celebrated voices of Egyptian song.

Jerry Pinzino picked the Smothers Brothers, a musical comedy duo.

Matt Dufek picked Aden, a small but influential indie rock band.

My personal stumper was Weird Al Yankovic, which Pandora has, but which generates a radio station that doesn't focus on satirical music. Here was a sampling of what the station gave me this morning: Styx “Renegade,” Three Dog Night “Joy to the World,” Barenaked Ladies “One Week,” and Men at Work “Who Can it Be Now.” Although some of these songs are laughable, none are deliberately humorous. To Pandora’s credit, it also produced Tenacious D’s “The Metal,” which I gave thumbs up to, but which didn’t seem to fix the station.

After first announcing the contest, I sent an e-mail to Lucia from the communication’s team at Pandora, who's been very helpful. She sent an e-mail about how Pandora is improving, especially in the world music arena:

“We're working hard to build up our international music collection and accompanying musicological analysis. Pandora is rather US-centric right now; that's going to change as we introduce more music from around the world to our site -- very soon, we hope.

We started this major effort by releasing thousands of Latin and Brazilian songs onto Pandora. We have a large collection of other types of "world" music amassed already (as well as Native American, Cajun, Klezmer, Hawaiian, etc). These aren't live on our site quite yet because we need to have a critical mass of matchable songs in order to offer a reasonable listening experience on Pandora.

Each new type of music we add will require analyzing the music differently than the styles we currently do -- each different style of music requires different listening skills and music theory knowledge on the parts of our Music Analysts. It's a massive undertaking, but we're really excited about it! We're expanding the kinds of music we stream every day, and our analysts are going through new training as we ‘speak.’”

She talked further about including comedy:

“We are working on the ability to create ‘walled gardens’ where certain types of music exist behind a sort of one-way glass. With this example, for instance, Madonna Radio would never play the Weird Al parody.”

She and I also hit upon an idea for a new and improved Pandora contest. See my next post for details on this.

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