A few weeks ago, I spied a link to an inconspicuous flash-based internet radio application called Pandora. The reviewer (who I can’t recall – several have written about it by now) gushed about the service, but I didn’t understand what was so different. After all, i’d seen many, many different spins on internet radio – old school shoutcast, consolidated major internet radio stations and their legal battles against The Man, KCRW’s music and live streams (Hell, I was even a subscriber until they dumped Joe Frank), home DJs hosting their live playlist in IRC, and even Rhapsody‘s artist radio service that I had for a while.
Pandora blows everything else out of the water when it comes to serendipity.
You type in an artist name, or the name of a song that you fancy. It thinks for about 15 seconds, extracts the key musical elements of that particular taste, and boom, gives you internet radio from your browser. No applications to download. I started using IE for it exclusively to avoid closing my radio when closing all Firefox windows.
While it’s playing, you can ask it why it’s playing a particular song, say you like a song, say you don’t like it (which automatically skips it as well – nice), and jump to iTunes or Amazon search. It saves your list of liked radio stations.
It’s free for the first 10 hours, which I used, then subscribed to when it ran out, because I had already found two international music artists that I absolutely loved. I rarely subscribe to an online service, and I hate most online recommendation systems, but this is one that I highly recommend to anyone interested in the pure, simple, and joyous discovery of music that you might like.
For example, Pandora found me Bic Runga when I was listening to my “Jason Mraz Radio”. She’s a New Zealand-based artist that i’d absolutely have never heard of in the US. Her beautiful songs have been on heavy repeat here at my apartment, with earnest, heartfelt lyrics and wistful melodies. I’m listening to her song, “When I See You Smile” right now, and here’s what Pandora says when I ask why it’s playing this song:
Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features mellow rock instrumentation, folk influences, mild rhythmic syncopation, melodic songwriting and major key tonality.
My jaw drops open at that kind of expertly collected metadata.
As I listen to Pandora, I tend to leave it on as background music. However, a couple times a day I tend to hear a song that just resonates with me, and Pandora has trained me to quickly jump over to it, check out the artist, and if I really love it, add it to my Amazon wishlist for storing. Guys, this is the future of targeted marketing to the individual, and you need to experience it even if you don’t listen to music.
For more technical details from a smart VC, please check out David Hornik’s excellent post about Pandora, describing the intense process of manual, human data collection from thousands of songs.