Guest Author - Rick Carruth
Music is one of my passions, and I've enjoyed many online music services during the past couple of years. Since broadband made streaming and/or downloading music practical, I've used them, play around with them, and even subscribed monthly to one of the more popular music services. Because of the hours I spend online daily, playing my 'favorites' list from one of my subscription music services or tuning in to one of the online radio stations has become a ritual. Two months ago I discovered what has now become my favorite daily ritual.. and 'gasp!', it's free..
What is it?.. Pandora.
No, not the greek goddess who collected gifts, including the gift of music, from other gods, but the streaming music program from the developers of the Music Genome Project. Conceived in 2000 by a group of developers, researchers, and musicians with a mutual love of music and it's roots, the Music Genome Project has painstakingly reviewed, dissected, and analyzed over 300,000 songs by more than 10,000 artist and combined their results into what we know as Pandora.
Pandora is a web based streaming music service that lets their users create up to one hundred personal radio stations based on the particular qualities of the songs they love to listen to. Since every song contains it's own distinct rhythm, harmony, melody, and lyrical qualities, Pandora creates your station and plays songs on your station that share these same qualities.
The web site uses Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone" as an example. Adding Lynyrd Skynyrd to your playlist will bring up similar artist, regardless of their popularity. Adding "Tuesday's Gone" to your playlist will also likely associate and play Metallica's version of the same song. So, unlike typical services that restrict you to certain genres' of music, Pandora opens a world of diversity and exposes you to songs and artists you may never experience otherwise.
But, what if I don't like what I hear? That's the amazing aspect of Pandora. When a song is played, the album/CD cover is displayed and you have the power to click on the cover and make that song disappear. Clicking on an artist or song twice will remove that selection from your playlist forever. More so, the algorithm that played that song at that moment will be reconfigured to take your ever-changing taste into consideration and steer your future selections in a slightly different direction.
In time, theoretically at least, your playlist will evolve into the perfect blend of artist and music based on your taste.
Since Pandora is a free service, they are not allowed to give you a completely free selection of what you hear. If they did, they would cease to be a streaming music service and would become a music-on-demand service. Laws prohibit that, as well as the streaming of music to countries other than the United States.
Personally, I have found their selection of music for me to enjoy far more interesting than my own selections, if left to my on accord. I discover an artist every time I listen that makes me seek out more of their music. It's not only interesting, it's downright educational..
You can give a "thumbs down" to up to ten different songs each hour. After a day or two of listening to Pandora your playlist(s) will play so many songs you find enjoyable that the 'ten song an hour' limit will not be a problem. Give your playlist a chance to grow and evolve and I promise you will be as charmed with Pandora as I am. After minimizing Pandora's screen and going about my tasks online, I now find myself maximizing the screen, not to banish a song from my playlist, but to see who the heck they are, and to add them to my favorites list.
You can, if you choose, subscribe to Pandora for about $36.00 a year. The only advantage is that ads will not be displayed to the right of your Pandora control panel. Honestly, if you're like me and listen to Pandora minimized, there's no real reason to pay to have the ads removed. Both the free version and pay version are identical otherwise.
Pandora actually makes its money by providing the listener with the ability to buy a CD of their favorite music through Amazon, or download a song through Apple's iTunes. This is a user selected feature, and does not impose on your listening experience.
Pandora's only downside, as I see it, is that the Music Genome Project does not distinguish between normal lyrics and explicit lyrics. They are artistically neutral and allow the artist's vision of his/her music to play - as is. This has not been a consideration in my case, as I do not normally listen to music that would be tagged with the explicit label. I have the power to click and remove anything I find objectionable, but I do feel that minors could easily access explicit music with an email address and a password, all that's basically required to sign-up for Pandora.
To use Pandora you will need either Windows 2000 or XP with Internet Explorer 6 or Firefox. Pandora also operates on MacOS X 10.3+ with Safari and Firefox. Flash 7 or 8 is required, which most machines now have, and a 1Ghz processor and 256M of Ram. As with most music services of this nature, dialup is not supported.
There is a very comprehensive 'Q&A' section on their web site, explaining all the details and fine points. Getting started is extremely simple, and you can 'fine tune' as you go along. Pandora has my recommendation as one of the finest freeware items I've ever reviewed. Remember, it's web-based, so nothing has to be installed on your machine. Simply bookmark and enjoy..
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