The best way of coming across new music? It’s when a likeminded pal rifles through your CDs and says “If you like this . . .” The internet radio station Pandora was built on this type of interaction, but takes it much further.
Kind of like the way Amazon suggests books based on what you’re buying, Pandora creates playlists according to your preferences. And it’s not a simple “same genre” selection. Instead, Pandora performs an intricate musical analysis on individual songs, looking at, for example, melody, harmony, lyrics, and vocal characteristics.
Based on the Music Genome Project, a massive database of hundreds of musical attributes, the program “analyzes the musical DNA of a tune,” says Pandora founder Tim Westergren, who will give a talk called “Pandora and the Future of Music” on October 3 at 6 pm at MIT.
In 2000, Westergren teamed up with other music lovers and technologists to discern musical “genes” by listening to every possible type of music. By now, they’ve analyzed more than 10,000 songs to make the recommendations more accurate.
Say you like Bjork and tap it into Pandora’s site. When a Sneaker Pimps song pops up in your Bjork-based playlist, they’ll explain that this match is made because of musical similarities in “vocal-centric aesthetic, and a breathy female lead.”
As a member of a rock band, Westergren always wanted to connect to audiences, which isn’t always easy in the indie scene, where bands have to manufacture their own publicity. With Pandora, unknown, unsigned bands get connected to an audience, because their songs randomly show up in listeners’ playlists.
Now Westergren is connecting in a different way with audiences. He’s on a cross-country tour to meet some of the 3.5 million Pandora listeners in person, explaining more about the project and discussing related issues like radio licensing, and most importantly, getting feedback from listeners.
The people who come to these meetings have never met before, but all share a passion for music, says Westergren. We end up having exciting discussions, he says. “I am always extremely energized after these events.”
Tim Westergren speaks on “Pandora and the Future of Music” | October 3, 6 pm | MIT, Building 26, Room 100 | 60 Vassar Street, Cambridge | free | www.pandora.com.