If you have any familiarity with interactive radio, you probably already know Pandora Radio, which counts every tenth person in the United States as an active user. The California-based service, created by The Music Genome Project, has cemented its place atop the online streaming ranks thanks to an in-depth recommendation feature that has proved one of the industry’s best music discovery tools.
The legend of Pandora extends from its classification of 400 different musical attributes, all of which are then subdivided into over 2,000 focus traits that categorize each song and artist by a slew of fascinatingly minute musical details: “electronic rock instrumentation,” “punk influences,” “mild rhythmic syncopation,” and “call and answer harmonies.”
Pandora is designed with one purpose in mind: to get you listening to music you might like as quickly as possible. All other options, functions, or tidbits of entertainment are secondary, and that’s obvious as soon as you open the app or sign up for an account.
Choosing what you want to hear on Pandora could not be much easier. You can search by artist, song or composer, or you can click over to the “Genre” option and browse their many pre-fab stations. Clicking through to “hip-hop” yields the option to listen to nine different choices, including “East Coast Hip Hop,” “We Coast Hip Hop,” “Southern Hip Hop,” and “Positive Hip Hop.” Pandora is nothing if not specific.
I prefer to search by artist, so I typed in “White Denim,” and found that the Austin, Texas band can indeed be found in Pandora’s database, as can many obscure ones. The player begins immediately afterwards, and the first five songs showed selections from WD, Maps & Atlases, Voxhaul Broadcast, The Pretty Black Chains, and Leopald & His Fiction. Two of those bands I’d never heard of before, which makes for a pretty solid discovery ratio, in the beginning anyway.
Once you’ve created a station, you can still edit it by clicking on the “Add Variety” button just underneath the station’s name on the left side of your player. There, you can influence the station’s configurations almost on-demand, adding specific songs or artists that you want to hear. It’s like requesting a song to a DJ.
If you’re looking for something more obscure, it’s likely that Pandora will be able to cater to your needs. They don’t have everything: a search for Baltimore’s Tommy Tucker yielded zero results, and Pandora still hasn’t heard of Brooklyn’s Ava Luna. But its catalog is fairly extensive, and you should be able to find what you’re looking for without searching for only the most generic of bands. Over time, however, you may notice a degree of repetition within the channels, which can be ameliorated by creating stations around new artists.
With only four tabs to choose from upon first glance, Pandora’s mobile app is clean-cut and easy to use. You can cycle through already-created stations, create a new station, refer to a bookmark (through which you can buy the track from iTunes, create a station from the track, or email the track to a friend), or adjust your settings.
Once you’re into the player, you have a few more options to toggle, and as a result, there’s very little to confuse the user. You can vote songs up or down, manage bookmarks, pause a song, or skip to the next track. Tapping the album art reveals artist and track information.
If you have an iPhone, you can now listen to Pandora on external speakers using Apple AirPlay, a development that should make home listening more enjoyable. That is, unless you live off the grid or have a limited data plan, because Pandora’s mobile app does not yet offer any type of local caching option, whether with a free or paid account.
Since Pandora doesn’t offer much in the way of extreme social networking, it makes sense that its design is pretty basic. On the web, a clean, concise player takes up about 66 percent of your browser, with station choices on the left and the currently-playing song (plus the two you just heard) on the right.
On an iPhone, the design borrows generously from Apple’s own iPod app, with Pandora’s own features intermixed. Everything is pretty easy to comprehend, so it’s not like you’ll get lost trying to get from the player into a bookmarking section. Anybody who’s used an iPhone for more than thirty minutes should understand the way that things work with this app; it almost feels like an Apple in-house design.
You can share songs played on Pandora via Twitter or Facebook, but the easiest way to share something is to email the station to a friend. It’s already connected to your email account (the one you provided when registering), which facilitates shooting off an email sharing a station, song or artist with ease.
On the smartphone, Pandora integrates its sharing options with your contact list. When you click on “Share This Station with a Friend” on your mobile device, you’re directed to your list of contacts. On a web browser, it opens up to your mail client. Either way, it’s about as simple as it can be.
Do You Get What You’re Looking For?
If you’re looking for a music player with an emphasis on music discovery, then the answer to this question is a resounding “yes.” Pandora won’t overload you with songs you’ve heard before (at first, anyway). You won’t be singing along to many of their selections, which we view as a positive development. But if your experience is like ours, you will be able to leave a station on for a good long while without getting annoyed.
The “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” features allow you to easily tailor your stations to your likes and dislikes. If you come across a song that you don’t like, just vote it down and it won’t show up anymore.
With enough work (and pretty simple work, at that), it’s possible to piece together your own perfectly tailored radio station, a massive collection of interests and artists that will give you just enough of what you know and even more of what you may learn to like.
In the free version of Pandora on any platform, you’ll hear a good many audio ads, which can be distracting if you’re trying to work or work out. To eliminate these, purchase an ad-free account for $3/month that also comes with access to Pandora’s customizable desktop app, an increase in skips from 12 a day to 144, and playback at what Pandora calls “the highest quality streaming experience on the Internet,” 192K bits per second.