On Pandora and World Domination

For reference, you should probably read my previous article about being quoted in Rolling Stone first.

Pandora If the other article was about being excited, this one’s about serious business. I have mentioned Pandora Radio more than a few times on Twitter and some might say I’m even becoming a fanboy. They may be right, but it’s not just because Pandora’s the flave of the month. I think Tim Westergren’s little project might just be the revolution we all thought podcasting would be.

The problem with modern music is that we’re running out of tastemakers. Commercial radio is aptly named- these days you’ll hear more car dealership ads than actual music. The tunes they do play tend to be limited to either the 20 newest songs off the Major Label Factory Floor or #1 hits from years gone by. Where the heck do people who want music discover new music?

Enter the robots.

Widespread adoption and integration aside, the one thing that could save the music industry are the robots. Specifically, Westergren’s Music Genome Project. Here’s a quote of mine that the guy from Rolling Stone didn’t print:

As long as the cold, dispassionate robots are the ones picking the playlist, the system will continue to work.

The beauty of the system is in its lack of control. Commercial radio playlists are largely controlled by a single office at Clear Channel or one of their few remaining competitors. Services like iLike and the countless indie music sites rely on users to select their own playlists- meaning if you’re not already on their radar, you’re not likely to end up there by accident. File sharing suffers the same limitation: only those that know about you are looking for you.

The closest thing we had to a real revolution happened in 2005 when podcasting took off. New music podcasts sprang up everywhere, creating an untouched ecosystem of new Tastemakers. While the system still relied on musicians reaching out to those Tastemakers, independents stood a much better chance of being heard than through commercial radio. As the excitement faded, though, so did many of the podcasts. Shows like Accident Hash (now rarely updated) and the Extra Super Action Show (now defunct) were labors of love, not profit. Their producers, hardcore music fans, simply didn’t have the time to devote to shows like that anymore.

All we have left are the robots. Traits from the Music Genome Project direct their decision-making as they toil ceaselessly to connect listeners with stuff they might like. Pandora Radio’s recommendations aren’t based on a human program director or a friend’s playlist, they’re based strictly on the attributes of the music itself.

Music Meritocracy

When I say Pandora is “the first true Music Meritocracy” in this country, I mean it. Your music lives or dies by the sound coming through the speakers, not the this-totally-isn’t-payola-it’s-just-a-thank-you-car contributions of your record label or the tastes of a lone individual. I have great hopes that as more people adopt the recommendation of the dispassionate, they will grow more passionate about the music they find.

No more control, no more corporate domination. Our future will be determined by the musicians and the fans alone. World domination, with robots.

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  • skippyfox

    Yes! I was surprised and rather pleased when I found your music on Pandora!

  • Sapphicat

    This post got me to thinking about the TED speech that Malcolm Gladwell gave about spaghetti sauce where he posits that most individuals do not know what they want until they are presented with it. That is one thing that Pandora does well through its genome project – it broadens people’s horizons.

    It still would be nice to have the ‘what Sapphi wants to listen to RIGHT NOW’ button, one where the listener doesn’t have a starting point… it just plays. 🙂

  • Sapphicat

    This post got me to thinking about the TED speech that Malcolm Gladwell gave about spaghetti sauce where he posits that most individuals do not know what they want until they are presented with it. That is one thing that Pandora does well through its genome project – it broadens people’s horizons.

    It still would be nice to have the ‘what Sapphi wants to listen to RIGHT NOW’ button, one where the listener doesn’t have a starting point… it just plays. 🙂

  • And the biggest problem? The Internet is Global. That makes music Global. And Pandora is not.

    Ergo no world domination, until both they and the music industry in general have the balls to wake up to this fact.

    • Yeah, that’s a fact I’m keenly aware of. And that’s the kind of problem that the Old Business is creating- licensing issues. I wish Pandora would just let artists/labels check boxes as to what countries or licensing terms they’ll agree to. If the majors don’t want to play their artists in India, so be it… let the indies saturate that market before they even have a chance.

  • And the biggest problem? The Internet is Global. That makes music Global. And Pandora is not.

    Ergo no world domination, until both they and the music industry in general have the balls to wake up to this fact.

    • Yeah, that’s a fact I’m keenly aware of. And that’s the kind of problem that the Old Business is creating- licensing issues. I wish Pandora would just let artists/labels check boxes as to what countries or licensing terms they’ll agree to. If the majors don’t want to play their artists in India, so be it… let the indies saturate that market before they even have a chance.

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