Pandora Internet Radio is a fantastic creation. You enter a song or a band you like and they will play that band and then offer you other songs by similar sounding artists. You can approve songs or outright reject them. It’s a great way to hear new music and to listen to a radio station that plays music tailored to your tastes. It chooses songs based on your preferences and selects similar songs according to what the song sounds like, supposedly taking into account “everything from melody, harmony and rhythm, to instrumentation, orchestration, arrangement, lyrics, and of course the rich world of singing and vocal harmony.” The “Music Genome Project” as they call it is actually quite ingenious.
It has, however, one tragic flaw. It does not know why you like the songs you like.
Just because I like the sound of one folksy singer-songwriter does not mean I like every folksy singer-songwriter that sounds exactly the same. Just because I like one album or even one song by an artist does not mean that I like their entire collection. Take Coldplay, for instance. I love “The Scientist” and I have a soft spot for “Yellow,” but even though every Coldplay song sounds exactly the same, I’m not a huge fan of their entire discography. So I end up rejecting songs that, based on their sound, I should like.
This realization got me thinking about an article of Chuck Klosterman’s. (He is one of my favorite writers, comical and poignant, but most importantly, unapologetically music-loving.) He wrote this article about how ridiculous the question “What kind of music do you like?” is, and proceeded to dissect his own answer were he to take the question seriously. And the answer to this question is precisely what Pandora tries to take into account, but fails to really get to the heart of.
Well, in Chuck fashion, here is my answer to the question: