Wednesday night I decided to take some time from my typically busy schedule of blasting terrorists with American justice to go to Cinema Village on 12th and University to check out a â€œTown Hall Meetingâ€ hosted by Pandoraâ€™s founder, Tim Westergren.
Before I get into the actual meeting Iâ€™d like to explain Pandora a bit, in case you havenâ€™t been there or used it yourself.
It is a website based upon, what Mr. Westergreen calls, â€œThe Music Genome Project.â€ The aim of this project is to use a lengthy list of attributes (just shy of 400) to classify songs. The website initially asks you for a favorite artist or song, then acts as a personal DJ, playing music with similar matching attributes.
As songs come up you can give them a thumbs up or thumbs down, which will indicate to Pandora which direction to take you next for music. Also during the process, youâ€™re able to see information about why Pandora has chosen to play the particular track. Itâ€™s pretty cool and if you have a few minutes and want to hear some new stuff, I highly encourage you to go check it out.
Personally I had used Pandora before the town hall meeting, probably when it was first getting off the ground. I found it missed the mark quite a bit (I created a station based on Pat Metheney which lead me to a Javon Jackson CD â€“ which was great â€“ but then it started playing all this smooth â€œjazzâ€ andâ€¦well, letâ€™s just say smooth â€œjazzâ€ does anything but make me want to continue listening to a radio station).
I went to the meeting a little skeptical and with my music snobbery in full effect. I heard some of the conversations in the lobby of the theatre (we had to wait 45 minutes for a French film to end) and noticed that the attendees were pretty much who I thought theyâ€™d be: to-cool hipsters, wanna-be artists, professorial music nerds, the average joes, and of course, a couple of crazies.
Tim was standing just inside the lobby when I got in and I wanted to meet him and say hello, unfortunately I didnâ€™t get to as he was swarmed by the crazies and wanna-bes.
As the meeting started and Tim started talking about the very interesting history of The Music Genome Project and Pandora and he mentioned he is a musician. Just a side note, if I here someone say â€œIâ€™m a musicianâ€ , I donâ€™t usually give them the benefit of the doubt and think â€œso are you a dj or do you play an acoustic guitar for your girlfriend?â€ This was no exception.
However, as he went on to speak a bit more I came to find out that he was a piano player and had worked as a film composer for some years. I was shocked. I was so sure that heâ€™d be some programming nerd-store who listened to indie-rock and cried in the dark (all based on the fact that Pandora chose to play me smooth jazz).
As he explained more about the company I grew more and more impressed with his vision, and his mission. Pandora adds 15,000 songs each month to itâ€™s already massive database. They receive 45,000 to analyze, so obviously theyâ€™re fairly stringent with what they accept.
I couldnâ€™t believe this. I thought, â€œAre you kidding me? How on earth do they qualify the music? They have a bunch of programmers analyzing songs for this thing?!â€ I raised my hand.
Tim called on me and I posed my question (and youâ€™d be surprised at how nicely I did it too â€“ Tim even complimented me on how diplomatic it was).
â€œIf you receive that many songs per month, and you say that a great majority of them are on very small labels, unsigned, or just CDRâ€™s with sharpied track titles on them, how do you qualify them? Because as we all know, there is a lot of music out there. Some of it isâ€¦goodâ€¦but other music is really good.â€
I was blown away by his answer.
Pandora hires musicians with 4-year degrees who must pass a music theory exam (similar to the ones youâ€™d take to get into graduate school for music) in order to be hired.
I was so, so happy. Finally. Someone who gets it. Imagine! Musicians choosing music for the public to hear! Not some asshole A&R rep who switched over from accounting and has a background in being a douchebag and loving Nickelback. Not some moron executive whoâ€™s little girl really likes how pretty Justin Timberlake is. Musicians. With degrees! Who have to pass theory exams! Genius.
He had me sold right there and I kept buying as he kept selling. They classify songs based on about 400 attributes that were pre-set and agreed upon by the original staff of musicians. Anyone can submit music to the company. They pay their royalties. They abide by the DMCA (which I hate but, itâ€™s a must). And they employ musicians! And give them benefits!
He also explained that one of his goals with Pandora is to create a â€œmusician middle-class.â€ In other words, he wants people to submit their music and make enough royalties off of it, maybe not to survive, but certainly to grant them some extra income. I like this idea a lot too. He is basically saying â€œhey record labels, you guys are morons, this is how you bring great music to people and at the same time treat the musicians fairly.â€
Then he went on to explain a bit more about submissions. He said: â€œAt no time will you hear something on Pandora because someone paid for it to be there.â€ That got resounding applause. At the same time he voiced his concern that each individual who wanted to submit music should really take their time and put their best foot forward. They only want great music and donâ€™t want to hamper the analytical process by having to sift through tons of garbage (which Iâ€™m sure they must do to a huge degree right now).
At any rate, I hope you all will go and check out his site. Itâ€™ll be like having net-radio going all day, only youâ€™ll get to hear great new music. There are also links to the songs on iTunes and Amazon, and you can also create a profile which keeps track of your â€œthumbsâ€ and your favorite tracks. Enjoy the music!