Play Listen Repeat Vol. 37

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2005MGMBaby300.jpgImagine that you are a judge at a baby beauty contest. Thousands of babies are brought out in front of you for you to inspect, and it’s up to you to decide which ones the public at large would want to see.
Every baby that you see is wonderful: full of life, full of curiosity, energy, enthusiasm and its own kind of perfect integrity and even beauty. In that sense, they are all exactly the same, equally open, curious, and ready to engage. Every one of them deserves the same chances as every other.
At the same time, though, you have to admit to yourself that some of the babies are certainly easier to look at than others (and now that you’re on the subject, some of them – bless their little hearts – just look pretty undercooked).
That’s what it’s like to make judgments about music.


It’s clearly true that some music works better than others. Popularity and critical acclaim, both immediate and enduring, attest to that. And yet it’s also true that all artists, no matter how effective, popular, or acclaimed their music, feel that they are special, and deserving of peoples’ attention.
This is a situation where, when looked at through one eye, all music is exactly equal, and looked at through the other, some music is, as Orwell put it, “more equal than others.”
It’s not by accident that I reference Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” because I think some of our deepest ideas about these things are rooted in a conflict between ideology and biology.
The idea that all music is equal and deserves equal rights is somehow fundamentally a democratic idea; as is the corresponding idea that the public, and not some small cadre of experts, is the best judge of musical quality.
But the fact that some music not only attracts more listeners, but also seems to mean more to more people over a longer period of time, indicates that there is actually something fundamentally unequal about music as well. And if you really think about this, it’s doubtful that any two records are really ever of the exact same level of quality. After all, different people can’t have identical experiences of the same piece of music, can they? And in fact, a single person can’t even have the exact same experience of a piece of music even if they listen to it twice in a row. Fascinating…
And so we have a paradox, which for those of us who have to make value judgments about music, is a constant challenge to negotiate. Like any good challenge, it’s also endlessly absorbing in its own way.
I’d like to understand it better, so if you will, imagine once again that you’re judging that baby contest, and tell me: what are you thinking? How are you going to decide? And then extend those ideas to music if you dare.
gurgles,
mz

Pandora

The Pandora Team http://www.pandora.com/

36 thoughts on “Play Listen Repeat Vol. 37

  1. I don’t know about babies, but I do know that I’m still waiting on Pandora to add music that I requested three years ago. That baby’s grown up a lot by now.

  2. I signed up to hear You Haven’t Heard The Last of Me by Moe Bandy.You started w/ one Moe Bandy song but I haven’t heard my song yet.!! What gives ??

  3. Dear Pandora people,
    I just wanted to let you know that I love you. Your selection of 60’s rock and folk music is positively glorious, and I’ve discovered so many new songs that I love. Pandora is my new favorite discovery.
    Thanks!

  4. DOES ANYONE KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS. I’M HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM…
    I installed Pandora on my computer and it played for several weeks now all of a sudden, when it loads it scrolls over and the very first song box comes over but stops at the edge and will not advance. Then I get a message that it is taking longer than expected to select the next song ( it never played a first song) and that I could wait or select another station. Well, I have selected another station and it does the same thing.

  5. hey folks – for any technical questions, email pandora-supportATpandoraDOTcom (replace AT with @ and DOT with . )
    as for you aufheben, we’ve emailed and I’ve addressed some of those collection issues –
    naomi – glad you like our 60s collection – I worked real hard on that stuff… :-)
    and now, back to the topic at hand! no one wants to judge babies? I may well take that as an answer in and of itself, if no one responds, but I remain very curious to know how you folks would approach that kind of conundrum, esp. as it relates to music.

  6. Not all babies are even cute to a self-conscious mind that didn’t suffer from the brain disease called political correctness. And newborn babies are almost all in fact quite ugly because their facial features are incomplete yet; Down syndrome babies have this problem for longer, actually for the entire life. However, in baby beauty contest all contestants are indeed babies, and they’re not pushed into jury’s mind via “branding”, “videos” and other campaigning that try to present any sequence of sounds as music.
    BTW, what Pandora indeed needs desperately is a user’s global ban list of songs and also user’s global ban list on artists where names can be added manually. Global means – apply to any stations. When I open a new station I usually have to block the same crap all over again.

  7. Play>Listen>Repeat is correct.
    – You select a genre you want to listen to.
    – Pandora plays a song NOT in the genre
    – You reject it
    – Pandora repeats step 2
    – You repeat step 3
    – Repeat
    – Repeat
    – Repeat
    Soon, you have maybe 4 favorable songs and 50 rejects.

  8. I like my baby. A couple years ago I set up a channel (Bumpin Good Jazz), and must say that even tonight, listening to the ever changing ‘face’ keeps me coming back to listen. Your collection of music, the systematic selection algorithms, the mood shifting reflection…. yes hard to judge, but as another phrase goes…. you know it when you see it (or hear it!) Sometimes unexpected tunes, a voice, or tune you have not recalled for a long time, a memory brought back, a shift of time and space, and all from the simple notes from my computer speaker. And I never grow tired of hearing from my ‘baby’.

  9. I think the most attractive babies fuss less, smile more, sleep well, eat well, they are curious and interested in their surroundings etc.
    So to take your analogy to a piece of music, how does a piece of music smile more, sleep well …
    I think you could look at each one of these to see how far we could stretch the analogy.
    But lets just take Smile More, a smiling baby universally makes one smile, so a happy tune should make you feel good and right inside and out and when you hear it you intuitively know the song is content and fulfilled.

  10. I love Pandora, u spend an hour listening to it, tuning ur station on every song and eventually your stations are totally perfect and play every song u want to hear @ that moment, i still dont get why u guys throw in john mayer on a wu-tang station, but i supposed based on how i rated certain songs maybe that song that doesnt particularly fit the genre of the station fit the qualities of the sound i spent time on perfecting for my station..thank you..the band bios are amazing also, considering im a musician myself and love to know as much as i possibly can about every genre of music…i run your pandora literally all day…my computer hates me for it..but i just cant shut it off. whatever mood im in..i have a station for it.

  11. the one thing tht freakin annoys me about pandora is that when it supplies u with songs u don’t like and it moves on to the next song… their lisence prevents u from skipping songs. its just so ANNOYING!

  12. Hey, it would be nice if you changed your profile description of Fryderyck Chopin to one that doesn’t “dis” him in the very first line.

  13. this thing is pretty cool. i like the fact that i don’t have to open up the entire pandora window & i can just use the gadget .. but you can’t search for a song and than play it. it’s weird. i dunno.

  14. Is it possible to have Pandora repeat a song recently played? I often find I cannot decide at once whether or not I like a song and would like to replay it.
    Also is this comment on Paul Desmond appropriate? “Desmond is best known for his years with the Dave Brubeck Quartet (1959-1967) and his infamous composition “Take Five.”” Possibly too familiar, but not, I suggest, “infamous”.
    Thanks for all the music. Jean

  15. Re: “OMG I h8 u 4 not allowing me to skip lame songzz and hear wut I want! Ur DRMz are teh suck!”
    Lala.com is a direct competitor of yours. As you likely know, they have an interesting licensing model where they charge some small amount for a “lala.com-only” license and a larger amount for a downloadble, DRM free version. They also offer some number of complimentary “lala.com-only” licenses when you open a new (free) lala.com account.
    As a result, I often find myself on lala.com instead of Pandora when I want to listen to a specific song at work … and then I mosey back to Pandora after I get my fill of the songs that I already know and like.
    What I really want is to hear my song or a few songs (as lala.com allows), and then hear other songs that are similar to it based on Music Genome Project modelling … on the same website!
    I could use those fave songs as “seed” songs on Pandora, but that would guarantee that I won’t hear them! That’s the opposite of what I want!
    If you guys could negotiate a similar licensing/marketing deal, allowing users to purchase and listen to the music they want as often as they want, and then listen to MGP-selected similar songs afterwards, you would rock my face off! You already link preferences to songs for each user (via the thumbs-up / down), so it would seem that you could keep track of purchases that way as well.

  16. And, to answer your actual question about babies, I think one of the problems re judging music is that the judging criteria are constantly changing, even within a single person.
    Sometimes I want Brahms (einstein baby), and sometimes I want the Descendents (mohawk-wearing, frenulum pierced rocker baby).
    I think you lose a lot of information by compressing into one-dimension (popularity, record sales, “baby attractiveness” based on an average of a population’s sentiment).
    A world in which every song was “perfect” would quickly be boring. That’s why, even though I can’t stand some artists, I’m still glad they’re out there pushing the limits: they create a possibility that someone else can go out and run with.

  17. If I was judging a baby contest, I guess for me, it would come down to which baby I felt most engaged me as a judge. Which one seemed to notice me and react to me or cause me to react to him/her, either positively or otherwise. It could be the ugliest baby of the bunch, but it’s the connection that you would feel that I think would leave the real lasting impression. The appearance of the baby would only be the way I may identify that baby to another judge so they knew which one I was talking about.
    I think that I also would submit that the babies are judging me, maybe more-so than I am judging them. They are much purer than a judge, or I am. They aren’t coming to the contest with preformed opinions of the judges. The same can not be said of the judges. We all have our pre-determined opinions on what is cute, ugly, funny, sad, etc.. The babies are just there, being exactly what they are supposed to be and not acting in a certain way. So in a way, I think they are judging us by how we react to them.. if they like the response they are feeling they will give back a corresponding response, which forms a connection between judge and baby.
    Obviously, music doesn’t react to me, at least if it’s already recorded. But I think it’s fair to say the music is like the baby. It’s a pure entity which is not prejudging the listener, although the listener most certainly has already done some prejudging of the music based on hearsay or personal preferences. So, certain types of music will always form a stronger connection with the listener over other types. But, with an open ear and mind there is always something about that ugly baby that might interest the listener in a surprising way.

  18. Don’t you think the baby judging should be up to the people and not up to a Socialist dictator (Orwell) giving new artist the chance to be heard and if some body like them, they can add them and if they don’t block them. it seams like that might just be a better system allowing true music listeners hear new music by musicians and not what some one else tells us what we would like. Seams like the same thing Chaz says in Airheads to the radio station. But i guess they were right and nothing changes, ever. just a new media

  19. Baby are cute in their own way. They possess the character of innocence and freshness. And whoever try comparing them would feel the bitter sweet difference of their perfection.
    Just like in music, every song has its own story, its own worth.The rhythm and the lyrics are exposing another story where we can relate our life with.
    I’m telling you, judging is not my cup of tea.

  20. indeed, judging is tough.
    just to be clear, my idea behind this post was not to talk about the difference between music that one likes and music one doesn’t like. I was trying to talk about the difference between music that works and music that doesn’t work. Most listeners out there in the wide world don’t hear much of the music that doesn’t work, because it doesn’t penetrate very far into the culture or onto radio or anywhere else that people hear music.
    My point, which clearly could have been expressed better, is that even music that is not good is coming from a beautiful place (note, before people jump on me for this :-) whatever “not good” means, we can recognize it in the local coffee shop or on myspace pages, even if we can’t quite articulate what the problem is with the music).
    To put it another way, I am not talking about the difference between Brahms and The Descendents here. I am talking about the difference between Johannes Brahms and let’s say Bobbie Brahms (pick any Brahms so long as no one has heard of him and so long as his music is not good somehow).
    Our fictional Bobbie Brahms makes music because he loves it, and that is beautiful in its way. Even so, not everyone who loves to make music also makes music that other people love. As so it is kind of rough, like judging babies, to have to make those calls.
    a few other comments:
    For the assertion that Orwell was a Socialist dictator, I think that’s incorrect. Orwell was an author, for one thing, and he was intensely critical of authoritarianism.
    And as for political correctness and the assertion that all babies are cute or beautiful, that wasn’t really the meaning I was going for. I was saying that all babies are innocent and good, and in a deeper way, are beautiful. But of course, they are not all equally physically beautiful.
    And to the couple folks who commented about our artist bios and such, we partner with All Music Guide for that information, so by all means feel free to let them know they missed a few things.
    thanks for the comments all, hope this clears things up somewhat, and I’ll try to think of a better analogy next time :)

  21. I’ll second the comment about global bans. I’d like to be able to tell Pandora the equivalent of “Even though I love genre X and artist Y is exemplary of the genre X ‘sound’, for quirky reasons uniquely my own I don’t actually LIKE artist Y. Please don’t stop playing OTHER bands that sound like them…but please skip THEM.” For instance, I like power pop but I might dislike a particular power pop band because I don’t care for the lead vocalist. I don’t really want to tell the engine to play songs that sound “less like” that fictional artist Y because MUSICALLY, at least, they nail what I like. I’d rather just be able to skip particular artists.
    Otherwise, I see Pandora as a cool tool for finding new tunes.

  22. I don’t know about judging babies. Frankly, I am totally creeped out by the whole baby/child pageant thing but I wanted to make a few comments about how Pandora works and how I think it could be improved. I listen to Pandora pretty much all day at work so I am logging close to 30 hours a week. I almost always listen to a quick mix of my stations and all of my stations are artists, not songs or genres. I have about 25 artists that comprise my quick mix and I find that I get a lot of repeat songs while listening. I try to keep rating songs as they come on but I still get the same songs over and over. This is most frustrating when the repeats are similar artists instead of the artists I chose for the channel. I feel that there is something wrong in the programming because I have some channels that rarely play the songs from the artist on the artist channel. For example, I have a GUns N Roses channel and I hear Bon Jovi all the time (which I don’t think fits in with Guns N Roses) and I hardly ever hear a GNR song. I also have a Beastie Boys channel and I swear that I have not heard a Beastie Boys song one time! I would like to see some kind of history programmed into the system so that this doesn’t happen. I think the rating system could be expanded to include Artist, Song, and Version. There are some artists that I want to hear 90% of their music but I don’t want to hear a few of their songs. I would like to be able to distinguish that when I thumbs down a song so that I am not thumbs downing the artist at the same time. I also don’t want to hear live versions of songs some times but I still like the song and the artist. Being able to thumbs down just the version would be great.
    Sorry to ramble but I love this service and I would love to see it get better. Keep up the good work!

  23. I had hoped to hear lots of new stuff in the same style I like but that does not seem to be the case. For example, mix Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck and you get nothing newer than 30 years old. I can’t believe there are no new artists in that style.

  24. I must say that I am completely unimpressed with the ability to match electronic music styles.
    For example I have a station called Desert Dwellers, they’re a downtempo group that often mixes devotional music in. Why does pandora keep playing house music and psychedelic trance music with downtempo music. This makes no sense as all the beats are completely different as well as the rhythms and vibe of the music.
    Please hire someone who really knows their electronic music genre’s. Sorry, jazz musicians don’t count here!!!

  25. You have a bunch of Genre Stations. How about some New Release Stations? I’m not saying we can judge your babies for you but if the number of listeners on your New Release Stations is significant, perhaps we can give you a rough guideline. I’m not sure how your licensing works so I’m not sure how feasible it would be.

  26. Fantastic post! Compelling, suspensful, and totally sooooo awesome. A must read, (thank you Pandora for saving me from myself) especially for those who know how to read.

  27. I think you lose a lot of information by compressing into one-dimension (popularity, record sales, “baby attractiveness” based on an average of a population’s sentiment).
    A world in which every song was “perfect” would quickly be boring. That’s why, even though I can’t stand some artists, I’m still glad they’re out there pushing the limits: they create a possibility that someone else can go out and run with.

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