From the Music Genome Project: The Anatomy of A Scary Soundtrack

It’s a familiar scene: lights low, popcorn in hand, you hear something; your heart begins to race, your brow sweats, you grip into the armrest of the plush theater seat. The knife-wielding psychopath finally bursts into the scene, accompanied by a dissonant musical crescendo.

While most film composers probably do not have a clinical understanding of the human brain, the great ones have figured out how to manipulate our most primitive fight or flight responses. Paired with just the right visuals certain sounds and pitch combinations can involuntarily cause us to experience physical reactions that one would expect in moments of real life stress. In the spirit of Halloween, we thought we’d take a look at some of the musical devices that are used in scary movies to elicit the fear response.

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Mastering the art of suspense is the first key to creating a scary soundtrack. When used in the right context, music can create a psychological state of dread and set the listener up for the inevitable startle effect. Avoiding melody altogether, instead relying on long tones or using short, repetitive melodic fragments can lead the listener to feel anxious. John Williams‘ theme to Jaws, with its famous two note motif is a perfect example, as is the theme to the Halloween films, which features a looping, ten note pattern that keeps listeners in a state of anticipation. (A little horror movie trivia: John Carpenter, who directed the Halloween movies, also wrote the theme)

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From the Curators: Class of 1983

It was 1983; I was in seventh grade, a year equally filled with excitement and fear. It was the year that I left my left my Bay Area private school for public school, leaving a sheltered bubble behind for a school with scary looking longhaired kids in denim jackets, Mötley Crüe and Iron Maiden patches. It was the year that I would attend my first ever school dance.

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Have you ever had an old song transport you back in time to the moment when it soundtracked an important part of your life? Pandora’s Class Of 1983 station not only reminded me how much awesome music was born 30 years ago – everything from Madonna’s eponymous debut to Slayer’s first album Show No Mercy – but a lot of these songs pulled me right back to the year I became a teenager.

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From the Music Genome Project: Vamping Harmony

When you think about your favorite song what characteristics stick out to you? Perhaps you notice the vocal range of the singer, the tempo or maybe the type of instruments in the song. Do you consider the vamping harmony? …wait, what?

In the course of analyzing a single piece of music, our Music Analysts will consider upwards of 400 distinct musical characteristics, some straightforward, like tempo or the gender of a vocalist, and some more esoteric. For today’s blog post, I thought it would be fun to discuss one of the slightly arcane elements of the Music Genome that Pandora uses to help build your stations: Vamping Harmony.

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In the context of music, a vamp is a short sequence of chords that gets repeated for an extended period. It can be used as a verb, as in “the band vamped  while the singer made her way to the stage,” or as a noun, as in “the band played a short vamp while the singer made her way to the stage.”

Vamping harmony can be a good choice if your goal is to focus attention on other elements of a song, such as lyrics, or rhythmic groove. A good vamp can lend a hypnotic quality to music, especially when combined with some infectious rhythms. James Brown was a master at this. Check out his classic “Superbad, parts 1 & 2” for a great example. In this case, the band vamps on a single chord for nearly the whole song. Read More →

From the Curators: Your Fall Soundtrack for 2013

As a college student in the early-2000s I would kill time between classes by heading to the local record shop and scoping the overwhelming batch of new releases. I still remember that killer autumn of ‘03 when The Strokes, Elvis Costello, Belle & Sebastian and Outkast all hit. Many of these songs are still on heavy rotation for me – it’s hard to believe that was ten years ago!  The fall of 2013 has the potential to be another memorable year for music across many genres.  Everyone from Jay-Z to Jimmy Eat World, Hanson to Daft Punk released new material this year and that’s not it – there is a massive list of artists slated for end-of-the-year releases.

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New music is set to drop from some of the industry’s biggest names this year: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, M.I.A., Drake, Eminem, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Keith Urban, Sting, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Cher, Celine Dion, Chris Brown, Pusha T, Future, Kings of Leon, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys. Joining this group of heavyweight releases are debut studio albums from some of 2013’s most talked about up-and-comers including Lorde, Haim and Icona Pop.

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From the Curators: Back to School With Pandora

Remember back in grade school when we all dreaded going back to school? There was all that back to school shopping, and then there was the very first day back in class when our shoes and backpacks were so new you could smell them a mile away.

schoolThankfully, we’re older now and we can do our own shopping. Or we can just put on the same stuff that we wore last year. But who wants to listen to nothing but last year’s hits? It’s way too soon to get nostalgic for 2012.

That said, we’ve put together some sweet Back to School stations that are ripe with fresh new jams, like our Back to School Hits 2013 station. But don’t worry – there are also some well-worn tunes that fit just as comfortably as last year’s jeans. Read More →

From the Curators: North Indian Classical Genre Stations for Every Time of Day

Today, we have a guest post from Sameer Gupta, a long time Pandora Music Analyst and professional musician living in Brooklyn, NY. Sameer has helped translate Indian Music into the language of the Music Genome Project. Thanks to the hard work of Sameer, you can now discover Ragas on Pandora.

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Indian Classical music is known across the world for its melodic beauty, rhythmic complexity and meditative mood. Even though this music is as complex as it is old, it is possible to deeply enjoy Raga Music without knowing the technical details and terminology. I invite you to experience this beautiful and dynamic genre through four new stations.

sameer_drums_tablaIn North Indian classical music, Ragas are assigned to a particular time of day, which is a system known as Samay Raga (Sum-May / Rah-Gah), because they capture the mood of that time. With this in mind, we have created four curated stations that will correspond to the listeners’ “time of day”: Read More →

From the Curators: Buck Owens and Bakersfield Country

“I’m not going to beg and compromise what I believe in just because somebody in Nashville don’t approve. Screw that. I am who I am, I am what I am, I do what I do and I ain’t never gonna do it any different. I don’t care who likes it and who don’t.” –Buck Owens*

buckThe late, great Buck Owens would have turned 84 on August 12th. Along with his band The Buckaroos, Owens’ helped pioneer what has become known as “the Bakersfield sound,” a collective rebel-reaction against what some deemed as the over-slick sound of Nashville produced country music with its lush string arrangements and choral backing singers.

To commemorate Owens’ birthday and the sound he helped innovate, we’ve put together a new Pandora genre station, Bakersfield Country. Read More →

From the Curators: New Classical Genre Stations, Featuring Complete Classical Works

In a world so often dominated by pop hits, we are taking a moment to reflect on the importance of some of the oldest music in our library, some of which dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries! In an effort to provide our classical listeners (both novices and aficionados) the richest listening experience possible, we have been hard at work enhancing our classical music collection, adding over thousands of new tracks to the Pandora library. And for the first time, we are offering listeners the ability to enjoy complete classical compositions in one, uninterrupted session! This new offering is featured on three new classical genre stations: Classical Complete Performances, Classical for Work, and Classical for the Soul. Each of them spans the vast world of classical, from the Renaissance to the Modern era, paying lavish attention to the popular Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods.

classical imageThis expanded feature of being able to hear a complete classical work allows you to explore the classical terrain in a new way.  Ever wonder what the rest of Beethoven’s massively famous 5th Symphony sounds like? Now you can find out. You can also hear complete works from well-known masters such as Vivaldi, Bach and Mozart as well as Modern composers like Stravinsky, Holst, Strauss and more.

By listening to the full-length classical compositions, listeners can discover the original way the composer intended them to be heard.  Until now, most classical tracks played are just one part or “movement” of a multi-movement piece, so this addition is an exciting first and marks the beginning of an ongoing project for Pandora to play all complete classical works.  Read More →

From the Curators: Your Summer Soundtrack for 2013

Every time I hear “1st Of Tha Month” by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, it takes me back to a 1996 family vacation in Florida. Even though it’s been years and my musical tastes have changed, I just can’t shake the feeling that song gives me. Music is known for its ability to transport you to a time and place; it’s likely that if you hear “summer anthems” from past years, you’ll be transported back to that time. It just wouldn’t be summer without a soundtrack.

summer3What will be your soundtrack for Summer 2013? In an effort to unlock some themes for this summer, we’ll take a look at a few of this season’s anticipated releases. How might the “genetic” makeup of this year’s releases evolve your current playlists? Read More →

From the Music Genome Project: The Beatles – Lennon vs. McCartney

In an apparent dig at his former Beatle bandmate Paul McCartney, John Lennon sang: “The only thing you done was ‘Yesterday’… the sound you make is muzak to my ears,” that was in his 1971 song “How Do You Sleep.” It’s no secret that tension was running high between John and Paul in the years leading to The Beatles breakup in 1970. Tension continued in the years following the breakup. In the early 70s, the band endured a four-year legal battle that dissolved their contractual partnership. John and Paul never recorded together again.

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Who was the musical genius behind The Beatles, John or Paul? Anyone familiar with the Beatle’s catalog will offer an opinion. I’m going to stay out of that debate but in the following entry I’ll show you what the Music Genome Project can tell us about John and Paul’s singing and songwriting styles. Let’s take a look…

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For starters, Paul possesses the wider vocal range. His song “Helter Skelter” is a great place to hear him pushing the limits of his upper register. “Helter Skelter” has a hard rock approach, which is a bit of a departure for Paul because he usually sings with a smoother tone. Read More →