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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Pandora Presents: Bridgit Mendler Live in Los Angeles

As Head of Music Partnerships at Pandora, a large part of my job is working with artists to coordinate live concerts and special events in an effort to fulfill Pandora’s central mission of connecting artists with their fans.  Pandora has been successfully doing this online for years, so it’s exciting to bring the experience to life offline.

18988_Pandora_Presents_Bridgit_Mendler_Poster_092513_R3I’m thrilled to share that this Saturday, Hollywood Records recording artist and actress, Bridgit Mendler, will be the latest to headline Pandora Presents, our live, personalized concert series.  The performance is taking place at The Americana at Brand in Los Angeles, hosted by recording artist Asher Monroe with an additional performance by Jake Miller.  The show is open to all Bridgit Mendler fans and free of charge, thanks to our strategic partnership with General Mills BFAST, Debrox and Trolli. Read More →

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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The Pandora Brand: Let There Be Music

With today’s release of Pandora 5.0 on iOS devices, you will see some refinements to our logo, our app icon, and our visual design. These changes will also be available soon on our website and Android devices. I wanted to take a moment to share the thinking that led to these changes.

When I joined Pandora as its first CMO, I was drawn to the company for a singular reason: it has a clear mission. The principle that drove Tim to start the Music Genome Project in 1999 – to help people enjoy and discover music they love while connecting working artists with new fans – remains the central mission of Pandora today.

Now, almost two years later, I know first hand the commitment and pride of the people who work at Pandora. Our listener support team personally answers each of the tens of thousands of emails we receive each month, usually the same day.  Professional musicians and musicologists spend up to an hour meticulously analyzing each song that goes into the Music Genome Project in order to make better recommendations. Curators, music programmers, data scientists and engineers work together to solve the challenge of making better musical connections for each and every listener. Read More →