Inside the Collection: Western Swing

Most times, the first things you’ll notice are the hiss, pops and crackles of the antiquated fidelity. The genre’s earlier recordings are delightfully haunting – as if you’re hearing ghosts play scratchy old records. And then the slide guitars and fiddles sound like they’re laughing joyously over buoyant rhythms. But when those bouncy horns, piano and guitars saunter in; that’s when you’re hearing some top-shelf Western Swing. And should some cartoonish vocals pipe-in with a high-pitched, “A-ha!” you can be certain that you’re listening to Bob Wills, the king of Western Swing.Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 12.12.51 PM

Every few years I go through a Bob Wills phase – and by proxy, a Western Swing phase. Subsequently, I just updated Pandora’s Country & Western Swing station with a bunch of my all-time favorite tunes from this realm (as well as some Classic Country and Honky-Tonk for complimentary flavor).
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Inside Song: Genre Through the Lens of a Songwriter

It happens, without fail, every time I carry an instrument in public. I’m usually at the airport. I’ll have a saxophone or a guitar strapped to my back because it’s too fragile to check underneath the plane. I ease it into the overhead bin and as I settle into my chair, the person seated next to me asks, with genuine warmth and curiosity, what type of music I play.

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What type of music do I play? I’ve encountered this enough times that you would think I’d be prepared with a quick, easy answer. After all, people only ask out of interest and kindness, they are not expecting a discussion of aesthetic philosophy and music theory. I should just politely say, “rock” or “jazz” and ask them what they do. But the problem is, I (and most songwriters I know) don’t think of the music we make in terms of genre.
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Inside Song: Searching For A Perfect Song

As a musician and songwriter I understand the hard work, the agonizing over detail and second-guessing that goes into creating music. I respect anyone that rises to the challenge of wrestling with songs. But a third of the way into my workday as a music analyst, after closely listening to hours of music, my ears and brain can get tired. Songs can start to blend into each other. It’s amazing that my job involves spending the day with the thing I love most – music – but like a mid-afternoon cup of coffee, it can really help to have a pick-me-up, a surprise, something that perks up my ears.

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I prefer to have as few pre-associations with new music as possible. Promotional photos, Facebook pages, album art, can color my perception of a band – actually affect how I hear the music – so I try to listen as “blind” as possible. I’ve already piled on enough baggage just from the band name alone. I’ll bet you have some general idea of what you’d imagine Sküll Krüshr might sound like, or Lil’ Ca$h.
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Inside Song: Guitar Twang, Cookie Monster Vocals and Other Crucial Minutia

Twenty people are silently gathered around a table, heads bowed in concentration, listening closely.

“Did you hear it?”

“I feel like I heard it, but only in a couple tiny parts.”

“Really? I can totally hear it!”

“Wait, play it again, I’m not exactly sure what we’re listening for.”

“No, no, no! I’ve got the perfect example. Here, check this out.”

Someone else cracks open a laptop, starts playing a different song at the same time, people chime in with their opinions, voices and music overlap, it gets heated, and suddenly we’re in full-voiced debate like a mob of British Parliamentarians.

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Pandora’s Music Analyst Team

The burning issue at hand: identifying and scoring guitar twang. You know, that sproingy nasal boing of a plucked string, often associated with Country music. Twang can be produced through picking technique, by location of the pick on the neck, by the choice of pick-ups on the guitar, or by the amplifier in use. Each of those twangs sound a little different. And what about twang on the acoustic guitar? What if a steel-string guitar is used to pluck a few twangy notes now and then so you know that greater twang exists, even if it’s mostly strummed? The brain kind of fills in greater twang awareness during the less twangy strummed sections. How should we acknowledge brain twang?
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Inside the Collection: Love, Loss and Mix-Tapes

I was a teenage skater, which back in the eighties meant I didn’t meet many girls. But there was one – Brynn was what we affectionately called a “Skate-Betty.” She stood out from the others with her sun-bleached bowl-cut, hi-top Vans, a flannel tied around her waist and a warm California smile that gave me the courage to ask her out. We instantly bonded on music. She was into many of the same Skate Rock bands that I listened to like JFA and Agent Orange. But she also turned me on to stuff I’d never heard before like Voivod and Reagan Youth.

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Do you remember the first mix-tape you made for a crush? What about the opposite – a mix that you curated following a heart-bludgeoning break-up? As we approach Valentine’s Day, it’s easy for me to flashback to the very first amorous mix that I recorded…and my first break-up tape. Allow me to share a few of the lessons that I learned from building those mixes.


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Inside Song: Taking Off The Blindfold

Screen Shot 2014-01-16 at 2.32.45 PMOne of my favorite things is to hear a band for the first time without knowing a single thing about them, not even their name. It’s like having someone put a blindfold on me, lead me somewhere, then pull it off. I have to figure out where I am sonically, how I got there, what’s around the corners and behind the closed doors. It’s part detective work, part speculation, part historical research, part forensic analysis. The warm distortion on the drums in the intro sounds like analog tape; this song might be from the 60s or 70s. The fast, downstroke strumming and grit on the guitars is influenced by punk, but when the vocalist comes in, her full, smooth voice and abstract lyrics give it a more modern feel. The breathy synths that enter on the chorus sound like a tongue-in-cheek reference to New Wave, placing the song in the contemporary indie-pop realm. But I’m only a minute-forty-five into a four-minute song. Anything could happen. A scratchy, atonal viola solo could tilt the whole thing further away from the mainstream. Maybe when I go to look up the band, I’ll discover they’re from the 80s, in which case the synthesizer thing and the intentionally dirty production would be revealed as forward-thinking. As much information as I pick up along the way, I won’t really know anything until I’ve heard everything.
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Inside The Collection: Songs Of Change

MLK Day never fails to find us reflecting on Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. As a lifelong record collector, musician and now Music Curator for Pandora – it also reminds me how the birth of the Civil Rights Movement was a groundbreaking time in music. It was a time that inspired songwriters of many genres to pen some of the most powerful and beautiful songs in the history of recorded music. During this part of the 1960s and 1970s, Gospel, Folk, Rock, Funk, Soul, Blues and even Jazz included musicians singing about themes of freedom and equal rights.

To commemorate this incredibly important time in history, we’ve made a Pandora Mix Tape: Songs Of Change.

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As much as I dig all kinds of new music, it’s the songs recorded during this time that tend to populate most of my music collection – my Pandora profile alone is telltale proof of my love for the classics. My generation’s musicians are lucky in that they never had to muse on the draft or the kinds of segregation that existed in the past.


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Inside the Collection: 2013 In Music

With 2014 around the corner, let’s rewind through 2013 to capture some of the most memorable musical moments with our End of Year genre stations.

2013 Top Pop

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Pop music reached record popularity in 2013 with the help of gigantic crossover hits from Rock, R&B, Hip Hop and Dance. Check out 2013 Top Pop for the biggest Pop chart-toppers on Pandora. It was a very good year for TV alums, veteran Justin Timberlake and newcomer Ariana Grande both made a huge splash. Beyond all the hype, Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez delivered with the biggest hits of their career. And of course one of the most anticipated releases of the year was from One Direction, following their multi-monster singles. Finally, leading up to his 2014 Superbowl performance, Bruno Mars proved to be a superstar with the energetic “Locked out of Heaven” and “Treasure” to the more emotional “When I Was Your Man”.
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