« Clothes Make the Man--Part Two | Main | The Meaning of Y »

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Go Figure: How Pandora works

When I was in high school, one of the New York radio stations had a program gimmick called "Go Figure," in which they would play three songs and callers had to guess the link among the three (which sometimes was pretty esoteric).

I was reminded of this while using the Pandora app this morning. Pandora works by taking a starting-point artist, then playing other songs by other artists that the listener would enjoy (according to the program), presumably because of some similarities among the artists and songs. So please explain the following:

The starting artist was ABBA (forgive us--we watched "Mamma Mia" last night). It played "Take a Chance," followed by the version of "Dancing Queen" from the Original Broadway "Mamma Mia" Soundtrack. So far, makes sense. We then got the following in order: 1) Cyndi Lauper ("Girls Just Wanna Have Fun"); 2) Pat Benatar ("We Belong"); 3) Carly Simon ("You're So Vain"); 4) The Beatles ("Here Comes the Sun"); 5) Fleetwood Mac ("Little Lies").

Now I will say that I genuinely like three of those five artists (not saying which ones). But how or why would an algorithm group those songs/artists for one listener?

Posted by Howard Wasserman on August 23, 2009 at 03:58 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Go Figure: How Pandora works:


And yet Pandora still thinks I should like the Cure a lot more than I actually do.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 24, 2009 10:31:21 AM

Here ya go:

Pandora has no concept of genre, user connections or ratings. It doesn't care what other people who like Gomez also like. When you create a radio station on Pandora, it uses a pretty radical approach to delivering your personalized selections: Having analyzed the musical structures present in the songs you like, it plays other songs that possess similar musical traits.

Pandora relies on a Music Genome that consists of 400 musical attributes covering the qualities of melody, harmony, rhythm, form, composition and lyrics. It's a project that began in January 2000 and took 30 experts in music theory five years to complete. The Genome is based on an intricate analysis by actual humans (about 20 to 30 minutes per four-minute song) of the music of 10,000 artists from the past 100 years. The analysis of new music continues every day since Pandora's online launch in August 2005. As of May 2006, the Genome's music library contains 400,000 analyzed songs from 20,000 contemporary artists. You won't find Latin or classical yet: Pandora is in the process of developing a specialized Latin music Genome and is still deep in thought about how to approach the world of classical composition.

More here:


Posted by: Jeff Yates | Aug 23, 2009 5:55:32 PM


Thanks. I now have my first midterm exam question.

Posted by: Thaddeus Pope | Aug 23, 2009 5:37:34 PM

Prominent use of accordion.

That's what Pandora always says about my tastes, whenever I ask why it's playing a song.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Aug 23, 2009 4:42:18 PM

Post a comment