Pandora on the Ropes. There are plenty of online music services to choose from these days, many of them household names: iTunes, Amazon, Napster, Rhapsody, Pandora, and, most recently, Spotify.
I have been amazed by what Spotify can do. My favorite anecdote is when I was driving to a concert where Larry Carlton was to be a guest artist. Two of the younger members in our vehicle didn’t know who Carlton was, so my friend said, “Here, listen to this.” And he called up Steely Dan’s “Kid Charlemagne.” Now, my friend didn’t have the song already in his smartphone. He didn’t have to download it. He launched Spotify and immediately found it. No purchase necessary (as would have been the case with iTunes and Amazon). Just music on demand. In a moving car. For these cases—summoning a specific title in an instant—Spotfiy can’t be beat.
But I’m not here to talk about Spotify. I’m here to talk about a service that doesn’t give you what you want. Well, at least not what you ask for … which is sometimes two different things. Hmm, I guess I’d better explain myself, because that seems to be necessary whenever Pandora comes up.
Pandora, which is fighting for survival among a crowded and fiercely competitive landscape of commercial media sellers, is largely misunderstood. This may be part of its problem. A typical conversation explaining how Pandora works goes like this:
Q: What’s Pandora?
A: It's an online music-delivery service.
Q: Like iTunes or Amazon?
A: No, it uses a streaming model, and is more like a personalized radio experience.
Q: Like Spotify, Rhapsody, or Rdio?
A: No, because a) it’s completely free; and b) you can’t request a song directly. You enter a song title and get back songs that are very much like it.
Q: But not the song I asked for?
A: Right, but you wouldn’t use it for that purpose. And the recommended music is uncannily close in many ways. So you have to imagine situations where that works.
Q: You mean like when Amazon says, “Customers who bought X also bought Y”?
A: Not really, because it’s not based on what other people do or think or “like.” It’s based on data as defined by the Music Genome Project.
Q: So I can’t request a tune I want, but I can sort of predict what kind of music I’ll get back? What crazy business model justifies that?!
A: How about the entire history of commercial radio—both terrestrial and satellite—with radio stations that feature formats like Top 40, Americana, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Metal, Rap & Hip Hop, Oldies, Classic R&B, and Music of the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, and “Now”? Except that with Pandora, each song you request acts like its own station with its own unique format criteria. Only with a lot more specificity—like, 400 times more.
Q: Wow! Does it … you know … work?
A: Fantastically so.
Pandora has been on the decline recently (in terms of the company’s valuation) because other competitive entities are on the upswing. But Pandora is unique, both in its technology and business model, and deserves to be understood, from both perspectives.
First, the biz talk. Because Pandora streams music in a “non-interactive” way, it’s regulated by federal laws, rather than licensing agreements with record companies, and so pays fixed and consistent royalty rates (as commercial radio does). This is not true of other on-demand services, such as iTunes, Spotify, and Netflix. Once a content provider (say, a cable TV channel) sees Netflix’s profits go up, it can renegotiate a higher fee. And guess who’s going to absorb that cost, dear consumer? Pandora, on the other hand, won’t change rates until federal legislation changes—a slower and more predictable process.
Now for the “creative technology” part. Pandora makes its selections based not on user reviews and other human-generated (and there potentially corruptible) sources, as Amazon does, but on data derived by the Music Genome Project, an open source standard of tagging music with up to 400 different attributes. Whether music can be defined and classified—let alone judged—according to attributes, rather than the emotional experience of hearing it, is an aesthetic debate for the ages. But in the meantime, Pandora works more often than it doesn’t. And more than that, it can surprise you with its selections. Consider that your favorite baseball players (and in fact, the best baseball players of all time) surprise you in a good way fewer than four times out of ten, but when they do, it brings you out of your seat. It takes just a few direct hits to forgive a lot of strikeouts.
As musicians, we all know that the highest musical moments of our lives can happen unexpectedly. By putting ourselves in the path of “positive possibilities,” but not being completely prescriptive about it, we open ourselves up for the serendipity and happy accidents that music promises. That’s what happens when Miles and Trane got together. Or Omar Rodríguez-López and John Frusciante. And it’s probably happened to you with the radio. Perhaps you were listening to a station late at night, surfing the dial, and you came across a song or a band you didn’t know existed but then couldn’t live without.Pandora has that effect. Being a Pandora user means endorsing a technology that, while not perfect, is free from the influence of the human hand—the same hand that manipulates for its owner’s profit. Spotify is great because it gives you what you want when you want it. But how are you going to learn if you experience only what you know? Pandora surprises and delights, and takes you to places you could not have found on your own. It rewards the listener with a pilgrim soul. And that is worth saving.
|This Week on HC|
We feature a video on our home page, and it changes every few days, so be sure to check in often, if just to make sure you’re up to date on recent gear releases.
But we also have a deep archive of videos from trade shows past—including Summer and Winter NAMM shows, AES, and Musikmesse—going back several years. If you’re not buying gear the second it’s released, you may have to go back some months, or even a year or two, to catch a video for the gear you’re researching. There’s really no better way to get a handle on a piece of gear’s look-and-feel aspects and its top-level functions than to watch a short video.
But our videos don’t end with gear demos. We have artist interviews, reviews, and technically oriented how-to gear tutorials. For example, check out a “Staff Pick” video on “How to employ the four cable method”—an approach that allows you to hook up your multieffects and amp in a way that breaks up the stages of each device and uses them in optimal order.
Fans of Digitech’s popular RP series can get a basic editing tutorial in this video. The RP250 is used here, but the approach applies to all RP series effects.
For artist interviews, two popular choices are Dream Theater’s John Petrucci (who gives great tech tips) and the in-studio interview of Slash, where he talks about his just-released album, Apocalyptic Love, with vocalist Myles Kennedy. Check out all the different categories of videos from Harmony Central and our partners Musician’s Friend.
By Craig Anderton
By Phil O'Keefe
Find out how to configure this classic mic arrangement, and the theory behind it
Traditional stereo systems were comprised of various components that you could mix and match to build your system—tape decks, turntables, power amplifiers, and speakers. And at the heart of the system was a "receiver" that handled the audio source selection, routing and AM/FM radio reception.
Modern consumer stereos have largely gone to the Home Theater model, or the Mini or Micro bookshelf format, and many include iPod docks as a nod to the changing times. After all, CD sales are way down, and MP3s have been the playback format of choice for consumers for years now. Terrestrial radio has largely been replaced by streaming Internet audio services such Spotify and Pandora, making a receiver less important than it once was.
Need a new stereo? As an alternative to conventional systems, consider getting yourself a great pair of powered studio monitors, such as those made by ADAM, KRK, Yamaha, JBL, Dynaudio, Tannoy and others, and couple that with a monitor controller with multiple inputs. Presonus makes a good one called the Monitor Station. Mackie's Big Knob is similar. Either will allow you to select from multiple input sources (your computer's audio out, audio interface monitor outs, CD/MP3 player, turntable with RCA outputs, etc.) and feed them to any of three sets of speakers. Route your computer audio to the powered monitors. Or your iPod. Or an external turntable.The advantages of such a system from a musician's perspective are real: It can serve multiple purposes in terms of recording ("hifi" systems often aren't as accurate, and are less than ideal for recording) as well as for listening enjoyment. Added benefit? By using the same speakers for recreation as you do for recording, you'll become more familiar with how they sound on a variety of material. This will make your mixes better in the long run, guaranteed.—Phil O'Keefe
|Featured Industry News|
This week's pick hits from our News section
A few of this week's top discussions from our Forums
Is it the amps, or the multiple microphones they use on the speaker cabinets? Maybe it’s the effects pedals that they use? The Effects forum discusses the guitar sounds of the QOTSA records, and suggest ways to get similar tones.
Direct vs miked, condenser vs dynamic - does this stuff really make a difference in the way a recording sounds? Check out the video clip and decide for yourself.
Playing on the street, in a small café, or in another location where AC power is problematic or non-existent? Check out what veteran street buskers, subway warriors, and other porta-pickers have to say on the current crop of battery-powered amps for guitar and vocals.
Read up on all the once-inexpensive brands that were once the go-to guitars of acoustic blues players, including Stella, Kay, Harmony, and Airline. Their high action and ladder bracing made them ideal for a slide setup—as well as masochistic left-hand fretters. This thread provides insight into the mystique and appeal of these bygone-era department store instruments.
The Casio XW-P1 Pro Review has been up only five weeks, and is averaging about 5,000 page views a week. And why not? Between audio examples, tips, and great participation from Casio, it answers all your questions about this hot new keyboard.
Or is it? The Sound, Studio, and Stage community comments on both Facebook and CB radio . . . and remember, this thread was started before the “disappointing” Facebook IPO.
What is it about Harmony Central and photography? Not only are there are a lot of talented photographers who frequent the forums, people just love gear lust threads like this—where you get to see all kinds of cool basses.
What the title says: How to build ‘em, how not to build ‘em, and of course, there are plenty of pics, tips, advice, and techniques.
The drum forumites lay out everything there is to know about tom heads, as well as discuss what they like, and why they like it. If you’re looking for the best tom head for your needs, this is the place for some great advice.
This thread has been around for a while, but so have amp sims—and people just keep adding their comments. It’s not just helpful in terms of finding out what’s happening now, but also, it’s interesting to see just how far amp sims have some in about a year and a half.
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Editorial Craig Anderton, Editor in Chief • Jon Chappell, Senior Editor • Phil O’Keefe, Associate Editor • Chris Loeffler, Reviews Editor
HarmonyCentral.com is the leading Internet resource for musicians, supplying valuable information from news and product reviews, to classified ads and chat rooms.