Pandora, that magical little Internet radio service based on the Music Genome Project, has changed so many people's lives since its launch in November of 2005 -- and this year will see an even bigger change that may further revolutionize the way we listen to music.
"Pandora is the future of the listening part of [the music business] –- I know that's a pretty ambitious statement," Pandora founder Tim Westergren told SomethingGlorious. "The sort of mega-trend of media is the idea of people getting just what they want. It's transitioning from a "broadcast push" model to essentially me curating my own media experience. Over time, we're giving somebody the ultimate control over what they hear."
The online application allows users to plug in a song or band name and it will recommend and automatically play new music based on that user's preferences. Pandora works through a system of algorithms created by about 50 trained music experts who study and analyze each song to create a unique fingerprint for each track, which then connects it to every other song in the Genome -- some are closely related while others live way on the other side.
Currently, Pandora's system has more than 500,000 songs by about 40,000 artists in rock, pop, Latin and more. Soon, Pandora's team will expand that base to incorporate classical and world music to build the brand on a more global scale. But the biggest news coming out of the Oakland, Calif., office is that Pandora is working tirelessly on creating a portable, streaming radio, according to Westergren.
"It's coming but I can't put a date on it, but hope it's going to be this year," he said. "I can't give too many details, but we're considering every possible mode to do that." He went on to explain that the availability of public Wi-Fi, cell phones and G3 networks will somewhat dictate their production process, but said that it would have to be a streaming app "for the purpose of simplicity."
Other companies have attempted to take the Pandora interface and integrate it into a portable radio. Pyrrha, named for the mythical Pandora's daughter, is an application that enables users to create podcasts of their Pandora stations. While this is great, it doesn't really give you much more than a regular podcast or personal playlist. It's not live, streaming radio (like XM or Sirius) and, most importantly, doesn't incorporate the all-powerful idea of discovery that people have come to love about Pandora. Another idea is the PandoraPod by GeekLimit; this is based on the Insignia NS-DA2G handheld, and, at this point, is merely a concept.
Even though Pandora's own radio is still a work in progress, the site continues to collect new users -- it has more than five million to date and growing. The company has quietly added features, including giving users the ability to buy music directly from iTunes or Amazon through its site, and the latest addition: Backstage. This features gives users the ability to see what other people are listening to based on radio stations they've created. It's just another way that Pandora brings together this user-based music community.
One thing Pandora doesn't plan on doing is launching a record label, despite the fact that Westergren himself is a former recording musician. "We're not inclined to become a label. Our instinct is we want to separate church and state on this," he admitted. "Part of the attraction people have to Pandora is we don't have an agenda when they hear music. We're not making more money if you listen to particular songs."
Westergren is big on the idea of community and user-based feedback. It's for this reason he's ramping up to hit the road -- again -- for a series of Town Hall meetings. If you want to meet Westergren and give your two cents, he'll be in the following cities:
Feb. 21: Kansas City, 7pm at Screenland Center
Feb. 22: Atlanta, 9pm at Defoor Center
Feb. 23: Chicago, 7pm at the Lakeshore Theatre
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