The Waggle Dance : Making Pandora Awesome

For those who don’t know, Pandora is a brilliant web site that allows you to create your own internet radio stations. You give it a list of bands and songs that you like, and it uses this information to decide which songs to play for you. Besides playing music that you already like, it will (in the best case) introduce you to new bands that you’ll enjoy. That’s actually how I’ve found some of my favorite bands, including one that I saw in concert a few weeks ago .

There are people in this world who will tell you that Pandora is worthless. They’ll say things like, “It always thinks that I want to listen to Twisted Sister when I really want to listen to Neil Young.” Or they’ll say, “It plays the same stuff over and over again.”

The thing about Pandora is that you’ve got to have a strategy. Those of us who know and love Pandora know how to build good stations. Here are some tactics that I’ve learned over the years.

1) When creating a new station, choose lots of your favorite bands, but be careful which ones you pick. They should all have a strong element in common. If the bands that you include (your “seed bands”) are too dissimilar, Pandora’s suggestions will be scattershot and your station will never come together the way you want. This is often the cause of the “Twisted Sister instead of Neil Young” problem.

2) Use negative reinforcement only. The more times you give the thumbs-up, the more often you’ll hear repeats. Never give the thumbs-up. Give the thumbs-down to songs you dislike. This will give you the best possible mix of stuff you’ve heard and stuff you haven’t.

3) Create a staging station. If you’ve heard of a new band, but don’t know their stuff too well yet, put them in a separate station, or staging station. Once you’ve heard them a few times, you’ll have a good idea of whether or not you want to add them to your real station. If you add them to your real station before listening to them first, you might screw up your station.

4) Create a second-order station.
You will probably add to a station’s list of seed bands over time. After 6 months or so, take a station’s revised list of seed bands and use it to create a new station. Since you haven’t yet approved or disapproved of any
songs for this station, it will make different recommendations than your original station. For example, here’s a shoegaze/dreampop station that I’ve been working on for a while, and here’s the second-order station that came out of it. The second-order station definitely has a different flavor than the original, and I love them both.

Follow my advice, and you’ll never go wrong.

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