Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pandora Path: On My Way Here


Many of the regular readers of ConCLAYve are familiar with my love of the internet radio station Pandora. I've discovered so much wonderful music creating radio stations with seeds of artists like Georgie Fame or Peter Cincotti or from songs like Van Morrison's Moondance. I've also used Pandora to explore Clay Aiken early in his career after Measure of A Man, and then again during the release of A Thousand Different Ways. But I was most excited to see what new music I could find when Pandora included On My Way Here into their database and now I'm having a blast!

For those unfamiliar with Pandora Radio - a brief description is that Pandora radio is the personalized internet radio service that helps you find new music based on your old and current favorites. Here's what they say on their About Pandora page:
About Pandora®

When was the last time you fell in love with a new artist or song?

At Pandora, we have a single mission: To play music you'll love - and nothing else.

. . . Since we started back in 2000, we have been hard at work on the Music Genome Project. It's the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken. Together our team of fifty musician-analysts has been listening to music, one song at a time, studying and collecting literally hundreds of musical details on every song. It takes 20-30 minutes per song to capture all of the little details that give each recording its magical sound - melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics ... and more - close to 400 attributes! We continue this work every day to keep up with the incredible flow of great new music coming from studios, stadiums and garages around the country.

With Pandora you can explore this vast trove of music to your heart's content. Just drop the name of one of your favorite songs or artists into Pandora and let the Genome Project go. It will quickly scan its entire world of analyzed music, almost a century of popular recordings - new and old, well known and completely obscure - to find songs with interesting musical similarities to your choice. Then sit back and enjoy as it creates a listening experience full of current and soon-to-be favorite songs for you.

You can create as many "stations" as you want. And you can even refine them. If it's not quite right you can tell it so and it will get better for you.

The Music Genome Project was founded by musicians and music-lovers. We believe in the value of music and have a profound respect for those who create it. We like all kinds of music, from the most obtuse bebop, to the most tripped-out drum n bass, to the simplest catchy pop tune. Our mission is to help you connect with the music YOU like.

What a concept! Music without the labels. Music that's not pushed on the radio only. Music that's not deemed "cool" or "uncool" by bloggers or corporate hacks. And boy have I found music I would never have found without the help of Pandora. And my iPod bulges with stuff I'd never have a chance to hear otherwise.

So imagine how excited I was when I checked and finally On My Way Here showed up in the Music Genome database!!! Now, I love this album and find myself drawn to it almost every day. I'm still constantly discovering new things about each song and my favorites keep changing. But, while there is definitely a consistent theme in this album, the songs themselves range quite a bit in genre for me - so I thought it would be most exciting to discover the different paths each individual song would take me on. Because of that - I'm going to definitely have to break this exploration into a number of different blogs. I'm having too much fun to try to fit it all into one.

I started my first radio station with On My Way Here. I like this song - but it's not in my top five. What I wanted to see, is if it took me on an obscure path or a familiar one - and I wasn't surprised to see that the path it took me on was familiar. This is a Clay Aiken song. It's got some interesting elements that may not appear in other stuff Clay's done - but on the whole it's not much different from what I've heard before when using Clay Aiken as the starting point for a particular radio station. That's not a bad thing - but it was interesting that much of the music I was played was either music I already had in my general Clay Aiken station. Here are the elements of the song that the Music Genome Project came up with:

country influences
acoustic rhythm piano
use of a string ensemble
major key tonality
mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation
a good dose of acoustic guitar pickin'
acoustic rhythm guitars
prominent percussion
romantic lyrics

Next up - Willie Nelson's Always Now. That must have come from the country influence. I like Willie but I'm not a huge country fan so I didn't want to go in that direction. Hated to do that to Willie but I did thumbs down just to see where I went next. That took me to Michael Ball singing You Had Me From Hello. This was too romantic sounding for me - not what I was looking for - so again, I hit thumbs down. The third song they gave me on this path was an artist I had not heard before, David Corey and a song called The Only Thing That Matters. It's sort of a perfect little pop song - nothing breakout but catchy and enjoyable. The features of the song include:
pop rock qualities
a subtle use of vocal harmony
mild rhythmic syncopation
acoustic rhythm piano
mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation
a vocal-centric aesthetic
a clear focus on recording studio production
major key tonality
string section beds
a good dose of acoustic guitar pickin'
prominent use of synth
acoustic rhythm guitars
prominent percussion
romantic lyrics

Thumbs up for me. Next up is Nich Lachey, This I Swear and it's moving into a too romantic and predictable path for me so I hit thumbs down and move on to Bonnie Raitt, My Opening Farewell. I love Bonnie's voice and even though this song isn't my favorite of hers, it's already on my iPod and I click thumbs up.

Hayley Westenra's, What You Never Know Won't Hurt You which adds
folk influences and intricate melodic phrasing
to the mix. I've also got this on my iPod and love her voice. Next up was Run To Me by Clay Aiken. I'd forgotten how much I loved this song on Measure of a Man. The elements of the song that were new in this addition were an
r&b influence and smooth male vocalist

Of course this got a thumbs up! So now I think it's time to move on to a song that, in my mind, is not a typical Clay Aiken song and see what music I get led to.

I chose Everything I Don't Need for my next seed. Here are the attributes that Pandora listed:
electric rock instrumentation
r & b influences
a subtle use of vocal harmony
major key tonality
electric rhythm guitars
electric pianos
prominent organ
prominent percussion

The first suggested song was Johnathan Rice, What Am I Going To Do - which had many similar qualities listed and a couple of additions:
electric rock instrumentation
a subtle use of vocal harmony
mild rhythmic syncopation
major key tonality
electric guitar riffs
prominent organ
prominent percussion

I really liked this song, knew nothing about Johnathan Rice, but bought this single from iTunes. The great thing about Pandora is that it gives you lots of information about the artist, the album and the song and you can find it with a click of a link.

Mother Hips? Singing Mother Hips? I love Pandora!!! Never heard of it but it got a thumbs up for me. And then I got Little Black Heart by Sister Hazel - another new one for me and another trip to iTunes.

See, I knew Everything I Don't Need was a departure for Clay and would be taking me on a wonderful journey on a new path in Pandora's database. This is fun! And the next song, Hangman by Freezer Door was another surprise. The elements were the same:

electric rock instrumentation
a subtle use of vocal harmony
major key tonality
prominent organ
prominent percussion

and no surprise, I really liked this song. This is a 2008 release and I have no idea where these guys have been hiding - but thank goodness for Pandora. I checked them out on Amazon and listened to the snippets from this album - liked it so much I bought the whole album from iTunes. This path I'm taking from Everything I Don't Need is getting expensive!

My next song was She Gave Good Sunflower by The Black Crowes. This added two new elements:
gospel and blues influences
And another thumbs up. And another song I've never heard or an artist I never heard of . . . Sink by Basshound. And another trip to iTunes. But unfortunately, this song isn't there and it's out of stock on Amazon. Well, I could stay all day wandering down this path . . . but I know I can always return to this radio station - so now I'm ready to try something else.

Lover All Alone. The beautiful song with lyrics by Clay Aiken and music by David Foster. Features of this song, as listed by Pandora are:
acoustic rhythm piano
acoustic sonority
use of a string ensemble
major key tonality
acoustic rhythm guitars
prominent organ
solo strings

James Taylor's Our Town, is the first song I'm presented with. The additional features presented here are:

pop rock qualities
folk influences
mild rhythmic syncopation
a good dose of acoustic guitar pickin'

A lovely song and a thumbs up for me. Next up is Have I Told You Lately That I Love You by Malachi. I love Van Morrison's version of this song and while there's nothing wrong with this version, it's nothing special so I decided to give it a thumbs down just to see what happens next. And the next song is Jason Mraz's Mr. Curiosity. What an interesting song this is. It's a little "precious" but I quite like it's intricate melody and phrasing and the piano work so it gets a thumbs up from me and another trip to iTunes.

Loudon Wainwright and Strange Weirdos are next and as I'm a fan of Loudon Wainwright - this obviously gets a thumbs up from me. What I particularly liked about this was in the features area it lists:
mellow rock instrumentation
great lyrics
mild rhythmic syncopation
acoustic rhythm piano
use of a string ensemble
major key tonality
an emotional male lead vocal performance
a prominent mandolin part
prominent organ
acoustic rhythm guitars

And in the similar songs area - one of the first songs listed is Lover All Alone by Clay Aiken. Good company!

Celine Dion was next with Miracle and even though I can appreciate the beauty of her voice - I'm not feeling this is the direction I want to take this radio station in so I choose thumbs down.

Erasure is next with Love Affair - and the additional element of an emotional male lead vocal performance. Michael Ball doing Raise Me Up is next and that's just not the direction I want to go with this journey so thumbs down for me. Indigo Girls and All That We Left In are next and I'm a big fan of theirs. This is adding a folk influence with beautiful harmonies and poetic and meaninful lyrics. I've already got this on my iPod - but it was great hearing it connected to Clay's Lover All Alone.

I'd better stop here because I'm going to run out of time and money. Interesting that the three songs I've seeded my radio stations with so far all have "major" key tonality. Check back in a few days for Part 2 of the Pandora Path: On My Way Here. I think I'll explore two of the songs that have "minor" key tonality, Where I Draw The Line and Falling and another "major" key tonality song, Ashes - just because I like it.

Do your own exploring . . . and tell me about the new music you get exposed to. Your path will be different than mine by what you choose to give a thumbs up or a thumbs down to. But isn't it wonderful to have the opportunity to discover music that is right for you without the hype? Tell me about it!

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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

What an amazing concept and what a fascinating blog. I certainly will try this. Thanks Molly

Lucia @ Pandora said...

Hi Nancy -

Lucia here, from Pandora. I found your blog via Google search, and I remembered it because you mentioned it to my co-worker when you emailed us to suggest music.

I love how detailed your descriptions are of your Pandora playlist experiences!

And it really warms my heart that you love music so much; our whole company is made up of music fanatics.

It's so delightful to hear that you're discovering so much new music to love; you're a musician's dream audience!
Basically, listeners like you are why Pandora exists in the first place.

I hope you continue to have a fruitful "Pandora Path," and let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Sincerely,
Lucia, with Pandora
lucia AT pandora.com

Corabeth said...

I'd be interested where Falling comes out given the techno in the middle. I think I will take an EIDN trip as well as a Weight of the World little journey.

How does Pandora make money, do they get a percentage of songs bought through their service?

pax said...

Hey! I have a pandora station or two, but never thought to fiddle with it the way you do. I must go try this! Thanks for the interesting blog.

pax said...

CRAP! I forgot that Pandora is no longer available to Canadians. I used to listen to my stations a lot and I forgot why I stopped. Not fair!

topcat said...

I've spent the evening discovering some really cool music and listening to some familiar ones. I started OMWH, LAA, Ashes and EIDN stations. But my favorite is Weight of the World, my current obsession from OMWH.

It started with none other than U2's "City of Blinding Lights", and that led me to Peter Gabriel's "Slowburn", Toto's "If You Belong to Me", and Interpol's "Pioneer to the Falls," among others. What fun! I also found some great music from artists I've never heard of like Until June, The Epochs, who have the most delicious harmonies and driving beat in "Mouths to Feed", and David Mead's "Hallelujah I Was Wrong". Actually David also came up on the other stations, and I liked him right away. "Echoes of the Heart" is on OMWH station, and I will probably buy more than one selection from his Mine and Yours album.

And...I discovered Loudon Wainwright and David Gray! I really liked "Babylon II" in my OMWH station. I also fell for The Dudes and their song "Celebration of Kindness" that's now in my Ashes station.

It was a very enjoyable musical trip inspired by Clay's album. I've got some fresh, new music to buy for my mp3. I'll keep listening!

The ConCLAYve-Nan said...

Oh Topcat - I love David Gray! So glad you discovered him. David Mead seems to be connected to a lot of OMWH songs as well. I'm looking forward to doing the next blog with WOTW on it - look forward to hearing The Epochs - don't know them. I look forward to reading more comments from people who take this journey. It's so exciting to share music!

Corabeth Pandora offers both free advertising-supported Pandora service as well as other options that require a paid subscription. I subscribe - because I love supporting Pandora and also for the extra options and the advertising-free aspect. For $36/year it's really well worth it and it can be used on multiple computers.

feelingthejoy said...

Loved your blog and I adore Pandora! I set up stations today for On My Way Here, Ashes, Everything I Don't Need, and Something About Us. I chose not to "thumbs up"/"thumbs down" anything because I just wanted to see what Pandora would give me for the stations. It was a lot of fun--but I always have fun using Pandora and, like Nanjeanne, have found so many artists/music that I never would have found otherwise. I let 15 songs play for each station. My next step is going to be to begin "thumbing up/down" the songs they give to see if I can move them more in the direction I prefer. I'm a chart/graph person...so, yeah, I've got a nice chart going detailing the qualities that caused each song to play...wheeeeee!

~moonhead

berkeley said...

Nanjeanne, thanks for the reminder about Pandora! I checked it out when you first blogged about it, but have forgotten about it with my craaazy schedule.

I've always been intrigued --- and a little frustrated --- by the gap between the music Clay actually records and performs in concert, and the kind of music with which he is he is often erroneously associated. I've been playing with a blog for the last couple of weeks comparing songs from OMWH to current songs by other popular artists and, wouldn't you know it? Not a single one of the usual suspects comes to mind.

Looking forward to Part Two!