building the perfect internet radio station
April 30, 2013 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Pandora doesn't do it for me; is there an internet radio service I'd like better?

So, I think I've finally realised why Pandora and I are never going to be a good match. Pandora seems to work in a way that is designed to expand the listeners' interests. It breaks down songs into several component sounds, and then branches out by selecting songs that feature one or more of these selected sounds, plus some additional new sounds. Adding specific root songs to a station opens up more sounds, based on the subtle differences between the songs. Used properly, it can lead someone from from one preferred sub-genre to another and another.

But that's not what I want from an internet radio station. I want hyper-specificity. I want to narrow in on a very carefully selected set of sounds. I don't want an internet radio station that will introduce me to new sub-genres. Rather I want one that will introduce me to new artists within a carefully circumscribed sub-sub-sub-genre. Specifying additional root songs should limit the offerings based on what the root songs have in common rather than expand the possibilities for the station. In short, what I want is a programmable internet radio station that winnows, whereas what Pandora seems to provide are programmable internet radio stations that expand.

So, I'm curious: Is there a service out there like Pandora that would meet my interests better than Pandora does? Or do the popular alternatives all work similarly to Pandora?
posted by .kobayashi. to Media & Arts (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

Playlists curated by real people. No audio ads. It's awesome.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:07 PM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

This may not be exactly what you're looking for but just recently SiriusXM have updated their online app that allows you to do something very similar to what you're requesting. They have stations based upon any number of specified music interests and in the app you can now drill down even further - to hear bigger hits, lesser known songs, male artists, female artists, etc. - based on your interests. It's been fun to play with.
posted by BrianJ at 12:13 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't want to threadsit, but in the interest of explaining what I'm looking for, I should say that it's important to me that the stations are programmable based on initial preferences I set, like Pandora. Songza looks like it provides a pre-curated sequence of music based on preferences set by other people. But I already have places to go for mixes (hello soundcloud!). What I really want is something that dissects music into its component parts, like Pandora, but uses that analysis toward much more discriminating ends than Pandora does.

In other words, I want to be able to limit myself to non-atonal long free-jazz tracks with pronounced blocky piano chords, without drifting into fusion or skronk. I want to be able to hear garage rock versions of soul/R&B tunes without drifting into soul, R&B, punk or classic rock. I want, in short, to bear down on very narrow sounds of my choosing. It may be possible that this service doesn't exist. But I'm curious to find out if it does.
posted by .kobayashi. at 12:19 PM on April 30, 2013

This isn't really an answer to your question, but part of your problem might just be that your preferences are _too_ specific for Pandora.

They can only play what they have rights to, and tracks that are too esoteric might never have gotten onto their radar to buy.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:22 PM on April 30, 2013

Rdio offers limited capabilities towards this sort of thing, and it's probably a little more tightly focused than Pandora. When you play a station based on a particular artist, you'll get other stuff that you see in the "recommended artists" list, but little else.
posted by blue t-shirt at 12:23 PM on April 30, 2013

I've found that if I start a radio station on Spotify based on an artist (or song) that what it gives me back is way more limited in genre and scope than Pandora. For me that's kind of a negative, but it sounds like it's closer to what you're looking for. Like Pandora, it has a thumbs-up/down feature to fine tune the station. I haven't dealt with it enough to fully register how effective that is, but what I get right out of the box is already pretty limited. For example, I'll start Windy & Carl station, and I'll get back Labradford, Stars of the Lid, the Dead Texan, Ulrich Schnauss, and a bunch of other fully instrumental drone stuff.

Meanwhile, on Pandora, after a decent length of time with using the thumbs up/down thing with extreme prejudice, my stations are pretty stagnant, so it's not like Pandora is always adding on to the list. If I go to one of my more heavily moderated stations there, almost every track I get is something I've given a thumbs-up to already (probably on the order of 9 out of 10 tracks).
posted by LionIndex at 12:34 PM on April 30, 2013

Try Grooveshark, put a few songs in, and turn on Grooveshark radio. It's not exactly what you want, but as far as I know they don't base it on a musical genome, like Pandora purports to do (color me extremely skeptical on that point).

I also have to kind of agree that music selection rarely works the way you're thinking. Take two songs that sound similar and they're much more likely to have things different than in common; if you did that with three or four songs, you're probably looking at an intersection of the empty set.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 12:36 PM on April 30, 2013

I like radio. It doesn't tend to extrapolate too much if you don't "like" things in a new genre. Also, you can choose between three levels of newness-- Library Radio, which is basically only songs you've listened to or liked; Mix Radio, which is that plus some branching out; and Recommended Radio, which is pretty much all recommendations and no already-liked music.

When does extrapolate, I think it does a better job than Pandora. For all of Pandora's talk of algorithm, I've found its idea of similarity to be extremely superficial in practice. (If you seed a station with a woman artist, for example, it seems like you always get played all sorts of other random women artists before getting a male artist that actually sounds musically similar to the original prompt.)
posted by threeants at 12:37 PM on April 30, 2013

Slacker "Internet Radio" has controls that let you specify the breadth of the "channel." However, the tightest (narrowest) levels are only available to the highest premium tier, at $10/month. Pandora probably won't ever give you what you need, since they can only play the same artist three times an hour.
posted by wnissen at 12:59 PM on April 30, 2013

I've found the best success with Songza, but Spotify radio has also been a lot better than Pandora, and I seem to have the same problem with Pandora that you do.
posted by General Malaise at 1:31 PM on April 30, 2013

The best part about making dozens of spotify playlists where you catalogue hundreds of songs without really listening to them is that you can go back and listen to them later. Just kidding the best part is making them, but the second best part is that if I want JUST 70s rockabilly, I spent 4 hours one day finding all of it on Spotify and making a 12 hour playlist without any goddamn Sha Na Na.

So, Spotify is again the answer to a question.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:36 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have used Slack(e?)r and it is indeed better than Pandora at not-wandering.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:36 PM on April 30, 2013

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