Houston, Err, Pandora, We Have A Problem – Originally Posted 10 Apr 2012

Okay, I’ve harped on this before, so maybe I’m beating a dead horse (NOTE – previously wrote about this in Arthur P Roles Over in His Grave, which I’ll have to summarize!).  But I’m starting to think if online music service Pandora doesn’t do something to improve the quality control of its user experience, it will soon lose the attraction that so far has made it a success.

A couple of my latest observations and beefs:

The programming that Pandora uses somehow seems to latch onto certain songs and play them with an unusually high frequency for some period of time.  Back in the winter, I would hear “The Weight” by The Band, on a very regular basis.  Recently, I hear the live version of the Kinks classic “Lola” almost every time I listen to the service.

Now, while I love that song, especially the part at the end when Ray Davies goes “alright, alright, this is the disco version . . .,” there is clearly a problem with the programming alogrithms that Pandora uses.  With such a vast library of songs available, there is no way I should hear that song, or any song, every time I play Pandora.  Even if I’ve given the song a “thumbs up,” which isn’t the case for L-O-L-A.

Another problem is playing songs that clearly don’t belong on the stock channels that are set by the service.  The other day, I was listening to the Classic Rock channel, which of course is what I listen to 95% of the time, because I am a dinosaur stuck in the years of my adolescence.

I play a sort of Name That Tune game with my son when we drive someplace.  Okay, some might accuse me of limiting his own social standing by forcing him to know more about Classic Rock than contemporary music, but too bad.  I stand by my assertion that 20 years from now, they’ll still be playing all the best by the Beatles, Led Zep, the Stones, Clapton, etc. etc. and I doubt most of the stuff recorded today will get any playtime (except maybe by a few 30 – 40 somethings reliving their own youth).

We play the first few notes of a song as it come up on Pandora, and then he hits the pause button or I turn off the radio, and we try to name the song.  I have the unfair advantage of having listened to most of the songs for the past 40 years, so I usually crush him.  But he’s getting better, and sometimes surprises me by recognizing songs I wouldn’t think he’d get in 2 seconds of play time.

So the other day, we’re driving someplace playing our usual game.  Listening to the Classic Rock channel (I know I already said that, but I’m repeating myself to highlight the fact).  I recognize the first song that comes on – it’s “Take On Me” by A Ha.  Classic Rock??  Classic 80’s Pop for the MTV Generation, yes, but not, by any stretch of the imagination, Classic Rock.

Next up, Hall and Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True.”  Classic?  Yes.  Classic Rock?  No f’ing way.  Classic SOFT Rock, maybe, but I don’t expect Hall and Oates to be played on the same channel as AC/DC and Skynyrd.

Pandora needs to get its act together, quickly.  Whether it means changes to its computer programs, or some kind human check system, they need to fix their quality control.  If they don’t, someone else will.  And Pandora will become the AOL or Yahoo of the online music world.

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