Today I read in the Guardian about Last.FM being adopted by Music Week to provide the publication’s first online-based chart. As the piece astutely says: “it’s the data generated by the site’s 20 million enthusiasts that is priceless.”
I’m typing this while listening to Pandora, the alternative to Last.fm which I found out about through Seamus McCauley at Virtual Economics. It is a truly wonderful idea. By identifying a set of musical parameters for each song, Pandora can then match any music to any other music by how ‘similar’ they are. So, for example, if you want to listen to music that is ‘like’ Beck, you set up a station for Beck and Pandora comes up with similar material, in my case specifically Cracker and Modest House. I have no idea who these bands are but they sound great.
Pandora is the result of the Music Genome project, the exercise of which – identifying musical properties – is neatly referred to as the music’s ‘DNA’. By building up a playlist in Pandora you are essentially matching music DNA to your own DNA. One project I recently set up at my company is a company-wide Pandora music station. Anyone from the company can log on and add their preferences. In this way we end up with the company’s music DNA, we get to listen to some half-decent music (no more Gwen Stefani), and some people learn a bit about new media to boot. Everyone wins.
In one respect Pandora is beautifully elegant. It approaches ‘social radio’ through the music and is almost uncanny in the way it brings up musical suggestions similar to those friends’ compilations made on chrome tapes in the 80s (yes, I am that old). In another, however, it is ugly. It relies on musically astute contributors to identify musical DNA in what I would describe as an extended exercise in folksonomy. So whereas you just kick-start Last.fm and let it chug away with its Amazon-like referential algorithms, Pandora will always involve considerable manual effort.
But where Pandora has really missed the trick is in its marketing data. Get this: its license only allows ‘broadcast’ in the US. Yes, you read that right. Pandora is only available to north Americans. And if a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hopped.
So I imagine the Pandora marketing database is, to put it mildly, totally screwed. I daresay they have a fair proportion of subscribers based at the White House zipcode (20500), the Pentagon (20301) or even Beverley Hills 90210. I certainly cannot imagine how their potentially ‘priceless’ marketing data is worth a dime. Or a Euro, come to that. How sad.
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