I’ve been going back and forth between which aspect of Pandora I really want to focus on for the project, so bear with my sources as they concern opposite things.
“Advertising is the art of arresting the human intelligence just long enough to get money from it.”
“Social media companies are legitimate advertising websites, no different than, say, Google or Yahoo. The same way Google made its money is the same way Twitter and Facebook will make their money.”
I’m sure we’ve all heard that advertising involves ‘sneaky’ tactics that make us subconsciously want to buy their products. It makes sense to say, then, that advertising arrests our intelligence for a short period of time because we no longer have ‘control’ of our thoughts. Pandora, for example, offers a minute of advertising for every, let’s say, 5 songs. There are no options to skip the advertisement or speed through it; the listener is almost forced to listen unless they take their headphones out. These advertisements have an independent dialogue so the audience doesn’t need to view the screen (like typical radio advertisements), but Pandora has an advantage over traditional radio stations in that they can also provide a visual image/video on the listener’s phone or laptop screen. This way, Pandora can charge companies more money to be advertised on their channels because their advertisements are sure to reach people more efficiently.
Therefore, the second nugget is hard to argue with. With commodities like these, Pandora is surely an advertising website. Companies pay Pandora good money to be featured on their stations. It is true that Pandora also makes money from membership fees, but most of its success can be accredited to ads, and Pandora makes most of its money the way Google or Twitter do. The question is finally raised that if advertising arrests human intelligence and these websites are advertising websites, are they making us stupid? Is Pandora hindering our intelligence? With Twitter and Google, it’s pretty easy to ignore the advertisements and focus on the content we are looking for, so maybe these don’t necessarily make us stupid (in that sense at least). Pandora makes it really hard to ignore them though, and I’m sure people decide to buy a product on Pandora more often than these other sites. Pandora, then, might not make its audience any smarter, but the program behind how people listen to their music and why they enjoy Pandora definitely is…
“Pandora has no concept of genre, user connections or ratings. It doesn’t care what other people who like Gomez also like. When you create a radio station on Pandora, it uses a pretty radical approach to delivering your personalized selections: Having analyzed the musical structures present in the songs you like, it plays other songs that possess similar musical traits.“
It doesn’t take a genius to use Pandora, but the company’s music analysts sure are. The way Pandora creates its stations is called the Music Genome Project. Pandora’s employees, referred to as music analysts, listen to each and every song before it’s added to Pandora. They break up each song by its melody, rhythm, tune, algorithms, lyrics, and 395 other things (they look for a total of 400 different things). Then they can find similarities between songs by these factors, and create stations with a bunch of complementary songs that listeners will also enjoy.
Pandora listener: becoming dumber but enjoying great stations
“Pandora […] grew out of the Music Genome Project, which company founder Tim Westergren began six years ago. […] He became fascinated with the way directors described the music they were looking for, which led to his wondering what made people enjoy certain types of music. He asked himself, “If people haven’t found any music that they love since college, and artists are struggling to find an audience, is there a role for technology to help bridge the gap?”“
What we’ve concluded so far: listening to Pandora will arrest your intelligence for about a minute between every 5 songs. Those sequences of 5 songs, however, will be awesome because they have similar musical traits to the primary song or artist you put in. Now we need to address the technology factor of Pandora. Pandora can only be used through a smart phone or computer (whether that is a desktop, laptop, or tablet doesn’t matter). Pandora was invented because Tim Westergren wanted to use technology to help artists and listeners connect more efficiently. But has he reached his goal? The following nugget should tell us:
““It’s true that the algorithms mathematically match songs, but the math, all it’s doing is translating what a human being is actually measuring,” says Tim Westergren, who founded Pandora in 2000 and now serves as its Chief Strategy Officer. “You need a human ear to discern.” Pandora’s secret sauce is people. Music lovers.“
So technology is definitely a factor in Pandora’s journey, by all means, but the most powerful component is the music analysts. Pandora’s employees, the ones who listen and take apart thousands of songs, are really the ones accountable for bridging the gap. Technology can not (yet) discern between these multiple factors like human beings can. People who study music are able to do so and are the reason that Pandora has become so successful. This applies to music itself. Technology doesn’t (yet) create music, people do. Musicians certainly use technology to create beats, sounds, and other things, but this is still controlled by humans. The same is true with creating radio stations, traditional or on the Internet. Technology is the means used, but people are behind the magic.
I can not guess what the future of this entire industry would be, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility for humans to have no part in it. Pandora’s music analysts could get tired of listening to more and more songs as artists come out with new music, and they may create technology to do it instead.