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The Pandora Effect


When it comes to music, we’re in the age of abundance. It’s everywhere.

How to sort the ocean and find what you like? Well, you could try Pandora. It’s an online music site that has x-rayed mountains of music. Tell it what you like, it’ll play you a lot more you might like.

Punch in Lady Gaga and you get Shakira. Punch in Stan Getz or Aaron Copeland or Springsteen — and Pandora gives you more in each vein. And maybe some surprises.

Friends used to recommend music. Now the web does. And it’s cool.

This hour, On Point: We’ll talk with the founder of Pandora about the future of music online.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Tim Westergren, founder and chief strategy officer of the Internet music site Pandora. He’s also an award-winning composer, an accomplished musician, and a record producer with 20 years of experience in the music industry.

Daniel Levitin, professor of music and psychology at McGill University and author of “The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature” and “This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.”

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  • Jason Rudokas

    Pandora rocks.
    I’ve got a Colman Hawkins station that comes up with a bebop tune right in my wheelhouse every time. Thanks!!

  • Patti Coultas (coal-tess)

    Pandora is fabulous! I live in Northern Vermont with limited choices for radio music, but I do have high speed internet. I have several stations depending on my mood, Jackson Browne for one and Doobie Brothers for another!
    Thank you for creating the Music Genome Project! So cool.

  • Becky

    I’ve been using Pandora for over four years now, and I love it. I don’t listen to normal radio anymore. The ability to tailor the “playlist” to your tastes, even your moods, is fantastic. I have several different stations, ranging from jazz, folk, alternative, “chick rock,” standards, even choral and Christmas. I am not a fan of Top 40 rock/pop, preferring a more versatile sound, and with Pandora, I have access to the music I like without having to look for it myself or purchase it. I have been introduced to so many new artists and songs by Pandora. I love, love, love it! Thank you!

  • sam

    After college I went several years with no exposure to new music (I prefer indie, folk and jazz thats never played on “pop” radio). Pandora has introduced me to many of my new favorite artists, and provides easy customized mood specific playlists for everything from parties to the OR at my hospital.

  • Be Good Tanyas

    FYI listeners, Canadian folk-rockers the Be Good Tanyas showing up as the second strumming song after “You are my sunshine”.

  • Expanded Consciousness

    So, as Pandora selects the music you listen to, how is Pandora gonna change taste in music and the economics of music?

    Will Pandora link me to big corporate songs or promote independent artists? How will their own economic interests influence their programming?

    Radio stations have historically devolved to a mono-focus on the bottom line. Or else folded under and become sports stations.

  • Kris

    To some the fact that you cannot really hear a particular song on demand is a downside to pandora. What do you think the impact of Grooveshark will be, a service that functions more like napster used to when it started allowing you to choose particular albums or songs for free. Can pandora stand up legally in a way that non-radio services can not?

  • Sean

    I have always loved Pandora, except I hear that they now have a 40 hour per month cap on how much you can listen for free… Why not have no cap (or maybe a 40 hour per week cap), and have advertising?

  • Olivia

    I also can’t get enough of Pandora.
    I happened upon the app for my Palm Pre and everytime I load it up am THRILLED with the songs it pulls up for me–songs that I LOVED at some point in my life and managed to forget about. It’s like rekindling a relationship with an old friend.

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    I listened to Pandora once at a friend’s house. It was a fascinating experience to see what Pandora did with the songs we input. By listening to what Pandora gave us, I tried to figure back to what Pandora’s criteria were in making its decisions. What if I input Joni Mitchell? Will I get Ronstadt or Chapman or someone I never heard of? If I input Ravel, will I get Debussy or Gershwin or Prokofiev? If I input Woody Guthrie, will I get Pete Seegar or Ledbelly? I’d love to see Pandora’s criteria for any particular selection. It was a lot of fun to play with the site and kind of addicting.

  • http://www.thesixtyone.com/ Matt Laurence

    I have enjoyed Pandora, but I find it too passive – I like more control and interaction with my music, so I gravitate to sites like blip.fm – which allows you to basically micro-DJ through the site and tweet links to your selections as you play them – and thesixtyone.com, which adds whole layers of social media to the music experience and allows artists and listeners to meet and schmooze, as well as putting addictive quests and game-like features in to keep it interesting.

    Both are free, and t61 has a marketplace that allows artists to sell directly to listeners. T61 in particular also provides a vibrant outlet for lots of smaller artists that you won’t always hear on Pandora or Last.fm

    While I appreciate services like Pandora, I’ve tried just about all of them, and t61 has resulted in my finding more new wonderful music that I’d never have heard before (and more CD sales) than any other. And isn’t that the point?

  • David Wright

    I just think it’s totally weird to be told by an algorithm what I should like. Amazon.com tries to do that, and I delete those messages. The “imagination” of these systems is so poverty-stricken compared to my own imagination!


  • Colin

    Why is it that Pandora doesn’t work outside the US? I see an excuse on the website that there are licensing problems…Well, I can link link to all sorts of web streams in the US right now, in fact I’m currently listening to a WBUR stream – there don’t seem to be any restrictions there and my Sanyo Internet Radio at home doesn’t seem to have problems connecting to streams from all over the world.

  • Bill Nehring

    Tom, A question for your guest:

    As a library science student at Simmons College, I’m wondering how Pandora catalogs their music so that one song is linked with the next?

    Can you as him to give us an example of how the song selection mechanism links one song to the next to the next…?

  • Molly

    Pandora is one of the best things to come onto the net. I’ve got 100 stations set up and I have discovered some new artists/bands I’ve never heard before. :)

  • MJ

    Pandora drives me nuts. I want to like it but it always plays the same songs over and over again. I put in multiple artists to give it lots to go off of, but I just keep getting the same songs over and over. It’s as bad as the old pop radio for me.

  • Lydia

    I have been listening to Pandora for a while. I like most of its features. I love that I can fast forward through songs I do no want to listen to. What I would love to be able to do is to replay a previous song.

  • Nancy B

    Pandora is awesome! I first heard about it on NPR (of course). I just wanted to say thank you for creating it.

  • Donna

    Hate to sound like a techno-ignoramus, but could someone tell me if it’s possible to get pandora on my laptop, and connect it to my stereo? That would be awesome! Thanks.

  • Andrea

    Woke up one morning and as a coffee drinker and occassional smoker I typed in “coffee and cigarettes” and to my delight found one of my favorite stations to date. It’s so soothing and dark and twisty at the same time. But I can’t figure out how to get it to play on my car stereo off my iPhone. Help!

  • Annette

    I love Pandora, but have noticed a couple of songs with wrong names – any way to bring that to your attention?

  • Ethan

    Why are they leaving last.fm out of this conversation? Last is the same but musical connections are made by other site users (people) rather than software.

  • Peg

    I absolutely love Pandora and am grateful for it. I’m one of those people who loves music of all kinds, but has very little patience with sorting through the formulaic sameness of much of the newer music out there, so I tend to stick to older stuff. When I hear something contemporary I like, I can enter it into Pandora and discover exciting music both older and newer. I also find when I enter something from, say the 1060s psychedelic era, the songs found duplicate the instrumentation and so I am getting more obscure discoveries from that era as well. THANK YOU, TIM! I will continue to love discovering music on Pandora. The only thing I can think of that might be a nice feature to develop might be to find a way to link music thematically, with lyric similarities.

  • Christina

    That fireflies song is an absolute rip of the sound of the band Death Cab for Cutie – the singer’s voice, his vocal mannerisms, the sort of quirky quality (though very twee in comparison to DCFC) of the lyrics & kind of winding tune – why doesn’t Pandora pull up the very band that this band is obviously aping so totally that it’s almost actionable?

  • Tal

    When will Pandora offer international music? I listen to a lot of music from Israel and would love to be able to listen to Israeli music via Pandora.

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    To what extent, if at all, does Pandora cross genres in its selection process? Could I ever go from Beatles to Schubert? James Taylor to the Pointer Sisters? Dave Brubeck to Scarlatti?

  • Jen

    Love Pandora. Great for occasional-use music like recent halloween party for kids.
    Is there a way to filter music not only by genre but also by tempo (beats per minute) to create a running “station” or other motivational (or relaxing) music.

  • Aaron

    Pandora is indeed a great music trending tool.
    However as a frequent Pandora music user I find it is repetitive, the same songs come up day after day for a given “radio station”

  • Marcie Rhys

    I just found Pandora and I really like it.

    I’m amazed that the music industry is not clamoring to use “your service”. I have already identified 5 CDs that I will be purchasing. I get to hear several full lenghth cuts from an album, and that’s enough to prompt me to buy. CDs are too expensive to be disapointing, and no other service gives you a chance to find those CDs by serving up exactly what you like.

    I will use Pandora for all my other CD purchases.

    Thanks for the great, and USEFUL, idea!

  • Joe D.

    I like downloading music and having it in my collection. Pandora doesn’t help me in this (although I love Pandora for radio) What is the future of downloads? 95% of songs downloaded online are done so illegally through piracy networks (according to the IFPI). How will this ill be cured?

  • John Bickelhaupt

    I tried Pandora some time ago and it never really grabbed me. The choice of a song is predicated on a listener’s previous choices. I would like to be able to actually choose first hand the criteria that form the basis of a choice. Would this force you to expose your algorithm which might affect your competitiveness?
    John Bickelhaupt

  • Tina

    The worst thing about Pandora? I can’t get any work done while listening – I just keep watching excitedly for what’s going to pop up next! (I enjoy it a lot.)

  • Greg B

    Excellent!! A Music Thesaurus.

  • Alec McMullin

    After 53 years I was totally bored with the same old stuff repeated daily on broadcast and love Pandora and the new experiences it brings me. But I wonder why No A-Capella??? Thanks for the great show.(as always)

  • Deb Klein

    I like pandora. It has given me some good suggestions for new music and I really love that.

    The one thing that I don’t think Pandora can completely get,is there’s a dimension to music that is hard to define, something along the lines of attitude, quality of voice.

    For example, I love KT Tunstall, but most female singer songwriters that pandora suggests as similar are not appealing to me. There is something about her of attitude, humor, voice and quirkiness that combine to be much more than others. (Often I find others either whiney or cutesy-girly or harsh…)

    I don’t know if there is any way to objectively tag for this…

  • Erika

    What i’ve ALWAYS wanted to know is, if i “thumbs down” a song, does the program adjust the algorithm to remove the characteristics of the song that don’t “agree” with the original song suggestion?

  • Ed Jordan

    Pandora is my music present. I’ve discovered so many new and old artists on the site. I’ve got this ever-reaching web of channels on the site – each artist’s channel pushing out my musical borders. I find myself constantly looking into the biographies of the artists and just eating up the music history aspect of the Pandora site. And it’s spurred me to buy more CDs in the last 2 years that I had in the previous decade – direct links with Amazon and it’s great prices on CDs. Very convenient shopping experience. I dig the site. I can explore music with great ease while doing my work. I could go on…

  • http://www.christopherdenise.com Christopher Denise

    What about the copyright issue in regards to the orphan works legislation? I love Pandora. I am an illustrator and stream it all day long in the studio but have concerns about the political influence of the lobbyists pushing this opening of the copyright market as it could dramatically affect my business. Can I have it both ways?

    In any event-thanks for Pandora and expanding our musical horizons.

  • Janet Fagan

    The name Pandora was a brilliant choice for this. I wonder who thought of it and how that came about. Was it easy or did it take a lot of thought?

  • http://shulmandesign.net Alan Shulman

    I wonder if Pandora is not making a basic assumption that if a person eats and likes potato chips, that the next thing they will want to input into their digestive system is Doritos, followed by bagel chips, followed by pretzels, the assumption being that all we want is salt and crunch. But maybe I’d want Tabouli to follow the chips…

  • Mari McAvenia

    “Marinated”. Love it. Just created a Pandora account, myself, all about the Blues. This could be taking up some of my time today and I’m grateful to On Point for the excellent lead. Thanks!

  • gina

    I see somebody already mentioned Grooveshark, which I discovered only this week. It’s great to be able to request a specific tune, and to be able to replay it if you like.

    Slacker is another fun site. After you set up your stations, you can even take them along with you, either on their proprietary players or using one of their free phone apps. It has a very active forum, too.

  • Glenn

    Part of the fun of finding new music is the effort it takes to find it. I value the unexpected and sometimes contrary and weird paths that got me here.

    I don’t put songs in my mp3 player based on rhythmic patters, breathyness of voice or instrument mix. I doubt there is an algorithm that would have gotten me to Dr. John, Joan Baez, and the New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra, Tom Lehrer, and the Traveling Wilburys.

  • J Joseph

    Well I was too excited to find out about Pandora, as an American living abroad I was sooooooooooo ready for this, only to be disappointed with some canned answer about because you are not in the US we are sorry you can’t use us…

  • Robert B. Pierce

    I never heard of Pandora until today. I like a great variety of music, much of it early and ethnic music. A check of the genres listed on Pandora’s web page showed no non-Western music; and a check of the sub-genres listed under “Classical,” showed no music from before c. 1700. So no thanks! (Of course such music might be buried somewhere in Pandora, but it is not apparent on the surface.)

  • Kate

    On the connection between Owl City and Journey: my 17-year old daughter has a very eclectic musical library, and Owl City is one of her favorites. Also, that particular Journey song was the first songs covered by the hugely popular show Glee. If Pandora’s algorithm makes connections in popular trends, then that connection is really logical. I got it as soon as I heard it come up–didn’t strike me as weird at all!

  • Eric West

    Streaming music on the web is in general a boon for listeners experiencing a wide spectrum of music genres and musicians. There are hundreds of on-line music streams that make music from around the world available. It never ceases to amaze me how much good music exists out there.

    Pandora offers just one way of accessing this music. There are times when listening to similar music works and I do listen to Pandora stations. For those other times, more “traditional” web radio streams are desirable. Here the music selected by a human “webjay” can follow interesting directions. Note by web radio streams, I am refering to those non-commercial emissions. (Think Radio Paradise (California) or Radio Blagon (France)

    My 2 cents.


  • Roger Grounds

    Reading through the comments, I noticed that a number of mentions of the limited playlists. As listeners, we must remember that we are the DJs and that we can increase the playlists ourselves. Also, for those that would like to mix up the kind of music, I suggest using the Quick Mix feature. As for the cost, a friend uses it so much that he had to go to paid subscription ($36/yr). But then who could ever come up with $3/month?

    Pandora… I love it.

  • Ed Sweeney

    @Donna : Yes, there is a simple way to get your laptop to play through your stereo. And you can do it for only about 10-15 bucks.

    You just need an audio cord to go from your laptop headphone jack to your stereo. This is typically via the AUX (auxiliary) RCA jack (red and white inputs) but you can probably use any unused RCA audio inputs. Just set your stereo to whatever device you choose when you want to listen.

    6-Ft. 1/8″ Stereo to Dual Phono (RCA) Plug Y-cable


    You may need to get an extension cord if your laptop is going to be more than 5 or 6 feet from your stereo. This would be a 1/8″ cord of some length with a male connection on one end and female on the other.

    I use this connection all the time. Good luck and happy listening!


  • http://taquitos.net Stewart Deck

    Pandora is certainly fun and interesting to play with but, as Alan said above, too frequently it gives me more of what I already know that I like and not enough moments of unpredictable serendipity. Following Ella Fitzgerald with Billie Holliday (with Sarah Vaughan waiting in the wings) is frustratingly formulaic.

    Tom also missed the mark when he described Pandora as completely different from previous types of radio, particularly Top 40-driven radio. Not all radio was/is Top40 format and the best independent stations still provide variety and unusual connections. Pandora is more like a solid but not great college radio station except it cuts out those oddball, eccentric wooly moments. Sometimes those oddball moments are grating, but sometimes they can be electrifying.

    Pandora is not (yet) electrifying.

  • Dayna Lee

    Pandora sounds like a great way to find other artists similar to the ones I like but I’m not so sure the Genome model would be the best listening experience. I like variety, I don’t want each song to be like the one before it. When I set Window Media Player on random play(with over 5000 songs to choose from) I find it randomly creates the most wonderful segues from one song to the next,jumping from one song to another that has absolutely no similarities. Recently:King Crimson to Johnny Cash to Spice Girls to Bach. The random play feature provides a more varied and entertaining experience than any radio station or music service I have heard. Everything it plays has my thumbs up.

  • Mark Weisgerber

    I’ve found Pandora to be useful for finding new artists. I agree the Genome project can create a certain sameness if you listen for long periods. It’s best to create a list with at least two or three disparate artists to create the best effect, i.e. Norah Jones and Van Halen and Brad Paisley.

  • http://www.musiciansformusic2.com Charles McEnerney

    Pandora is great (I interviewed Tim Westergren a few years back for my online music interview series, Well-Rounded Radio ( http://www.wellroundedradio.net ), but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg. There are now dozens of music recommendation engines, mp3 blogs, mix tapes, podcasts, etc. for music fans to discover their next favorite acts. As part of a project I’m working on called Musicians for Music 2.0 (also here in Boston) there are dozens of links to check out at htp://www.musiciansformusic2.com Enjoy! Charlie

  • http://www.michigan.gov/dnr Queen

    I love Pon. as well. Unfortunately, I get access to it anymore at work..SUCKS!

    I stumbled on it…and has love it since!

  • http://www.susansmereka.com Susan Smereka

    Tim -
    One question/comment i have about Pandora – which i love – Is is possible to integrate male singers more with female singers. When i put in a female singer/song writer it seems all i hear is more women and frankly i like to have a better blend of both…

  • Carrie

    I tried all hour to call in to share how much I love this service, but unfortunately got a busy signal every time. I was so happy at the end then to head the call from one of the members of Barefoot Truth. In fact their band is one of the many that I have discovered on Pandora and they shared an aspect of the service that hadn’t been touched upon. Not only does the service introduce you to new artists, but you can continue to support those artists. I have bought several CD’s and itunes singles but more importantly I have gone to at least a dozen of concerts to support these musicians. In the past year I went to a show in the small Iron Horse Venue in Northampton, MA and then 6 months later saw that band on the billboard top 40 chart.

  • Dylan Pocock

    I love that there are a number of music-recommendation algorithms. Genomic similarity is valuable for introducing uncommon novelty. But it sounds like people are seeking not genotypic but phenotypic similarities/differences, that is, music with/out a certain feel. Pandora (and other presenters) are in a position to map the subjective phenotype (to the objective genotype), by asking their users to rate and compare. Questions like, what other artist (male, female, instrumental, ensemble) sounds like this artist? What songs have the same mood, changes, topic? Even meta-musical attributes, such as references, influences (even cross-genre), can be mapped this way.

  • Catherine Treece

    I also really love and value Pandora! I don’t mind some repetition because sometimes I miss things and sometimes I need to hear something more than once to know if it’s what I’m looking for. I don’t listen to music on the radio and have some specific areas I’m trying to learn more about. It’s the perfect discovery tool for me. Bravo!

  • http://olympiaflowers.wordpress.com vinks

    Pandora Rocks! I have had a Four Tet station for awhile, and hours go by while I’m making art and listening to it.

    My only complaint about the ads really is that they are for such sutpid stuff, like TV shows. If they were at least for things I cared about, I wouldn’t mind.

    Meanwhile, I feel that paying about $40.00 a year for endless access without ads is perfectly amazing and something I am completely happy to do with my next free $40.

    as for the world music comment above, I would agree: how about more international stuff?

    I also spent some time on the site trying to find out what the algorithm per song was; I’d like to know.

    but thanks for this awesome creation; it was my reason for getting highspeed internet!

  • Grondmaster

    One hundred years ago people needn’t go the bandstand or concert hall to hear music; they could also listen to it in their home if the owned an Edison phonograph. The music, which was recorded on outer surface of cylinders, came out the horn when played.

    I have one of these that I rescued from the family barn back in the fifties. Its case is in bad condition, but the mechanism still works. I have only a few of the cylinders which are a plastic-like shell over plaster- of-Paris, rather than the older ones made of wax.

  • Alan Fresco

    Some observations: if Pandora is adding 10,000 songs every month, why do I hear many of the same songs over and over again? At that add rate, how can all or most of the music be “good”? (I’ve heard a lot of tracks that don’t “make it” for me.) When Pandora plays a live track by one of my favorites, it tends to play a whole bunch of live tracks thereafter (not my favorite). If I tell Pandora not to play a song or artist, they seem to return nonetheless. And Owl City > Journey? Give me a break. And, as reported in the New York Times, how can they NOT have any music by Fela Kuti, one of the most important African artists of all time?? BTW, Pandora is NOT legal to be played in a retail store or restaurant but they don’t seem to discourage it being used that way. This is a disservice to musicians because they are not getting a fair compensation.

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