By R.U. Sirius
Consider the Pandora IPO. A few months back this really crappy radio app got $2.6 billion! … the company must assume that we all want to hear those same six songs by our favorite artists over and over again.
Taking a break from the usual far out futurism, psychedelic explorations and what have you… and taking an opportunity to merely rant about something trivial, but nevertheless irksome.
Back in the early 2000s I did an interview with Cory Doctorow in which he quoted Bruce Sterling that real value is created by “wooing the muse of the odd.” In other words, a service that offers the best selling stuff may do OK for awhile, but a service that can get you access to the odd thing that only a few people want and is hard to find is probably going to do better over time. Doctorow said, “This is because we are all odd in our own way.” I wonder.
Consider the Pandora IPO. A few months back this really crappy radio app got $2.6 billion! Now, Pandora CEO Tim Westergren is a nice enough guy and I even had him on my NeoFiles podcast (when I was doing that) back a few years during his battle with the RIAA over their attempt to impose absurdly high royalty rates for playing tunes. But the company must assume that we all want to hear those same six songs by our favorite artists over and over again. Go to Pandora and create a station using, say, David Bowie and Pink Floyd (I’m a ’70s guy so that comes immediately to mind). How many times do you want to hear “Ziggy Stardust,” “Space Oddity,” “Welcome to the Machine” and “Comfortably Numb?” Pandora’s programmers seem to think you want to hear them pretty much every time you log on. And in deference to the “musical dna” of those performers, you might get to hear “All The Young Dudes” by Mott The Hoople, “Fool In The Rain” by Led Zeppelin, “Hey Jude” by the Beatles… ad infinitum. If you’ve ever wished you could time travel back to the ’70s and find a mediocre FM station, this is for you.
The point being that Bowie, Floyd, Mott, Zep, and The Fabs have deep catalogues — there’s thousands of songs in there. It would be a delight to open up a “radio station” and here “The Cygnet Committee,” “Corporal Clegg,” “Crash Street Kids,” “Celebration Day,” and “Blue Jay Way.” Maybe Bowie would lead to some Philip Glass or John Adams. (A boy can dream.)
I did locate a better bet in Last FM, which I guess reads your mp3 library and then gives you “neighbors” with similar tastes. Then you can hear a randomized mix of their libraries. My neighbors did not choose to put only the same half-a-dozen songs by favorite artist that we have all heard a hundred times before into their music libraries. That might seem to indicate something that Pandora might want to consider.
So Last FM is ok, but even that got repetitive after awhile. Plus, they’re asking me to pay for — on my iPad — what I’ve been getting for free on my laptop and desktop. Off I went in search of alternatives.
Well, there’s Slacker. So I had a great time building up a randomized selection of my favorite artists that popped into my head and I clicked on play. What did I hear? “Paper Planes” by MIA, “Break On Through” by the Doors twice (and nothing else by them), “My City Was Gone” and “Brass In Pocket” by The Pretenders, “Closer” by NIN… ad infinitum. The hits! (As I type this, Slacker has finished serving up the second Psychedelic Furs hit that I’ve received in the last hour and… whoops… oh boy, here’s “Burning Down The House” by Talking Heads. Haven’t heard that one since… yesterday.)
Here is what I’d like to see. You go onto an Internet music “station” and you type in the names of 100 artists. The company gets their entire goddamn catalogues or as much of them as they can manage. Then they hook it up to other music with similar “musical dna” and they randomize the whole fucking thing… maybe programming it to favor your 100 selections over their cousins… but not favoring particular songs. Then you get to be surprised and delighted when that song you haven’t heard in twenty years or never heard at all suddenly comes on.
Is anybody listening?