Thursday, August 12, 2010

Opening Pandora's Box, Volume III- NSP Radio

Draagbare radio / Radio hat
From The Commons on Flickr. Most awesome photo and hat, ever.

It’s been a week of Pandora Radio listening, and I have held true to my goal. Even though I’ve reached for iTunes many times wanting to hear a specific song, I have focused my listening completely on Pandora. Which really, really sucks when you want to listen to some pure background music but have to hear some blaring Guns and Roses track for the millionth time in your life instead.

As noted in my last installment, Pandora focused almost completely on indie rockers for the first 10 songs, with some classic ultra-soft rock thrown in for good measure. The only songs that picked up the tempo much were screechy alternative kids trying to sing, but failing miserably. The station was turning out alright, but I wasn’t exactly impressed so far.

My pie in the sky hopes for Pandora were that it would somehow find a fusion between my musical likes, creating a relatively seamless experience that found many songs from different genres that fit my personal preferences. This utopia of music would wash me away on a wave of beautiful sound, bringing me to new levels of productivity and inner peace.

Now we have that impossible vision of bliss out of the way, the reality sinks in. While I enjoy Pandora, it doesn’t come close to creating that impossible experience I desire. After the initial rush of mostly laid-back music, the system started to go off its rocker trying to appease my tastes. For a period, it would blast song after song of classic rock and 80s metal. Then, when it hit a song I couldn’t stand, it would race off to more indie. After quite a while, the station finally started incorporating hip hop, but from a very small selection of artists that fit my initial choice (MF Doom for those just joining us).

I plugged away at my likes and dislikes through those initial songs, rather pleased that after a 100 songs the ratio of good to bad was improving, at least to my ears. I even managed to hear Godzilla by Blue Oyster Cult, which defeated my belief that they couldn’t play your seed songs. I had discovered a few bands that I wanted to check out further, and even ordered one of their CDs. Not horrible results, then.

Richard M. Nixon and Elvis Presley at the White House
Strangely enough, Nixon Segretti Productions Radio does not feature any Elvis.
Photo from The Commons on Flickr.

Now that I’ve listened for a week, my station is “complete” in a way. It’s at least to the point where further liking and disliking will most likely not change much of the station’s nature. Nixon Segretti Productions Radio is now live, and I can honestly say I might listen to it when I really need a change of pace and a dose of randomness.

The station pretty much works thus: I load it up, and it decides to either play A. Indie rock, B. Classic Hard Rock, or C. Whatever weird hip-hop it thinks I like (It’s usually wrong, though it’s getting better. I finally got a RZA track yesterday). The music follows this path for 5 or 6 songs, before the radio gets bored, and switches off to one of the other two genres. Occasionally it goes off its rocker and plays some awful modern goth metal or something, but I quickly swat it down and the process continues on as normal.

NSP Radio is pretty much what I expected. My taste in music is so decidedly random at times, and based on moment to moment whims, that nothing designed with current “learning” technology could really adjust for what I want. I’m quite disappointed it can’t even detect major format shifts and try to transition them somewhat, or at least stick an ad between them (the college rock radio station KEXP out of Seattle does this to decent effect with their diverse music choices.)

I definitely can see myself using Pandora to find music of very specific types. For example, I want a very classic, Sintra’sh soundtrack for my wedding reception, and I’m sure if I plug Sinatra into Pandora I will get a decent selection of suggestions to use. However, good old iTunes will remain my music tool of choice. Time to close the box for now and try to put back some of the few musical horrors that emerged. If you’re on Marilyn Manson’s record label, I never want you to darken my eardrums again.

(Additional note: I never have gotten around to analyzing the detailed pile of sticky notes on the first 100 songs. I may write an appendix entry with those stats just for fun.)


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