How Pandora Radio Works

Musical Traits

And what are some of the musical traits of Ben Folds' songs? To let us know, Pandora chooses a Ben Folds song at random and plays it for us. In the bottom portion of the player, we can see how the Music Genome Project has characterized this particular song (see above). The next song the station plays will share some of those traits. In this case, it's "Amsterdam" by Coldplay.

Pandora automatically displays the Music Genome traits for the first couple of songs our new radio station plays. After that, we can find out exactly why Pandora is playing any song by clicking on the album art and choosing "Why did you play this song?" from the menu. After "Amsterdam," Pandora plays Ben Jelen's "Give It All Away." Let's find out why.

Clicking on the album art brings up a menu of options.
Pandora explains why it's playing "Give It All Away."

You probably notice in the above image that the trait description begins with "Based on what you've told us so far." It's not just talking about the fact that we like Ben Folds. Pandora wants us to give it feedback so it can refine the station based on our likes and dislikes. We can give any song the station plays either a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, and providing this feedback instantly changes the station's playlist. Let's say we don't care for "Give It All Away." To give it a thumbs-down, we left-click on the album art and chose the thumbs-down, "I don't like it" option.

Now Pandora will never play "Give It All Away" on our Ben Folds Radio station again, and it will play songs that are genetically similar to "Give It All Away" less often. If we click on the arrow next to the Ben Folds Radio station and choose "Edit this station," we can see that Pandora has put "Give It All Away" on the list of songs we don't like.

We can edit any of these lists.

Giving a thumbs-up has the opposite effect -- that song and other songs like it will play more often. The idea is to continually provide feedback so the station learns more and more about what we like and don't like. The result is a progressively personalized radio station that really does play only music we want to hear. It takes a while to get there, but most people agree that the feedback process works. Some of the other things we can do with Pandora include:

  • Add more music to a station (based on a new seed song or artist)
  • Add a song to our Favorites list so we can keep track of the music we like
  • Buy the music we like from Amazon or iTunes by clicking on the album art and choosing a store
  • Share a station with a friend through an e-mail link
  • Minimize the player so it sits in the corner while we do other stuff on the computer
  • Create up to 100 stations
  • Register for RSS feeds to find out what your friends are listening to, what the top 20 artists are and other information
  • Link to Pandora stations from your blog (Pandora will even generate the code for you)

There's a lot going on with the Pandora player, but it's all pretty easy to access once you get the hang of where the clickables are. Next, we'll take a look at what's happening behind the scenes of the Pandora experience.