The Music Scene: Boz Scaggs Gets Into Pandora’s Box

bozscaggsYes, I admit that this is one of my more provocative headlines. Having tripped over the Pandora site on the Internet, I decided to check it out. Let me backtrack for those who have not heard about Musician Tim Westergren composes music for films and needed a way for directors to articulate what kind of soundtrack they wanted. He suggested they give him the name of a song they liked. It was a short leap from there to what Westergren calls “the DNA of music.”

Pandora allows users to tap into the genomes of music. You type in a name -- I started with Boz Scaggs -- and the “genes” of that steviewonderartist’s music is analyzed in order to come up with other artists that have similar DNA. This has the potential to be an extremely useful tool for identifying new artists and music that you would like to hear.

In my own case, after entering Boz Scaggs, I entered Jack Johnson, which led to Billy Breathes by Phish, a group I had little familiarity with, so that was a good find. Entering Ottmar Liebert, a favorite new flamenco artist I enjoy, produced a nice hit for a musican named Hilary Stagg and a song called Dream Spiral. That was followed by another very nice new find, Heat of the Sun by Strunz and Farah.

From there I entered Stevie Wonder, Keb’ Mo’, Eva Cassidy and then Zero 7, just to make it interesting. Besides turning up all sorts of interesting, new-to-me artists, Pandora works as a customized radio station. evacassidyYou click on QuickMix and minimize the screen, and you can listen all day to a radio station that is predisposed to play your kind of music all day long. What if you don’t like the songs? Hit the thumbs down icon, and it’s yanked from your future play list. The best part of Pandora, however, is that it’s a very targeted way to introduce yourself to a wider variety of music. If you have an iPod or iTunes you can put it on shuffle and listen to music you already know. Fun, but not as mind (and ear) expanding as being spoon fed some new artists that your musical DNA indicates you might like as well.

There’s a free version with ads, along with a paid subscription option. Plus Pandora’s agreements with iTunes and Amazon let you click on an CD to buy it. How convenient is that? If the music industry is going to save itself and stop playing games by preventing purchasers from putting a song on more than one computer, it should embrace this approach. Not only does it encourage us to support new artists by helping us find the music we like, it makes it easy to buy. Pandora is definitely out of the box.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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