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Friday, February 20, 2009

Pandora Radio

The past few weeks I've really been finding myself loving Pandora radio ( I'm sure most, if not all, of you have heard about it and/or tried it out. It's more or less the perfect radio station, at least within the realm of what you can expect without the nebulous Hand of God playing any sort of role in this dream. First of all it's free Internet radio. Second, you get music that you know you like. Third, it plays music based on the songs you rate. If you like a song, thumbs up. If you don't, thumbs down.

I'm sure most people are familiar with it so there's little need for me to talk more about it is. Here's what I'm finding though. All of my Pandora roads lead to 2 bands. Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. No matter what band I start with, both of those bands seem to be on the playlist eventually. I guess it's not surprising that my musical tastes were heavily influenced in the early 90s when grunge/alternative were really coming into their own. The thing is that I don't have either of these bands as a Pandora station.

Two of my favorite bands of all-time are Jane's Addiction and Phish. Neither of these bands have made it into the rotation of any other station I've created. I have Wilco, Radiohead, Beck, Pearl Jam, Primus, and RHCP off the top of my head. All of these leads to Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. None lead to Jane's Addiction.

So as much as this is perfect Internet radio, it's still not exactly perfect. I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm just pointing out that the mainstream artists are still going to hold sway over the contraption, no matter how smart you think you've made it. And one other thing. How the Eagles' Hotel California comes in as the 6th song of a RHCP station is incomprehensible. Again, not complaining because it's a simple matter of giving the thumbs down and moving on. But still, the Eagles?

I've been looking into one of the Pandora receivers over the past week. I just got my work bonus so I'm thinking, "How can I enrich my life with something that's totally and completely not needed and at the same time a cash sink that will likely be obsolete and/or unused in a matter of months?" After a few minutes I decided, "A portable Pandora radio!"

Actually, I've looked a little at the mini-box versions that I could presumably drop on the counter or in the basement. When I work from home I work in the basement and I sometimes use another laptop as my Pandora receiver. But I don't have headphones which leaves the sound quality lacking. My work laptop isn't powerful enough to run Pandora and the RDP into work.

The problem that Pandora solves is this. With an IPod, you can have all your artists and all the songs at your disposal. After a while, you say to yourself, "How the hell do I choose between the 800 CDs I've loaded on here? And how do I organize this mess?" Pandora allows you to listen to what you want, sorta. It also potentially exposes you to new music unless, like me, most of your music was popular 15-25 years ago. Actually, Radiohead and Beck are still current but alas, those roads apparently run back to Nirvana as well. I'm tempted to start with Diana Ross to see how long it takes me to get to Nirvana. I would guess at least 100 songs but I would also guess that I would get there eventually.

I haven't looked everywhere, but if I could find an IPod-like receiver that I could take anywhere and still use to give thumbs up/down on the train or at home, I might very well pull that trigger today. I know they offer Pandora to your "mobile device" but that's not a viable long-term solution, especially considering you have to pay for the $15 data plan to make it worthwhile. Currently it seems that this is exclusive to the iPhone, at least in terms of a legitimate portable Pandora.

That leaves something you can buy and use in the house, which there are a few options. The options are sleek, to be sure, with Sonos possibly being the coolest of the bunch. Of course cool comes with a price tag, $999 at the minimum. I got a nice bonus but not that nice, you know?

At the lower end you have Chumby coming in at around $199 for a functional unit. But then what you're really buying is a controller for your Pandora that needs to have a wireless connection. Ok, our house is wireless but then I need to either have headphones or plug it into a stereo. We're tipping back to the point that the second laptop, which we already have, is a perfectly fine Pandora controller since it's already here.

It's an awesome idea that also happens to be very cool, sleek, and sexy. But without being able to do exactly what you want with it - ie, walk out your door and down the street while listening to your music - it's hard to spend that kind of scratch on something like this. I have an iPod that does me just fine to "get me by" so to speak. And I'm in the office 3 days a week where the point is moot. So it's really for those days I'm working in the basement which is 2 days normally and full weeks when I'm on-call. Given that Pandora on the web is free, and the add-ons at those prices aren't sounding terribly cost-effective for me right now.

So it looks like I won't be spending any disposable cash on a product I would love to have. To be sure there's a market for this. Really it's a total slam dunk, no brainer. I'm still surprised that you can't get something like this relatively easily. But it's generally new. And while it can still rake in the mad cash selling the items as-is, it won't change much. But I imagine something will come along to challenge the Pandora Paradigm, then it will be easier to get my personalized radio stations wherever I want them. For now though, being limited to my work PC or the floating laptop at home will have to suffice.

So if you have a product and/or service I can spend my money on, give me a ring.



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