By James Wallace Harris, March 8, 2016
I started a new station on Pandora today based on Sarah Jaffe. The first song they gave me was “Pretender Pt. 1” – an early song by Jaffe that I liked, but one I didn’t want the station to play. With Pandora you get to thumbs up and thumbs down songs. It’s important to train Pandora to play the exact sound you want for the station you imagined. I wanted my Sarah Jaffe station to play only music by women singers, but with edgy music, and creative arrangements. I tend to like tempo changes in these kinds of songs too. I didn’t want the standard singer-song writer fare.
Here are five songs by Sarah Jaffee that I want Pandora to seed the radio station. I was able to add “Glorified High,” “Sucker for Your Marketing,” and “Mannequin Women via the “add variety” button.
Training Pandora is weird. Sometimes you have to thumb down songs you actually like if you want to create a very specific sounding radio station. Sometimes Pandora never gets what I’m going for, and I have to delete the station. For Sarah Jaffe Radio I had to immediately thumbs down any male singer. And I had to thumbs down any plain song, especially those that focused mainly on the lyrics. I was after unique musical arrangements for female vocalists, songs that tended to be upbeat, but not necessarily rock, pop or punk. If you listen to the five videos above, you’ll get what I mean.
Here’s the first one Pandora found that matched close to what I wanted, “Too Insistent” by The Do.
“Caribou” by April March appealed to me because of the music and it’s in French.
Another one, which was a bit soft on the music, but I counted because it seemed different, “Little Jealousy” by Sonia Montez.
So far Pandora is getting closer to what I want, but not perfect. I’m amazed at how many songs it can find that I like by people I have never heard. When I find a song I really love, I add it to my Spotify “All My Favorites” playlist. I use Spotify most of the time to just play my favorite music. Spotify does have curated discovery features I like, but Pandora is more effective.
So far my best trained Pandora station is “Quicksilver Messenger Radio.” It takes me back to the late 60s and early 70s, finding songs I missed back then, but ones I would have loved if I had unlimited money for record buying back then. My worst failure is my “Pavane pour une infante défunte” Radio seeded by Ravel’s classical orchestra composition. I just can’t convince Pandora to find my similar moody classical pieces. Maybe there’s nothing like it. I like very few classical works, so it’s hard to please me. I was hoping Pandora would find those classical performances that moved me as much as the Ravel.
Pandora has a far smaller library of music than Spotify. My Sarah Jaffe station has yet to play any more songs by Sarah, so I wonder if it has the license to play them. It just came up with a Florence & The Machine song, “Blinding” – which is exactly the kind of song I wanted. Pandora is learning. I wish it had a more quantifying rating. I’d give “Blinding” five thumbs up.