Teaching Pandora the facts of life

I’ve used Pandora sporadically for quite some time. I set up an experimental station called “Woman & Piano” and started training it to give me nothing but female pianist/vocalists. I seeded the station with Anne Heaton and Regina Spektor and let it run for several hours.

To improve the results I have given the thumbs-down to every song with male vocals or instruments other than piano. (I also thumbs-down songs or artists I dislike and thumbs-up songs I do like but of primary importance were the gender and accompaniment.) This has worked pretty well. About one in twenty new songs has a male vocalist and about one in five has instruments other than piano.

However this doesn’t work for all the reasons I’d hoped. When you ask Pandora why a song was played, it tells you: “Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features…” Here are the features I’ve seen in Woman & Piano:

  • folk influences
  • mellow rock instrumentation
  • extensive vamping
  • acoustic rhythm piano
  • acoustic sonority
  • meandering melodic phrasing
  • major key tonality
  • minor key tonality

Nowhere was the sex of the vocalist mentioned. Apparently Pandora or the Music Genome Project does not index vocalist gender.

Even so, it is 95% likely to play female vocalists. That’s pretty amazing.

15 thoughts on “Teaching Pandora the facts of life”

  1. I saw the founder of Pandora speak a couple of months ago and he said they have over 400 music qualities that they track for each song. Even if sex of singer was one of them, there are so many other qualities that they take into account that no one particular quality would take precedence over all others. The whole Pandora genome thing is pretty interesting and fun to play with.


  2. One of the things I dislike about Pandora is that it eats up so much RAM. I could start running it and it’s fine, but once it goes to the next song, the RAM gets eaten up. I end up having to restore and maximize the window to bring it down. But it’s very nice. And once in a while, they bring out some stuff that aren’t anything related to what the genre was so I skip it and then it gets to the message that they can only allow me to skip a certain number of songs per hour.

    But overall, it’s great. Just wished it ate up less RAM though. I do own an ancient laptop Dell Inspirion 8100 with 512MB RAM but the fans are roaring.

  3. Being a crazy music fan, I was so excited when I finally came across this post Andy! Thanks for posting it. I think my computer found a new friend for the days to come as I bookmarked that site and will continue to use it while working! Excellent!

  4. Will somebody please tell me what the hell “acoustic sonority” is?

    Apparently, I like it alot (according to Pandora), but I have know idea what that is.

  5. Yeah, I also like acoustic sonority, I think it means chill-ness. Sonority comes from the latin for ‘to sleep’ which also probably the source of the word ‘snore.’

    Basically you like music that its possible to sleep to.

  6. Actually, latin for “to sleep” is dormiro.

    Sonority refers simply to sound. As in, something can have an acoustic sound. In music, a sonority can be used to describe a number of chords and sounds, especially those that are resonant.

    [as a side note, sonority in linguistics refers to how much a sound/letter/syllable sounds like a vowel]

  7. I get all kinds of comments indicating the sex of the singer, often with an adjective: “breathy female vocal,” “dynamic female vocal,” etc.

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