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.