Monday, July 15, 2013

Please Contain the Glee

I recently came back to Pandora after a long break. I cleared out my old stations and built some new ones, trying to make them pretty specific. I seeded only with songs rather than artists. I’ve got a punk/ska station built from songs from Misfits, Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Buck-O-Nine, and others. I’ve got a Metal-ish station with CKY, Disturbed, Alice In Chains, Chevelle, and so on. I’ve also got a slow-ish, station of mostly current artists. I’ve seeded it with songs from Adele, Mumford & Sons, Amy Winehouse, Maroon 5, and that one Gotye song, alongside jazzy vocals and whiney folk rock, this is also where I get my Dire Straits fix.

During the day at work, I play these three stations in a mix and it’s been working well. I feel like I’ve really got Pandora doing what I want. For example, I’ve got the punk station narrow enough that it picks up stripped down 70s and 80s punk alongside Bad Religion, but it doesn’t give me Blink-182. Pandora did get really crazy once and gave me Nickelback on this station, but a quick click of the “thumbs down” button seems to have solved that problem. You have to teach others how to treat you.

Overall, the mix/shuffle of these stations gives me the music I told it I want, and often surprises me with additions that are pretty much what I want. I was happy...and then came the Glee covers.

Apparently, Glee isn’t just a TV show. It’s a media empire. I blame WB aka, The CW for this trend (“Go to to download music by artists featured in this episode!” Of course they’re all signed by Warner Music.) No big deal, if people want to watch Glee and buy Glee albums, go nuts. I’m also not at all against cover versions of songs. Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” is a good song, but the cover by Johnny Cash is a great song. I usually end up playing it a second or third time. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” has been covered by several people. John Lee Hooker really changed it and George Thorogood blended it and another John Lee Hooker song into the version we usually hear today. Well done all around.

Earlier I said I tried to create pretty narrow stations in an effort to get more of the specific styles I want, without picking up the entire catalog from the artist. Adele can really sing, but I don’t want every version of every Adele song ever recorded. Apparently Pandora has decided that one version of “Rolling in the Deep” is as good as another. Overachieving brunnette from Glee != Adele. Same thing with Amy Winehouse. The Glee version of “Rehab” came up on Monday and it took me a bit to figure out that the chorus of singers was hacking their way thru a song I had apparently asked Pandora to play. Swing and a miss.

I’m less bothered by the Glee cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”, but I still like the original. I really only like that one song from him so I don’t so much want to hear more of his songs as I just want to occasionally hear that exact song. Again, that song, not the Glee version. Last week I swear I heard more Glee covers than songs by the original artists. That’s not entirely true. This Glee-ification is only happening on my sorta slow, sorta current, whiney rock station. Apparently Glee doesn’t cover Melvins, Chevelle, Pantera, Buck-O-Nine, or Dead Kennedys.

Why didn’t I just vote down the cover versions of these songs? I don’t trust the results. If Pandora thought the Glee chorus version of Rehab was at all like the version I used as a seed for the station, what would it do if I thumbed it down? Having spent a bunch of time carefully crafting my Pandora stations, I think of them as fragile little snowflakes. A misplaced “thumbs down” could ruin the entire thing. Please Pandora, give me a “thumbs down, because Glee” button.


Andrew Stiegmann said...

I agree that it would be great to be able to tone down different artist/song source sets in Pandora. I personally find that Lindsey Stirling appears far more often in my stations than many others. While I like her music too much of it really does wear me out.

Kelly Byrd said...

I suspect a couple of things are going on in here: If I seed a station with an artist with a large catalog, I hear more of that artist on the station. Also, I have always wondered if Pandora limited their licensing costs by giving slight preferences to lower cost artists. I completely made up that last bit, I have no reason to believe it is true.

Having tried Pandora-like features of Slacker, Spotify, etc. I'm still impressed how often Pandora plays a completely new song that I really do want to hear. I wouldn't want to tweak the algorithm too much, just to completely ban an artist from a station.