Pandora

"Hi, we're here to pick up your daughter."

As I spent a portion of my Saturday applying nearly two full rolls of painter’s tape to my bedroom and master bathroom, I turned on my Roku to Pandora. The station I chose was Strung Out Radio. I listened to this station for over two hours.

This was both a terrific way to enhance an otherwise mundane, but necessary activity (one of many you undertake when you purchase a new home), and sort of depressing. Here’s why.

Pandora started as the Music Genome Project in an effort to “capture the essence of music at the fundamental level.” What this means is that a bunch of analysts and statistics nerds create a genetic map of every song they listen to, using, in the case of rock music, over 150 genes that are then classified by precisely defined terminology. You can read more about it here.

What this means to you and me is that based on science and statistical probability, when you select something you like on Pandora, Pandora can find a whole bunch of stuff you’ll probably also like and string it together in a playlist you’ll get to enjoy without exerting any effort. It’s the most American way to enjoy music ever conceived.

In the case of my Saturday spent taping the edges of my bedroom, it means Strung Out gets followed by Face to Face, which gets followed by The Bouncing Souls, which gets followed by Thrice, which gets followed by A Wilhelm Scream, which gets followed by Lagwagon. Outside of just a small handful of misses (such as AFI, which fits flawlessly in this list of bands, but which I also despise because I hate Davey Havok’s whiny caterwaul), Pandora keeps the afternoon lively as I bang out two whole rooms without much difficulty.

It wasn’t until about the 5th Lagwagon song that I felt a tinge of sadness thanks to a sort of crushing realization about the music I love.

In two and a half hours of music, only once did a band I wasn’t familiar with emerge. I’ve since forgotten who that even was, but the rest of the names were all familiar. Good Riddance, Millencolin, Alkaline Trio, Descendants, No Use for a Name, Against Me!, Saves the Day… on and on it went. Save that lonely outlier, every single band was one I not only knew, but had almost certainly seen live.

I’ve seen a shitload of bands live. Working in college radio means you get to go to basically every show that comes through town, and see it for free, so this wasn’t terribly surprising. In fact, it made me happy I had been so privileged to get to immerse myself so thoroughly in music I loved. And it’s rewarding having science basically prove that your tastes make sense and aren’t weird and all over the map. On the whole, they probably are, but in terms of at least one genre, you know your shit.

But at the same time, learning that you’ve basically exhausted all the tillable earth available to you will undeniably bum you out. I’ve written a good bit about expanding my musical horizons, but I always return to my first love. You want Pandora both to re-affirm your good sense and show you something new. This isn’t really a fair request, but we’re talking about a statistics-based computer program, so who gives a shit about fair? You’re not going to hurt Pandora’s feelings if you express disappointment that it didn’t give you exactly what you want.

As effective as Pandora is at churning out song after song after song of stuff I know and love, I suspect it’s equally as effective at introducing you to a new genre or helping you find artists similar to one you’ve just fallen in love with. I look forward to what my Macklemore station offers me next time I turn on Pandora.

But I also hate that the unstoppable march of time renders everyone cultural fossils in one form or another. Ask hair metal guys about it. Or indie-alternative geeks from the 90s. Or disco queens. Or boy band enthusiasts. Or anyone with any level of specific music taste who now finds themselves getting older.

And when it comes to Pandora, we get the euphoria of plowing through an endless buffet of our favorites one after another for as many hours as there are in a day. But we also get the melancholy of knowing those favorites are representative of the finite nature of life and that the good times never last forever.

Pandora is appropriately named.

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