Oct 062017

Sometimes I like to pick out exactly what I want to listen to. And sometimes I like to be surprised.

You ever think about why it feels so good to have your back scratched or rubbed? A big part of it is that you don’t know what the person is going to do next. You can capture some of it yourself, but you know where you’re going. That robs it of its magic.

I’m looking for a good service to stream music to me in that backscratching sort of way—it knows what I like, but I don’t know what it’s going to do next. I need a “deep cut” knob.

I’ve tried most extensively with Pandora, which seems promising because you can specify a primary song or artist, and then “tune” it with secondary ones (called “adding variety”). But it’s just too ham-fisted and overbearing. It doesn’t do any “thinking” on its own. Examples:

  • If I give a thumbs-up to a Joan Jett song, the station suddenly becomes two-thirds Joan Jett or The Runaways.
  • It can’t fill in blanks with good guesses. If, for example, I have a Judas Priest station but one of its variety specifications is Nick Lowe, it won’t try to set an interesting range there. It’ll just play Judas Priest songs and Nick Lowe songs.
  • It just doesn’t “know” enough. I have a Simple Minds station that apparently only knows four Simple Minds songs. There are a dozen that are both worth hearing and should be common enough to make the grade.

I played with Spotify a bit last night, but it makes a very safe playlist that I could easily make myself. You say Black Sabbath, it says “Iron Man.” You say AC/DC, it says “You Shook Me All Night Long.” You say Boston, it says “More Than a Feeling.” Etc. It’s no better than turning on WTAK, and that’s a low bar indeed.

Amazon Prime stations are better than I thought they’d be, but mostly because I can skip as many as I want. For ’80s rock or the yacht rock station, for example, I’ll reliably find that every tenth or twelfth song is one I want to hear.

So whatcha got, BoWilliams.com readers? Do you have a way to listen to music that is good at “knowing” what you like and delights you with a surprise once in a while? I don’t mind paying a little, but I’d like to stay with Internet offerings (as opposed to satellite, for example) for the convenience.

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 Posted by at 11:32 am

  4 Responses to “Where can you find a good personal “radio station”?”

  1. Don’t give up on Pandora just yet, especially if you’ve been building stations for years. I’ve found the most effective tool on Pandora is the thumbs down button. I do not use the thumbs up button anymore for the exact reason you stated….thumbs up turns the station into THAT song and THAT group until the next time you fine tune it. I’ve spent more than 9 years building my main station on there and I have not used thumbs up in over 5 years, but use thumbs down when I hear something that pinches rather than scratches my back. It does a good job of playing “deeper” cuts when you use the thumbs down.

    • Wow. OK. That is wonderful to hear. So how much does “variety” matter in your estimation? Do you mind sharing your station definition, like what its main thrust is and what your variety selections are?

  2. I like Spotify, but it has to be premium to actually get much out of it. Used to be exclusively Pandora, but Spotify premium has a really good mix once you start following artists then using the Artist Radio selection. Plus you can skip as much as you want, etc etc.

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