Why I can't use Pandora 1.0 in its present state on my Nokia Lumia 920 (even though I wanted to!)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2013/04/18 07:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2013/04/18/10412228.aspx

Technically this is technical; it's a product review. But it really isn't technical...

Right after it was announced as FREE and AD-FREE, I knew I had to try Pandora on my Nokia Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8.

Pandora Internet Radio has as its core the Music Genome Project, which according to Wikipedia:

A given song is represented by a vector (a list of attributes) containing approximately 400 "genes" (analogous to trait-determining genes for organisms in the field of genetics). Each gene corresponds to a characteristic of the music, for example, gender of lead vocalist, level of distortion on the electric guitar, type of background vocals, etc. Rock and pop songs have 150 genes, rap songs have 350, and jazz songs have approximately 400. Other genres of music, such as world and classical music, have 300–500 genes. The system depends on a sufficient number of genes to render useful results. Each gene is assigned a number between 0 and 5, in half-integer increments. The Music Genome Project's database is built using a methodology that includes the use of precisely defined terminology, a consistent frame of reference, redundant analysis, and ongoing quality control to ensure that data integrity remains reliably high. Given the vector of one or more songs, a list of other similar songs is constructed using a distance function. Each song is analyzed by a musician in a process that takes 20 to 30 minutes per song. Ten percent of songs are analyzed by more than one technician to ensure conformity with the in-house standards and statistical reliability.

I had been interested in the concepts behind the Music Genome Project for a while, but had never seriously evaluated until now.

I really wanted to love it, or at least like it.

However, I mostly found myself unable to do either.

It troubled me a little, until I started writing up my concerns in this article, and I immediately understood what Pandora and the Music Genome Project beneath it were missing.

They were missing "mutant genes" that seriously impacted the way I have enjoyed music for the last 3.5 decades of my 42 years.

Therefore, if your connection to music is not influenced by my "mutant genes" (and you have no additional "mutant genes" of your own, then you might find Pandora Internet Radio to be an amazing way to listen to and enjoy the music you love!

{In a Homer Simpson voice} "Stupid mutant genes!"

Anyway, I will now humbly submit my findings to the readers of my Blog....


Sometimes a singer/songwriter will see important connections between an earlier song and a later one on another album - like how Kathleen Edwards thought about the first song on her first album Failer (Six O' Clock News), all about a boyfriend/husband who is now in something like a hostage situation or whatever causes one to be holed up with police right outside, and she was thinking about it when she wrote the first song of her second album Back To Me (In State), all about what the woman with such a man might do if she tired of his thieving ways.

Ten songs that didn't feel very thematically connected for each of them, and never the other.

Perhaps this one is less fair since not everyone would have necessarily caught the thematic similarities and I heard her mention the connection between the two songs in an interview before ever hearing the second song, so I'll never know if I  would have?

But the criminal, no good man theme never came up in any of the "shared genes" of the twenty songs. And none of the twenty songs themselves had such a theme as far as I could tell. So a theme that both the singer/songwriter and I considered important was genetically irrelevant.


Now beyond that example, it seems like sometimes Pandora does do this. So when picking Calling on Mary (a song from an Aimee Mann Christmas album titled One More Drifter in the Snow), the next fifteen songs were all holiday themed but none of them listed that as a reason to be genetically similar!

I kind of have a problem with both the issues in #7 not recognizing a category and here not admitting one.

There is no way that all holiday songs truly are that similar in just music. The harder rock Christmas, Bring Us by The Grip Weeds and Christmas Time Is Here have very little other than Christmas in common!


Another aspect of that "theme gene" comes up in albums that are telling one story (e.g. taking King of the Jailhouse from Aimee Mann's The Forgotten Arm or Mr. Roboto from Styx's Kilroy Was Here) and surrounding songs on the album got no love.

And the songs that were picked did not themselves appear to be from similar concept or story albums.

Choosing the album instead did not cause other (or indeed any) songs from the album to get picked. 


The basic UI experience has flaws.

When tracking connections or (to use the "genes" metaphor) relations between songs, I think it would almost always be best to start with the original song, and then as new "related" songs come on, they can use later thumbs up/thumbs down ratings to further shape the station.

And perhaps sometimes asking the listener why they gave a thumbs down, especially if it is the actual song they picked?

But no, I usually never saw the actual song the channel was based on, or only saw the live version but was too afraid to thumbs down it.

I often understood their choices (the UI to show matching "genes" makes sense, so that even if I disagreed, I understood. But it never tried to ask why I'd say thumbs down -- maybe I disliked the live version of the song (which happened several times!) or I liked the song but not on that channel because I didn't agree with the match.

The whole area of one channel affecting another made me think of Ghostbusters, and how you don't cross the streams. A third button for "thumbs down, here only" seems unlikely, but an advanced option to maintain channel purity would be nice.

A semi-serious prompt if you thumbs down a channel's own song asking why would be okay  too. Maybe it was an accident! :-)

Interestingly, my singer/songwriter friend Holly Figueroa O'Reilly showed up in other unrelated channels more often than her own, even if it felt like a weird place for one of her songs.

I admit my broke the rule I made for myself about trying to use thumbs up/thumbs down for channel purity in that one singular case; I didn't want to thumbs down a friend!

By the way, Holly is amazingly talented. if you want to check her out on Pandora, they reversed her name to Holly O'Reilly Figueroa for some reason!

If I was going to use Pandora heavily for years, I'd want it to know me better than I know myself, but with this terribly limited feedback loop it could never happen.


I often associate music I listen to with their official videos when they are striking or noteworthy. Probably the only reasons I love R.E.M.'s Shiny Happy People are

  1. Kate Pierson's voice and
  2. her and Michael Stipe dancing and clapping in the video

Yet Pandora suggests a live version of I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers!

Which, according to Pandora, had "genes" like:

basic rock song structures, a subtle use of vocal harmony, mild rhythmic syncopation, repetitive melodic phrasing, major key tonality, a vocal-centric aesthetic, melodic songwriting, mixed acoustic and electronic instrumentation, acoustic rhythm guitars

in its shared "genes"

In another case, one of the more striking things about Massive Attack's Teardrop is it's video, that is a baby in the womb mouthing the lyrics! There is also some suggestion that the video ends with an abortion, as was mentioned in another blog I wrote about this song (Sparrows' tears? Perhaps. But never a teardrop on the fire...).

Anyway, for this song, such "mutant" genes seem much more important than ones (in the case of Massive Attack's Teardrop) like

electronica roots, four-on-the-floor beats, techno influences, new wave influences, rock influences, a knack for catchy hooks, danceable beats, a repetitive chorus, use of modal harmonies, the use of chordal patterning, inventive synth arrangements, emphasis on instrumental performance, a tight kick performance, a synth bass riff, synth riffs, effected synths, subtle use of white noise, dominant use of riffs

 which caused Pandora to add End of Line by Daft Punk on Tron Legacy to be added to the Teardrop Radio station.


Perhaps the biggest "mutant gene" I have is when a song contains the pragmatic content of the life experiences of the performer at the time of the performance, it weighs heavily on my listening experience. The most graphic example brings me back to Massive Attack's Teardrop, in particular the vocals done by Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. As mentioned in Wikipedia:

Fraser wrote the song's lyrics and was recording the song when she got the news of the death by drowning on 29 May 1997 of her once-close friend, Jeff Buckley. "That was so weird ... I'd got letters out and I was thinking about him. That song's kind of about him – that's how it feels to me anyway."

Now I have several friends who are singer/songwriters, and while none of the other examples of this phenomenon are known to me, I can promise you that when songs or especially particular performances have this kind of pragmatic association to them, they are much more significant than other "genes". Genes like (in the case of Massive Attack's Teardrop) like:

extensive vamping, minor key tonality, melodic string accompaniment

which caused Pandora to add Cleaning Apartment by Clint Mansell and Kronos Quartet on Requiem For A Dream to be added to the Teardrop Radio station, or


The last "mutant gene" I had was that I found myself disagreeing with a few of the "genes" attached to the songs I loved.

Like saying Massive Attack's Teardrop had danceable beats? Seriously? It is not something I've ever seen played at clubs, or on Dance Fever! :-)


Pandora can be a good way if you like aspects of music that fall within its gene pool and want to find more music you'll like.

And I don't want to knock those aspects, because they can be important.

I've actually written in blogs like First the music, then the lyrics -- and make it rhyme! about how often people don't even care about the words, and that is their right. Pandora as it stands largely mirrors that.

But if you are like me and want the real/semantic/pragmatic issues and themes surrounding the songs, the albums, and the artists to have a real voice in the decision of what to play next, then Pandora may not be for you.

Though I will put a link to this blog in a rate and review, and I'll keep it installed in case they decide to do anything

At a minimum a fix for the hidden gene in #6, the UI problems in #4, and the name spelling error in #4 seem easiest if can't jump in and do all of it. ;-)

John Cowan on 18 Apr 2013 11:29 AM:

Folk music would need to have about 10,000 genes.

Cory on 18 Apr 2013 6:33 PM:

Its music suggestions aren't always perfect, but it does a good enough job that I can discover new artists through it.

My #1 problem with Pandora on my 920: unlike the built-in music player, Pandora will just keep on playing once your car's BTA disconnects, switching to play through the phone's speaker. Very annoying.

abhay tiwary on 27 Aug 2013 2:10 AM:

Stop Nokia Lumia Music Player

Watch solution at forllowing youtube video:


Rema Sah on 22 Sep 2013 1:10 AM:

Fix to "Nokia Lumia 3g/4g not working"

Watch solution at following youtube video:


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