Editorial

Opening Pandora's music box

As the internet becomes more readily available, users are finding new ways to discover music. Digital music stores like iTunes or Zune Marketplace have helped provide a service to allow people to purchase individual tracks or full albums right from their computer. In 2000, the Music Genome Project set out to create “the most comprehensive analysis of music ever undertaken” . Pandora’s on-demand Internet radio service provides a unique music experience for a low cost that competes with digital music store giants Zune Marketplace and iTunes in terms of their music selection, mobile availability, and ability to find music that is specifically chosen for the user.

The Music Experience

Pandora Internet Radio offers a unique music experience personalized for the user, while other music services rely on what-other-customers-purchased data. Pandora Internet Radio has categorized music based on the ratings of the end user, and by looking at components of music like “melody, harmony, instrumentation, rhythm, vocals, lyrics ... and more - close to 400 attributes” . Together these attributes can be combined to create over 2,000 focus traits which help to analyze the songs chosen to be played aiming to always play something the user will like.

iTunes and Zune Marketplace have the features “Genius”  and “Smart DJ” , respectively, which aim to introduce new music to users based on genres and what other customers like the user have purchased. While providing a human element, some people have quite different tastes in music creating a system that doesn’t cater specifically to the user, but ends up playing more of a guessing game.

Both Pandora and digital music stores have the goal of introducing users to new music. iTunes and Zune Marketplace do so in a passive way, as to simply suggest new songs in a side bar or when you visit the online store. Pandora makes choices based on the initial genre the user created their radio station to be like, and based on how they have rated songs on that radio station. This actively introduces users to new music in an environment where they don’t have to actually buy the song and be fearful of disliking it. Displaying new music in this way actively gets the user’s attention and helps them pursue and enjoy new forms of music they have never heard before.

Muse for the Money

Pricing of Pandora is incredibly low compared to iTunes and Zune Marketplace, while still allowing users to customize their music experience. Pandora is offered in two forms: ad-supported and paid subscription. Both versions have access to “over three-quarters of a million analyzed songs, and counting...” . The free version has a limit of “only 40 hours of music for free per month”. The price per song, based on the annual subscription fee of $36 which allows users to have unlimited streaming of music at a higher bitrate, no ads, and a desktop application, comes out to $4.2857 x 10-6, or virtually nothing assuming the user stays subscribed.

iTunes offers 30-second samples of songs from the largest paid digital music collection on the web. The service offers more than 14 million tracks, however the actual cost of these comes down to $0.99-$1.29 a song depending on quality. On the plus side, the user will get to keep these songs forever and transfer them to any device.

Zune Marketplace also offers 30-second samples, however its store contains 10 million tracks. The price per song comes out to $0.99 for an MP3 that the customer will be able to keep forever. The downside is that users must first purchase Microsoft Points as that is the currency of the store which leads to issues of unused points and having to buy more than you want to in one sitting. Zune also offers a Zune Pass option, which allows unlimited streaming or “download and play on your PC, Xbox 360, Windows Phone 7, or Zune HD” , all for $15 per month, or less if you buy an annual subscription, which does lower the price-per-song to virtually nothing like Pandora. In order to keep the music playing however, users must keep subscribing to this service.

Sync or Stream

Pandora offers their service on nearly every device which allows for a simple way to manage music without the hassle of syncing the entire collection to device after device. Pandora has mobile applications for “iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, Palm” . With a smartphone, the user is always connected to the internet allowing streaming of music and reducing the need to locally store music while still catering to what the user wishes to listen to.

Applications for Windows, OS X, and Linux are also available, in addition to support for some Blu-Ray players and HDTVs. As always, the in-browser player can be used on any device that has Flash installed. 

iTunes sells DRM-free (Digital Rights Management)  songs allowing users to place tracks on any device that supports the M4a file format. The music is available offline, however if the user wishes to take it with them, they must sync the songs to a device. There is no streaming option offered by iTunes, but just about every portable media device available today supports the M4a format.

Zune Marketplace also sells DRM-free songs which can be played and synced anywhere. Those with a Zune Pass however, have DRM placed on their tracks which will restrict playing, but allow streaming on the “PC, Xbox 360, Windows Phone 7, or Zune HD” . Zune Pass owners may also play music in any browser that has the Silverlight plugin installed, allowing streaming from virtually anywhere.

Overall

Pandora provides a nice bridge between allowing users to customize their music selection by choosing genres and then rating songs from that point on to build their perfect radio station. iTunes and Zune Marketplace will guide users to the exact songs they want to play, but it will come at a high price compared to the miniscule $36 that Pandora charges for a one-year subscription. Allowing users to connect radio with personalization is a much needed feature of music services, and one that will help bring listeners and new music together.

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49 Comments

Commenting is disabled on this article.

The fact that I cant I can't pause or skip through tracks, kills last.fm for me, tf is up with that?

grooveshark seems pretty sweet.

"Dear Pandora Visitor,

We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S."

Nuff said.

This is something that I really hate. I live in caribbean island, indeed we are pirates, but how not to be it?.
Every service Can not be access from outside USA or another first citizen class.
Every movie it's released there, arrive here when the DVD it's outside, the ticket for a movie it's more or less cheap but of course we are talking about crapy theaters.
You wanna buy original BluRay or DVD media, that's nice, go to a store and leave you kidney as price.

I know the problem is a political issue of our governments, but come one, these services should be available from whenever place people could pay for it.

Digitalx said,
"Dear Pandora Visitor,

We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S."

Nuff said.

Nehemoth said,
This is something that I really hate. I live in caribbean island, indeed we are pirates, but how not to be it?.
Every service Can not be access from outside USA or another first citizen class.
Every movie it's released there, arrive here when the DVD it's outside, the ticket for a movie it's more or less cheap but of course we are talking about crapy theaters.
You wanna buy original BluRay or DVD media, that's nice, go to a store and leave you kidney as price.

I know the problem is a political issue of our governments, but come one, these services should be available from whenever place people could pay for it.

Yeah, well, geological restrictions only promote piracy if anything.

Is this an editorial or a commercial for music services?
I'm all for individual editorials but could someone over there write out some guidelines as to what an editorial is?

Sorry but the fact that Pandora is US only = fail. It was great way back when I could get in At least I can get into iTunes and use Genius if I wanted to (though I wouldnt).

3lixir said,
Pandora is US only, luckily there are and have been plenty of similar global services out there for a while now.

Last.fm is available in US, UK, Germany for free (I believe they used to charge a few years ago.)

And if you live outside these countries, you can pay about 3 euro for access, which isn't bad if you live somewhere that isn't a major market or has trouble getting blanket licensing.

The article gives the impression that users get 10 free tracks without the Zune Pass and that is not accurate. In addition, Zune Pass subscribers have an extremelly limited number of tracks that require purchasing thus also requiring 30 second samples.

NPGMBR said,
The article gives the impression that users get 10 free tracks without the Zune Pass and that is not accurate. In addition, Zune Pass subscribers have an extremelly limited number of tracks that require purchasing thus also requiring 30 second samples.

Sentence is a bit mangled, but assuming you mean that Pass subscribers don't get access to many songs.

A couple of years ago, pre ZuneHD and Microsoft's signing deals with most labels, this was somewhat true.

Today though it is hard to find stuff that is not available on the Zune Pass, and when this happens it is very likely that it is because of an exclusve deal the artist or label has with a company or restriction from online sales. Often the 'unavailable' tracks can't be purchased via Zune and are not available on iTunes either.

It is hard to justify iTunes, when for $15 a month you get access to more music and still get 10 free purchases. One simple example is a couple of friends are Glee fans, and the one that has Zune pass downloads the latest show soundtracks for nothing, and the iPod friend, ends up spending about $10 a week just to have access to the same music.

When you are consuming a lot of music on a weekly basis with Movie and TV Show soundtracks and even the newest album releases, Zune Pass gets becomes very inexpensive, rather quickly.

(PS There are other online subscription stores like Rhapsody, etc that are a nice alternative if you don't have a ZuneHD or WP7. Right now though Microsoft and Apple are the 'content' leaders for most current and sheer number of songs offered.)

[quote=thenetavenger said,]

What I was referring to was the fact that Zune Pass subscirbers are not hit with the penalty of having to listen to 30 second samples. There are very few artists i.e. Harry Connick Jr. that do not allow their tracks to be rented vice purchased.

tonyunreal said,
Last time I checked, iTunes Store sells music in AAC format, not MP3.

iirc, their DRM music is in AAC format, and their DRM free music is in M4A.

Electric Jolt said,

iirc, their DRM music is in AAC format, and their DRM free music is in M4A.

The format is AAC for both the DRMed and unprotected files. The extension for the formats is M4P and M4A, respectively.

Or if you have XBox Live you get access to Last.fm, that is a similar service at no additional cost.

Between XBox Live and Last.fm and if you have a Zune Pass, you have access to everything at your finger tips and get 10 'owned' songs a month.

Last.fm is available on Android, and if you signed up using your XBox Live account, you get full access on your Android device.

thenetavenger said,
Or if you have XBox Live you get access to Last.fm, that is a similar service at no additional cost.

Between XBox Live and Last.fm and if you have a Zune Pass, you have access to everything at your finger tips and get 10 'owned' songs a month.

Last.fm is available on Android, and if you signed up using your XBox Live account, you get full access on your Android device.

And Windows phone 7 - so Zune + last FM caters to Win phone 7 - xBox live users perfectly

I think it's important to note that there is no time limit with Pandora Mobile.... the time limit only applies when listening to it on the website.

(And it's free)

Nightwind Hawk said,
I think it's important to note that there is no time limit with Pandora Mobile.... the time limit only applies when listening to it on the website.

(And it's free)

I actually didn't know that! Thanks for pointing it out.

Nightwind Hawk said,
I think it's important to note that there is no time limit with Pandora Mobile.... the time limit only applies when listening to it on the website.

(And it's free)

And last.fm has no limit on either @_@

Brandon said,
What about grooveshark?

Woah! Never heard of it but just looked and it looks great! Seems like a different purpose than Pandora... but everything is just free?? Any song you want?

Thanks for sharing!

Edit: too bad the mobile version is $3 a month...

Brandon said,
What about grooveshark?

I like grooveshark a lot, but in difference of this pandora's music box, the radio from grooveshark gives you music that is really not accurate to what you are listening, there are also songs (like teenage dream from katy perry in the popular list) that are incomplete, and a lot of other songs that takes forever to buffer, and wrong labeled music, and incomplete albums... maybe most of this applies to not well known music, but due to the fact that it's free it's really awesome
IMO the free thing makes me forget the cons of grooveshark, maybe what you pay in the pandora's music box is the analysis.

Brandon said,
What about grooveshark?

Never heard of Grooveshark. I personally use Last.FM and for having people over my roommates prefer Pandora.

Brandon said,
What about grooveshark?
LOL With sites like these and Youtube, I don't understand why people pay for music anymore. Unless you're buying Audio CDs, you're not getting the value for your money anyway.

Jebadiah said,
LOL With sites like these and Youtube, I don't understand why people pay for music anymore. Unless you're buying Audio CDs, you're not getting the value for your money anyway.

Yep. Problem is Grooveshark will inevitably get shut down if it becomes too popular.

I go to Grooveshark when I want to hear a particular song or album when I'm away from my home library. A hell of a lot better than searching YouTube and getting low quality stuff that's live, a cover, remix, or just not what I'm looking for. It also helps a LOT in being able to get a decent preview of certain artists before buying their album. It's basically what I used to pirate albums for, except with much less hassle.

Only real downside (for me) to Grooveshark is their mobile version sucks (mostly due to bugs), requires a paid account (free trial though), and they are also lacking an iOS version.

SuperHans said,

Yep. Problem is Grooveshark will inevitably get shut down if it becomes too popular.

Or become country specific, like Pandora and (at the moment) Spotify