Monday, December 7, 2009

MUSIC MONDAY: The DNA of Music: Interview with Pandora Founder Tim Westergren

A few months ago, I did an interview with Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora and the Music Genome Project, live via Skype from his office on the West Coast. Since this was before our Music Monday feature and the current encarnation of our site, I wanted to re-post the interview and accompanying blog for all to see.

The Music Genome Project is exactly what the name describes, a focused effort to break down songs into hundreds of individual musical aspects (genes), everything from tempo and rhythm to the instrumentation and the amount of distortion used. They then catalog these 'genes', creating an accurate objective description (like a genome) of every musical aspect of the song. Collectively, the genomes build a 'musical taxonomy', an empirical explanation of the entire spectrum of music. So far, the project has cataloged over 700,000 songs of all sorts of varieties, with more songs being analyzed and added to the library daily.

After several years of cataloging, the Music Genome Project released Pandora Internet Radio as a way of bringing their research to the public. Pandora reinvents radio. Instead of having many people tune into one station and listen to whatever a single DJ decides, Pandora creates a station, or several stations for each individual user based on what the user want's to listen to. The user inputs a song or artist and Pandora searches the Music Genome Project for songs with matching musical genes. It then builds a station or personalized playlist of songs similar to the desired song or artist and streams that customized station over the internet for free.

I personally am a big Pandora fan, mainly because it allows me to easily discover and listen to new artists similar to the ones I love. It gives me many more options to listen to the kind of music that I feel like listening to at any given time. I can keep my interests broad and put in a single song or artist and listen to a wide variety of tunes. Alternatively, I can keep adding artists and songs to my station to isolate a particular aspect of music that I want to hear. It combines my two methods of listening to music. I usually either listen to an album or MP3 or tune into a traditional radio station but Pandora combines the best aspects of both. I simultaneously get to choose what I listen to, like I would listening to a recording that I own, and listen to new material, like I would hear on traditional radio.

I very much enjoyed speaking with Mr. Westergren and learning about how he helped to craft Pandora and the Music Genome Project into what they are today. For more info about Pandora and to try it out, please go to And, as Mr Westergren mentions, they are very interested in user feedback so please try it out and let them know what you think!!

You can find this and all our earlier Music Monday posts at
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