Why Blip.fm is superior to Pandora

Minds think alike but computers think according to code. Pandora uses a database approach to find songs it thinks you’ll like but when you like something about a song or musician it can be really tricky to quantify it into data fields or tags. Just take the term “oldies,”; clearly it’s relative. To some, oldies may only mean early 50s rock and roll but to your niece it can mean Will Smith’s early pre-acting career rap. Also Pandora seems to assume you want to hear something you’ve heard before. This is the same problem with radio stations in general. They used to have DJs that would play music that they liked whereas now it’s purely based on popularity. Of course I’m talking about commercial radio. A radio station’s main concern is that the listener does not the channel and it becomes a barrage of safe bets. I remember Tolkien describing Hobbits as wanting to hear stories where they already knew the end and that seems to be the corporate media approach. It goes something like this:

Media Executive: Don’t play something nobody has heard yet, they’ll change the station!

Minion: But what about this new song?

Media Executive: Well, let’s play it 30 times tomorrow so by the end of the day everyone will have heard it and it will be something everyone has heard before.

Media Conglomerate CEO: I like the way you think.  (end scene)

I’m reminded of a job where I sat far too close to a woman who loved to listen to the “oldies” station. Well it was kinda nice for the first few hours but by the end of the day I would swear that station had a rotation of no more than 30 songs total and 12 of them were “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. Now I like to make forays into music history and on one such excursion I found I really liked an early Rock and Roll star named Clyde McPhatter. I found him from a stray mention while doing a sociolinguistic paper on Jazz speech. So my question is: Why have I never heard of Clyde McPhatter? Even after listening to the oldies station of a co-worker for three months straight no Clyde, no Ruth Brown, and no Dominoes. Same is true for 80s stations now. You’ll get Stray Cats if you’re lucky but no Polecats or Roman Holiday. You’ll get Howard Jones but no Thomas Dolby (other than that one song). So I figured with Pandora if I like Peter Gabriel then I make a Pandora station and they will find other people that I might like and have never heard of. But alas I end up going through 8 songs without something I’ve never heard of. Also, when there’s an artist like Peter with a vast body of work, the quality you like about him can’t be easily tagged. I put in Peter and Pandora says “oh, you like him so you must like 80s music by white English speaking foreigners so you will like U2, Sting and Kate Bush.” But maybe what I like about Peter is his world music influences. Well Pandora did not play a single song that wasn’t in English on my Peter Gabriel station. Now with Blip.fm the old school Radio DJs are back. If I blip a Peter song I see a list of other people that blipped him too. I can click on any one of them and see all the songs they have blipped and I can discern weather they just like 80s pop in general or if they appreciate that more elusive evocative quality of his greater body of work. Also when I blip the song some people can give me props (basically “I like that” points) and I can go look into who they are. In fact I blipped a lesser known Thomas Dolby tune and someone re-blipped it and offered up a lesser known Thompson Twins song. Somebody got the fact that I’m going to the past for things I remember as well as things I missed. Now I can pick favorite DJs and have my own Twitter like song feed with people whose judgment I trust making the selections mixed in with my selections. Aaaah. So now when I look for more obscure oldies I can find someone who knows more than I do and actually hear “new” oldies. So much musical history is glossed over by the average oldie station and it becomes a fun but often frustration fishing expedition to find out what good stuff was out there. The internet once again puts the power of media back into the people’s hands. Whoohoo! Once again we’re allowed to enjoy both Hip Hop and Heavy Metal and those crazy kids who mix it up; We aren’t forced to pick one or the other. Once again we can like a Nelly Furtado song from her “flop” album that are musically superior to her “hits.” If we like AC/DC nobody will tell us we can also listen to Joe Williams (or Frank Sinatra if Joe is too obscure). Happy Blipping!

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Why Creativity is a Porcupine on my Back

This last year has just been an increasing flood of creativity.   It has been more difficult to focus at work as a I drown in a flood of ideas that I can’t work on until I get home.  Then I try to cram in as much as I can with the rest of the day while balancing the rest of my life.  I want to do art/drawing, music, audio bits for some of my favorite podcasts, and writes scripts to name a few.  Its a good thing I don’t have a video camera because that would be one more thing I would not be doing.   The cool thing is that sharing creativity has become so much easier now.  If I were to record a song I could post it the same day on Facebook or anywhere I can post a link.  Well, better get back to it.