Pandora, Last FM and Jango have emerged as the front-runners of user-controlled radio, and have taken it to a new level — radio based solely on what individual users want to hear next. This is starkly different from regular Internet radio stations, whose playlists are still dictated by DJs.
User-controlled radio starts with the listener typing in the name of his or her favorite artist. The station starts by playing a defining track from that artist, then plays artists similar to the original. Eventually, the application rotates back to the first artist, but in the shuffle the user is exposed to new music from all sorts of bands in the vein of the initial performer. Millions of artists are using this tool to reach a worldwide audience.
Pandora is free Internet radio revolving around the Music Genome Project. At the turn of the century, a group of musicians and musician-loving technologists came together to create the biggest analysis of music ever. The effort was called the Music Genome Project, and it linked every characteristic of musical theory, from melody and harmony to rhythm, instrumentation and arrangement to lyrical content.
Pandora plays each song based on its “genes” or attributes. When users log onto Pandora and enter their favorite artist, Pandora uses the Music Genome Project to sort through its categorical analysis and play music according to the user’s taste.
Pandora has more than a million daily listeners and continues to grow. Users can change the course of the music by selecting thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and favorite stations can be saved for later listening.
Pandora takes advantage of the wireless revolution by offering a Pandora application for most new cell phones, including the iPhone and iPod touch. Pandora’s only disadvantage is that it isn’t international — yet.
Last.fm not only learns what listeners love individually, but connects users based on similar tastes in music. The experience improves with each listen because the user’s music database expands, making it easier for the program to recommend similar artists and users.
The most-liked music moves up the Last.fm charts, and the higher it is, the more chance the artist has at reaching a wide audience. Listeners can “love” a track by clicking a heart and ban it by clicking a classic circle-with-slash symbol. Users can compare their musical compatibility, and the more they listen to Last.fm, the more information the site has to compare them to other users.
Last.fm makes it extremely easy for unsigned artists to upload and create their own radio stations based solely on their music. For a few dollars, artists can play their music between songs by more popular bands.
In contrast to Pandora, Last.fm is available worldwide. Like its competitor, Last.fm has brought its software to wireless devices with a downloadable application on most major cell phones.
Jango is the newest Internet radio site that bases playlists on each listener’s fancy. Formed in 2007, Jango already has 30 million listeners and follows the outline of Last FM closely, allowing unsigned artists exposure to myriad listeners right next to some of today’s best artists.
Jango lets users decide if the song “whiffs” or “rocks” by clicking one of three smiley faces. A side panel suggests artists similar to the performer whose music is playing.
Underneath each track listing is an option to buy the music, and lyrics are available by clicking a link directly under the track listing.