Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Station Building 101: Twiddling Your Thumbs

Every time a song comes up on a station, the diligent curator has four choices: thumbs-up, thumbs-down, move it or leave it be. Because I like a wide variety of music, my ideal is to have many tightly focused stations, and use Quickmix to bounce between them. Thus, I have a different goal my mind for each station, and I attempt to use the thumb-decision to improve the focus toward that goal over time.

Frequently, the goal for my station is a genre. The stations that I am currently actively curating cover the following genres: Progressive Rock, New Age, Folk, Bubble Gum, Techno, Ska, Celtic, Early Electronica, World-Music tinged Electronica, Rockabilly and A Cappella. For these stations I use thumbs-down to weed out tracks which I do not consider to be in the genre, thumbs-up to tracks which are exemplars of the genre, and I leave alone those songs that are near a border of the genre, but I would not mind hearing again.

Other stations have a much more diverse range of goals. The goal for The Best Medicine is songs that make me laugh. The goal for Pagan Pride is music that addresses themes of concern to the Neo-Pagan movement or by explicitly Neo-Pagan bands. Pretty Pop Princesses is supposed to generate pop songs by female lead vocalists (I give thumbs down to any male lead vocals). Grrrl Power covers edgier, punkier girl groups, but if a kicking guy group plays, I leave it be. My Ren Faire station focuses on a small sub-genre of folk-rock influenced by early music.

The further these goals are from the information which is captured by genomes, the more frequently the station will stray from the desired goal of the station. For instance, I include as seeds for The Best Medicine all of the available tracks by The Shaggs because their music always makes me laugh. But none of the tracks that the genome identifies as close to those of The Shaggs is remotely bad enough to be funny the way those of The Shaggs are. Thus, I know that including the music of The Shaggs dilutes the focus of the station as a whole; nevertheless, it is important to me that their music crop up occassionally even though I must thumb-down virtual all of the other tracks in sets generated by them.

Frequently, as I explore the music coming from a particular station, secondary goals will arise. For instance, I try to keep Punk out of my Ska station. I don't dislike Punk, but I want my Ska station to play Ska as frequently as possible and there's a lot of Ska-Punk available on Pandora. Some Ska curators want to include that material, but I chose not to. The key to me, therefore, in that case is that I generally will not give thumbs-up to any tracks on that station which do not include

A tertiary and more subtle goal, in general, is to try to keep similar stations distinct from one another. My Loreena McKinnet station, my Celtic station, my Ren Faire station, my New Age station, and my Pagan Pride station are all somewhat close to one another. Thus, I also consider whether a given track would be more appropriate on another station and occasionally will move tracks as necessary.

An important part of keeping similar stations distinct is to follow the following simple rule: do not give thumbs-up to a track which is the seed of another station. In fact, if I create a new station, I will go to the station-page of adjacent stations, expand the thumbs-up list, and remove all the thumbs-up for tracks which are covered by the seeds of the new station. If I like a track, I generally do not mind hearing it coming from several stations, but I want that track drawing in new music on only one station.

Following this idea to its logical conclusion, I probably should attempt to insure that particular tracks are thumbed-up on at most one station. I have not done so, but it's the kind of project that I could see myself doing periodically.

Clearly, I do not listen to Pandora while actively attending to these standards all the time. But when I do click on the player page, these are the considerations which cross my mind as I consider the decision to thumb or not to thumb.

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