Thursday, October 18, 2007

Station Building 101: Moving Ups To Seeds

Nearly a year ago I heard Tim Westergren speak in Berkeley. He mentioned that the list of thumbed-up songs were averaged to form a single seed which could then generate sets. I'm not sure I believed him, and I did not include that fact in my write up of the event. However, a recent update to the Pandora FAQ confirms that this is what the player is doing.

Given that information the question becomes whether we improve the focus of a station by making the best thumbed up songs into song seeds for a station. The idea is that by having many more similar seeds generating song sets, the station should become more consistent.

I examined my list of stations and picked a candidate for improvement. I Sing The Body Electric has always had a bit of an identity crisis. I wanted a station that played world-influenced electronica, but the only two bands I really liked (and of which I was aware) that were doing so were Engma and Afrocelt Soundsystem. And so to have enough bands to get the station going I added Polyphonic Spree and Jon and Vangelis both of which were looking for a home in my stations but neither of which met the ideal I had in mind for the station. It was time for major surgery.

I sorted the list of thumbed-up songs by artist, pressed the "show all" button, and printed out the list. I listened to the sample of each song in the list except for those of the four artist seeds and decided for each song whether to make it a seed, leave it alone or remove it from the list. Starting with the 183 tracks I had thumbed-up to date I made 45 songs into seeds and removed 95 of the tracks since they were more associated with the artists I was eliminating.

As I listen to the resulting station it seems that this a useful procedure; however, the station will need to go through a period of listening in which many new songs being drawn in by the influx of seeds will need to be thumbed down. And, of course, any new songs which are particularly appropriate will need to made into seeds as well as being thumbed up on an on-going basis. It is unclear at this point whether this process of constantly bringing in new seeds will result in a stable, consistent station, but I'm cautiously optimistic at this point.

A final point to consider is whether, in the long run, a station should use any artist seeds at all. My feeling is that as long as it is likely that new tracks by the artist will be made available to play on Pandora, then having artist seeds in a station is good because it will draw those tracks in as they become available. If an artist is no longer producing albums and Pandora has pretty much covered all the artist's albums then you might wish to include only the appropriate tracks by that artist in your stations.

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