I normally don’t write about music because frankly there many, many more people who know more about music than I do. But this post is sort of new media/visual culture-adjacent.
I was listening to Arvo Part’s “Fratres for violin and piano” (1980 recording with Martin Roscoe and Tasmin Little) on iTunes, and I realized how well Pandora, where I originally discovered the song, works. Over a year ago, I created a Philip Glass station on the site and added composers as diverse as Steve Reich, Erik Satie, and Jonny Greenwood. I like to listen to classical music when I’m writing. So far I’ve downloaded — that’s right, PAID for — over a dozen songs on iTunes that I discovered on Pandora. It has my tastes so well computed, I’ve found interesting connections between the songs I like: Part’s “Fratres” was featured on There Will Be Blood‘s soundtrack, the score of which was composed by Jonny Greenwood, who was criminally disqualified from Oscar contention.
I’ve also been getting a crash course in 20th century classical music and film scores. From my “Philip Glass” station, I have learned about Steve Reich, John Adams, Nico Muhly, Nina Rota, Ennio Morricone, Erik Satie, Evan Ziporyn, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Osvaldo Golijov, among numerous others. Pandora gave me a (much-needed) education!
Pandora can point music novices like me to interesting remixes and recordings of niche music, music so specialized it might be too much of a hassle for the average user to try to download them on P2P networks like Limewire and Bittorrent, so we buy it on iTunes. Pandora links right to Amazon and iTunes, making my purchase a no-brainer. This is what makes industry efforts to kill Pandora so infuriating.
Its advertising, if contextual, works too. More record labels specializing in classical music should be advertising on Pandora. Carnegie Hall advertised its website for commissioned music, where visitors can listen to and occasionally download songs from contemporary composers for free. I clicked on that ad. I imagine a lot of users — especially those in small music niches — would click on contextual ads pertaining to their interests. Other ads for big companies like Sprint and Heinecken aren’t as effective (for clicking) but are eye-catching, much more engaging and visually stimulating than anything on television, movie screens or in newspapers and magazines.
There has been a lot of talk about how we live in an era of niches — most notably by Annenberg Professor Joseph Turow and Wired‘s Chris Anderson — so much so it’s become out-of-fashion to talk about it. It seems very early-2000’s to speak of niche markets and the web opening possibilities for consumers. As a niche blogger, I know this isn’t always true. But it’s nice to point out those rare moments when everything does work out just like the theories say.
Three cheers for Pandora, the dabbler’s music website.