Monday, September 15, 2014

Curmudgeon struggles to master online music player

Over the last few days here at the Undisclosed Location I've been fiddling with Pandora, the online 'radio' station that allows users to pick what they want to hear. More or less. (I'll come back to that part.)

Now I realize that all the cool kids have played with Pandora and probably moved on to other, more hip and trendy, streaming services. Sometimes I feel like I'm becoming like the old ladies in the (very funny) Esurance commercials....

But, whatever. I haven't felt the need to try any of the online services because I have such a variety of music available to me on my iPod. Back in the days when I had disposable income, I disposed of quite a bit of it in record stores.

When vinyl was replaced by CDs, I dutifully bought CDs of many of the albums I'd cherished on LP. (Vinyl is hip again, by the way. One of my nieces posted a picture of her brand new turntable and her very first vinyl LP purchase on Facebook the other day.)

Of course, I couldn't replace everything. Some things weren't available on CD and, while I switched in mid-series from vinyl to CD on one Time-Life collection, that left a lot of stuff available to me only on vinyl. And as time went on I no longer had disposable income... so my collection became pretty static.

Even with 5,000 non-Christmas songs, repeats start to grate after awhile.

So while I struggled to catch up with my paperwork here (I've just finished another big project which is why posting has been so sporadic) I thought I'd try and experiment with this new-fangled Pandora thing.

My review is mixed. While the music library available to Pandora is extensive, it doesn't contain everything, and it offers "suggestions," not searches. I couldn't search for One Hit Wonders of the 60s, for example. I was craving that shock of recognition -- to hear something I hadn't heard since 1974 on WLS or WCFL -- and, after a week of fiddling, I never really found it.

There's also a lot of dreck on Pandora. Live cuts and alternate takes are generally not as good, and certainly not as familiar, as the definitive recorded performances.

I'm not sophisticated enough to speak about the jazz channels. I know what I like and that's enough for me. So I won't offer criticisms of my samplings of 'channels' in that area.

But I do presume to know a little about popular music in the 60s and 70s. I looked at the Pandora 70s channel... and it was snow white. Growing up in Chicago, our radio stations always played Motown records and Philly soul sounds and our own Chi-Lites; Earth, Wind and Fire; and Curtis Mayfield right along with the Stones, Eagles, or Creedence Clearwater. Listening to the mix as suggested would be like listening to a stereo with one speaker blown: Painfully incomplete.

I had decided to try Pandora after listening to it in the chair at the periodontist's office. Somebody there had set up a Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young channel and while it included various permutations of those four musicians, individually and in various combinations, it also included songs by artists that were arguably similar. I thought that was interesting.

So I tried my own hand at this later in the week. I set up a Steely Dan channel, but the station veered off course with Hall and Oates and Seals and Crofts and whatever. I tried to rescue it by pressing the 'add variety' button -- I added Traffic to the mix because I wanted to stress the jazzy side of Steely Dan. After several cuts from Cream and Blind Faith (Steve Winwood being connected to Eric Clapton, get it?), I started getting Beatles records.

I begin to think that the only way I'll get Steely Dan records is to ask for Beatles cuts.

But I'm probably just doing it wrong. I don't understand the algorithm. And I get a little bit closer to becoming the old lady smacking hard candy with a hammer on her kitchen table, thinking she's playing "Candy Crush"....

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