Pandora is Great But…

The online music recommendation service Pandora is really cool in all ways but one. Due to what they report as a requirement of their music license the user is only allowed to skip a small number of songs per hour. This can be a problem since the whole point of Pandora is that you give it feedback as it plays songs for you and it learns what you like. If you’re like me and you rate a bunch of songs and quickly skip ahead to keep rating more of them (while avoiding the songs you don’t like), then Pandora’s present rule is a bit frustrating. (Note: a workaround was suggested by a reader below — but it’s still kind of a pain.) (Note 2: See the extensive and informative comments added by CTO of Pandora, below, as well).

After you hit your skip-limit you have no choice but to sit through the songs you don’t like because you can’t skip them. Eventually the count is reset and you can start skipping again. This is an odd limitation and I can’t quite understand why it makes sense for Pandora or the music companies — it would seem that the more music a user listens to and rates the greater the chance they will buy something, which is how both Pandora and the record companies make money. So they should be encouraging all forms of use — including skipping songs to find other songs you like. At least when users skip songs they still stay in the site — if they are forced to sit through songs they don’t like they are more likely to leave.

If it weren’t for this one frustrating limitation I would really use Pandora all the time to discover and buy new music. There is one more feature of Pandora that I would like — a way to pop the client into a small floating window, or even a desktop client so I don’t have to keep my browser sitting there all the time.

I’ve already used Pandora to discover and buy music — and I would use it even more if the above issues were solved in later versions. However, even with these limitations it is still one of the best and most enjoyable ways to discover new music that matches your interests. I think the potential of this app (and the Music Genome Project, that it’s based on) is huge, and I can’t wait for future versions.

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4 Responses to Pandora is Great But…

  1. There’s a workaround for not being able to skip songs – If you’re listening to station A and you can’t skip the current song, you can switch to station B, then immediately back to station A and it will go to the next song.

  2. tomconrad says:

    Hi, I’m the CTO @ Pandora and I thought I’d chime in with a little bit about the rational for the skip limits.
    The radio-style licensing terms offered to Internet Radio operators like Pandora are carefully constructed to ensure that radio services are discovery-oriented. The US copyright law grant us a radio license at a relatively low price point because radio listenership verifiably leads to increased music sales. Just to put a fine point on it, the expectation is that radio is a way to FIND music, not a way to AVOID BUYING tracks and albums. What’s great about this is that’s exactly why we created Pandora in the first place: to help connect an appreciative audience with artists they wouldn’t otherwise hear.
    Ok, so what does this have to do with a skip limit? As you point out, having to listen to a song you don’t want to hear is in many ways a barrier to discovery.
    Well, the perspective of the copyright holders is that allowing the user an indefinite number of skips would effectively turn radio into a song-on-demand service. Without a skip limit, you could tune into a station that plays the right sort of music and then skip enough times so you get to exactly the song you want to hear. For example, imagine you could skip through songs on your favorite FM radio station. How long would it take to get to the particular hit-of-the-month that you wanted to hear? Not long I bet. That’s what they don’t want. If you want to hear a particular song RIGHT NOW, the copyright holders expect you to buy the track or album. Any service with a track-on-demand element comes at a fantastically more expensive price point from a licensing standpoint. Terms that lead to an end-user price of about $10/month. Could Pandora offer a service without a skip limit? Sure, but it would be a subscription-only service and it would cost more than $100 a year. That’s a price point that would cut out all but the most passionate music aficionados. We wanted to create a service for everyone.
    Is it frustrating to have to listen to a song you don’t like on Pandora? Yes and frankly that’s why we spend day and night working on algorithms that will play exclusively music you love. We’ve got a way to go, but believe me we’re not done yet. In the meantime you can skip six times per hour when we get things wrong.
    Thanks for listening,
    CTO @ Pandora
    PS: If you want to use Pandora in a “discovery only” mode, try Backstage at Pandora ( Every artist, album, and song page includes recommendations. You can “skip around” for hours getting recommendations and hearing song samples (but not full tracks) without any limits.

  3. JG Smeaton says:

    I like Pandora but personally I prefer as a service because it bases its recommendations on all the music I’ve listened to since I signed up. It even allows you to remove certain tracks that you want it to ignore if your sister listened to some rubbish on your computer or something.
    I only just signed up here but I’ve been reading this blog for a while and I find it really useful and interesting (I’m on a Digital Art and Technology course in the UK). So thanks 🙂

  4. John says:

    You can’t listen to songs on request. You can’t skip songs indefinitely. These are the two fatal, and extremely annoying flaws in Pandora. The music industry is determined to cut its own throat by its obstinate insistence to control what people listen to. Will they ever learn?