How Pandora Creates Stations and How to Customize Them

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The Pandora music service is one of many online streaming services that can add to your music listening enjoyment and convenience.

Pandora provides users with the ability to create their own personal radio stations populated by their favorite artists and songs.

How Pandora Chooses Music

Pandora has labeled over 800,000 songs for its "music genome" - that is, breaking down the musical qualities that Pandora considers its DNA. Pandora goes to great pains to define the characteristics of each song in its genome, which is done by real people, not machines.

Examples of how specific songs may be characterized include: 

  • Mellow rock instrumentation, folk influences, disco influences, a subtle use of vocal harmony
  • Acoustic rock instrumentation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, acoustic rhythm piano, extensive vamping 
  • Electronica influences, rhythm-and-blues influences, a subtle use of vocal harmony, synthetic sonority 
  • Mellow rock instrumentation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, intricate melodic phrasing, minor key tonality 
  • Female lead vocals, minor key tonality, catchy hooks, mixed acoustic and electric instrumentation

Each of these groupings of qualities — their music genome — relates to a different station. While a song is playing, you can find out its DNA by clicking on the menu and choosing "Why did you play this song?" or "Why this song?"  

In addition to the "Why This Song" feature, you also have access to a pretty thorough biography of the artist(s) that are performing the song, which provides insight into their life and career(s), as well as discussing other related significant recordings they have made.

Tools for Customizing Your Stations

Pandora provides tools to help you build stations to your liking. Depending upon your level of commitment to perfecting your station, there are a number of ways to optimize and populate.  

Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down is the most basic tool for guiding Pandora in the direction of the kind of music you want to hear on a station. The text on this feature should read "play more — or less — of this song" instead of "I like — or don't like — this song." 

Use the Thumbs Up button while a song is playing to tell Pandora that you want to hear more songs on this station that are similar to the current song. Conversely, use Thumbs Down to tell Pandora that the current song doesn't fit your idea of what you want in this station.

It's important to note that when you Thumbs Down a song, it only means that you don't want to hear that song on the current station. It doesn't mean that you don't want to hear the song on another station.

The Add Variety feature is only available on the Pandora web browser player, but using it will shape the station when you listen to it on your network media player or another device.  

Click on the station and Add Variety appears below the station name. Click on it. Here you can name a song or artist — or choose from a list of Pandora's suggestions — that you want to add to the station. Pandora now searches for the additional qualities of the new artist or song. The result should be a wider variety of music.

The Add Variety tool is a good way to spice up a station that is becoming boring. If the resulting station isn't right, you can edit the station.

Try editing the station. Because of Pandora's licensing agreements, you cannot create a playlist of specific songs and titles to create a station. Instead, you must get creative in the way you shape the station. If your station was defined by Pandora, the station page will give you a snapshot of the seed songs and artists used to create the station.

A station can be edited either on the computer or on the iPhone app. 

Click on options, then click on edit station details. This will bring up your station's page. There will be a list of the "seed songs and artists" along with all of the songs you on which you clicked Thumbs Up. Here you can easily add songs and/or artists to help shape the mood of the station.  

On this page, you can also delete songs from the Thumbs Up list if you feel it is affecting the choice of music.

Organize Your Pandora Stations

As your list of Pandora stations gets longer, there may be a few favorites that you listen to often and want at the top of the list. Pandora provides you with the ability to sort songs by "date added" or "alphabetically." This doesn't help if your favorite station is "ZZ Top" and it was the first station you created. 

To re-order your stations, you can simply rename them using a number at the beginning — "01 ZZ Top." Continue to rename the stations with consecutive numbers so they come up in your desired order.