Pandora, a tantalising box of fun

LISTEN IN: If you haven't heard of Pandora, you're missing something musically.
LISTEN IN: If you haven't heard of Pandora, you're missing something musically.

For the uninitiated, this is your welcome to Pandora. Some people will already know about Pandora: There is a special name for those people; they are called "young people".

These "young people" are aged from about 11 years up to the point in time they must stop fooling around on computers or otherwise loafing about and begin working and paying for things, including things such as unlimited broadband.

Pandora is an application you can install on your phone, tablet or computer and it allows music to be played.

However, it is not an ordinary digital music player but rather, a very clever service whereby you choose a favourite musician, for example, Katy Perry, install that musician as a setting or 'station' and then listen to that station, which will play not only music by your set musician but - and this is the important bit - other musicians or bands of the same or similar genre.

(Please note Katy Perry was an example chosen at random and is in no way suggestive of this columnist's music tastes, except for one track).

Anyway, the app works for any musician or group so it does not matter whether your flavour is Katy Perry, Perry Como, Luke Perry, William Shatner (the world's worst version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds), Metallica, the Dandy Warhols, DJ Squashy Nice, Wu Tang Clan, Tom Jones, Grace Jones, Brian Jones, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Jones Jones (I made the last one up) or in fact anyone who has sung or played something and dedicated electricity towards reproducing it.

Pandora's ability to find similar music is what makes it so good because in combining massive amounts of information about music and musicians, Pandora caters to your specific and easily directed tastes.

That means you can follow a trail to music you will not have heard, or heard of, but that you will like, based on what you told Pandora you already like. Pandora is a music revolution and will, as I was told by a wise tattooist, change your life.

The app is free but as the economists' adage about free lunches suggests, nothing is usually the result of an expenditure of nothing. Pandora uses data and that is where the cost is. Each track you hear uses a small amount of data - about as much as you would use to download and copy the song; however, you just listen, not copy or keep. This is wonderful and makes the world smile because musicians still get paid, although less than before: Just because they found a way to reproduce their music and make squillions from playing it once doesn't mean that should go on forever, or that they can all have champagne jacquzzis and new Lear Jets - second hand ones work just fine.

Pandora pays for the music and the downside is that it runs advertisements, which are thankfully sparse but annoying none the less. After a month of ads the election to pay a modest monthly fee for ad-free listening was irresistible, as was the decision for this columnist to avoid Powerade.

For many, the idea that data is paid for but used only for listening, not copying and keeping, is still foreign. These special people are known as "homoerectusasaurus" and represent the early stages of devolution to health and safety consultants, household pets, chickens and eventually, amoeba. Of course that process takes a long time - about 13.8 billion years - and fortunately is able to be reversed with massive doses of special medicine, known as "education". (Feel free to make air quotes if that helps).

The point is this - data is a utility, like water, electricity, coal and so on: Data is the new black, which explains why someone thought, well before the rest of us, that it would be a good idea if we got on with the business of ultra- fast-broadband.

It also explains why the telecommunication companies are falling over themselves to offer more and more data for the same or less cost.

In Pandora's case, the average household with a data plan and a decent router gets you a personalised aural palette via smarty-pants-phone for very little cost. Of course "average household" also requires definition.

If the household includes teenagers then anything less than unlimited data is a waste of time because as many people have found out, data goes both ways and at the same time that you are tapping into the big data flow in the sky for online gaming or downloads such as the ones the USA claims Kim Dotcom is allegedly destroying civilisation with, about a trillion people are uploading similar things from you with the net result that an 80 gigabyte plan lasts a little over three days.

After that you are on dial-up and it is faster to go to Google Island in person and ask at the counter than to load the search page. True story - almost.

For most of us, the advent of data use in this form is a quantum shift and will take some getting used to; but it is the future. Pandora exemplifies a new direction we will all move in sooner or later. In the meantime, you might as well enjoy what you listen to: There is also a saying about the shortness of life and bad music.

The Timaru Herald