Friday, September 2, 2011


I’ve been growing a reputation for reviewing the weirdest things. So I’ve reviewed dictionaries, sue me. Why not review Pandora? I suppose part of it has to do with what must be undiagnosed ADD, ADHD, PTSD, and whatever other psychobabble alphabet soup will stick. My contention is that most of these disorders are code for “man” in a world obsessed with femininity; one in which real men decidedly don’t fit.

But there are other reasons for my penchant eclectique. I think a lot of it has to do with me spending quite a bit of my free time in my student days classically training to be a musician. I look at all creative art through this lens. Movies, painting, writing, the lot. And I’m proving who I am right now with this rabbit trail.

So I guess I’d better get down to it. I recently gave into Pandora. It’s an online music streaming service, for those of you in Twentynine Palms. I was all jazzed about setting up my Pandora account so that I could get my ears on some new music. I like to write while listening to movie soundtracks, concertos, opera, symphonies, old jazz standards, and on and on. I was stoked to get on with one of my custom-built “stations,” Needtobreathe Radio, built simply by typing in one of my favorite bands’ names to the search bar and pressing play. Not only does it play Needtobreathe, but in my opinion, a lot of the stuff Air 1 ought to be playing.

And that brings up the nasty reality of the music industry these days. Radio play is that irritatingly repetitive because of the fact that record industry heavy hitters pay for play. It’s not democratic or even fair. It’s not about popular demand for music, or even an overzealous radio program manager. It’s about money. Which sucks, because if a label has enough cash it can pelt us through the radio waves with the same song five times a day for eternity. I don't know if you mind it, but it drives me right up a wall.

Enter Pandora, where you get to choose. Ha! I guess I should explain. You can give each song a thumbs up or a thumbs down. You can also skip songs. If you give a song the thumbs down, Pandora grovels before you:

Okay, we’ll never play that track again.

That’s nice. Yes, I am the master of all I survey.

If you skip a song, sometimes you have to sit through ads. There are less intrusive ads on the iPhone app, which is why I usually listen to Pandora on my iPhone. But you’ll never guess what happens if you skip too many tracks. Oh, it’s lovely. It made my day not too long ago. It was full of awesomeness.

I gotta set this up. When bands and songs that are whoring themselves out on the radio also pop up on my Pandora playlist, I give ‘em the thumbs down. Hello, that’s why I’m not listening to the radio: to avoid the same songs that have been on the program manager’s playlist for a decade or more. Case in point: Jars of Clay’s Flood, which makes me borderline homicidal whenever I hear it now. It’s not the song. It’s that it came out about sixteen years ago and has been played every day since on Christian radio stations. Home Depot plays it on their Muzak system. Yes, you can hear it while walking in the orange-festooned Aisle of Man. It’s freaking everywhere. It’s like Barack Obama, really. There’s no escape.

So we’ve established that I have been customizing my Needtobreathe Radio playlist on Pandora by skipping or giving the thumbs down to tracks that I abhor. Well, just the other day The Fray popped up on my channel. I always give them the thumbs down because the lead singer sounds hopelessly bored with himself and everyone else, and I just don’t need that; I have a hard enough time getting through my day without listening to some effeminate fool on suicide watch endlessly bitching about how he could have known “how to save a life,” and quite off key as well. All this to say that when he popped up I gave him the thumbs down. Nothing happened. I fingered the button a little more assertively. Nothing. The Fray was in my head, torturing me, and I feared I’d be irretrievably depressed if something was not done quickly. More button clicking and still nothing. I closed out of the app. Ah, silence. Then, foolishly thinking I had won, I re-launched it, and there he flipping was again, agggh; so I pressed the thumbs down button again. Pandora informed me curtly that:

Our music license only allows you to skip a limited number of tracks.

“WHAT?!” I bellowed. The air became blue. Well, purple. Dark words. Okay, not really, but there was darkness in my mind. If Pandora was at that precise moment physically in the room there would have been murders. End of story.

But wait, there’s more! I’ve always wanted to write that; I don’t have a rational reason for it. But there is more. I just want to pose a question to the music industry: Really? You just don’t get it, do you. You’ll suffer another Napster soon (I hope and pray) if you don’t stop FORCING your customers to listen to certain bits of art that you really want exposure for because they make you more money. Imagine if an indie author rolled like this?! I mean, I can set price points and be a greedy and manipulative capitalist, sure, but holy cow; I would never force anyone to consume art so that I can make more money. Anyway, that’s all. Disillusionment is such a violent thing. Actually, if anyone ought to have learned by now, it’s the fans of the music. I guess we want to hear our faves badly enough to sit through all the piss poor opening acts and Captains Comeback and Pay-for-Play Polly Populars the music industry can throw at us. It’s too bad something as potentially cool as Pandora is tainted by the money machine. Thank God publishing is the world's only perfect industry.