The Music Fix: Pandora

Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday!  Today is all about music. I’m going to share a way to get a FREE stream of music tailored to your personal tastes.

Though this post was inspired by writers, this is information anybody can use.

Background Music

Every once in a while, I see a call for help from a writer who wants to know what other writers listen to while they write.

Some people make interesting suggestions, introducing me to performers I’ve never heard of before.

But another group—which includes me—says the words in songs distract them. In that group, there are two camps.

One camp can only write in complete silence.

The second group splits into two factions:

    • One listens to music sung in a language in which they are not fluent.
    • The other listens to instrumentals.

I’m a member of the camp who listens to instrumentals while they write. I started this practice after reading an interview with Charlaine Harris.  Queen Charlaine said she listens to movie soundtracks while she writes.  Not the kind with popular songs, but the ones I’d call a movie “theme.”

[And when I call Charlaine the queen, I  mean that in the kindest way possible.  She inspired me to write what I write and to have the courage to keep going.]

Enter Pandora

My first reaction to Queen Charlaine’s movie soundtracks was that I didn’t want to spend a bunch of money on instrumental movie soundtracks, but then I discovered Pandora. And that’s what I want to tell you about today.

Click here to check out Pandora.  Link will open in a new window.

I’m going to tell y’all how to use Pandora to create a music stream tailored to your tastes. Before I start, please note that if you’re looking for a music stream of your favorite songs, your best bet is an iTunes account, a credit card, and your iPod.

(Or maybe Spotify, but that’s a post for another day)

How-To

Create a Pandora account — The easiest way to do this is within your web browser. It doesn’t cost any money, and you don’t have to give them a credit card. Go on and do it. I’ll wait.

Create a music channel — I wanted an instrumental channel that didn’t necessarily play classical music.  I decided on a channel of slow, meandering jazz for when I’m thinking hard.   One of my favorite thinking songs is “Blue in Green” by Miles Davis.  So that’s what I typed into the new station blank.

Refine Your Station

Not all jazz songs sound like “Blue in Green.”  I needed to figure out what I liked about that song.  Two things: No lyrics and slow tempo.

The worst part about Pandora: there’s no box to check for all instrumentals.

The best part of Pandora: it’s teachable.

There are two ways to teach Pandora what you want to hear.

The Like/Dislike button

This works either on your web browser or your device.  It’s pretty self explanatory.  When a song comes on that you like, click the thumbs up.  When you dislike a song, click thumbs down.

It’s hard to tell you where to find the like/dislike button because it’s in different places on different applications.  If using your web browser, mouse over the album cover to get the thumbs.  On the iPhone application, it’s in bar at the bottom of the screen.  On Roku, it’s to the right of the album cover.

I mentioned that there is no “all instrumentals” box.  I once read this is because of the type of licensing Pandora holds.  If you want an all instrumental station (like I did) you have to dislike all songs with vocals, even if you actually like the song.  When you dislike a song, Pandora will skip to something else.

[Warning: You only 6 skips per hour per station.  You can still dislike, and Pandora will record that you disliked the song.]

Seeds

This option works best from your web browser.  You have to have a little musical knowledge use it.  It’s the best way to refine a Pandora station, though.

Look for the name of the station you want to tweak underneath the word “shuffle.”

Since we’re talking about my Cool Jazz channel, that’s the one we’ll look underneath.  Look for the words “add variety.”  Can’t see them because they’re too little?  Here’s a blow up:

Now see where it says add variety?  Click that and get a popup window.

I wanted my Cool Jazz station to be based on “Blue in Green” by Miles Davis.  But I  added “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” — both the Jeff Beck and the Charles Mingus versions for variety.  I also added “Lucy and Lionel” by Vince Guaraldi, “Stardust” by Dave Bruebeck, and “Misty” by Errol Garner.

The more information you can give Pandora, the better listening experience it can give you.  My caveat is to pick a certain style of music.  You can’t be all over the place and expect to get a steady stream of acceptable music.

I have a bluegrass station, a rock instrumentals station, a film scores station–a station for every mood.

Experiment

Use this method to create a personalized Pandora station of just about any style of music that tickles your fancy.  Some ideas work.  Some don’t.

I tried–and failed–at creating an all instrumental Ry Cooder station.  The instrumental part was the problem.  Pandora kept wanting to give me songs with vocals.

I was pretty successful at creating a music station based on the rock instrumental “Hip Hug Her” by Booker T. and the MGs.  I added variety with “Cissy Strut” by the Meters, “Rumble” by Link Wray, and “Green Onions” also by Booker T. and the MGs.

Let’s say you loved the Road to Perdition Soundtrack–which is beautiful. Type that into the search thingie on the left and get started refining your station.

Remember, every song Pandora chooses won’t be a favorite. And you’ll have to like some songs you don’t love to keep Pandora playing X style of music.  But if you take the time to teach Pandora, it can be a great way to listen to hours and hours of FREE music.