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How Pandora's Music Genome Could Fail Against the Likes of Apple

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- I've had several recent conversations with TheStreet's Rocco Pendola regarding Pandora's (P - Get Report) Music Genome Project and what that means for the Internet radio company's listeners and investors.

Rocco sees the MGP as the ultimate ace in Pandora's hand, trumping anything Apple (AAPL - Get Report), Spotify or Rdio or any other service could possibly come up with to lure in audiences and keep listeners engaged. He believes that with MGP, Pandora is approaching listeners from a musical standpoint, putting the music first. Listeners will respond. That will keep revenue rising and preserve or increase market share.

While we both admire Pandora's efforts, I have a couple problems with that argument.

The word "genome" in the Music Genome Project is actually a 21st-century-trendy metaphor for something far more fallible and imprecise. The MGP is a very detailed music database, pure and simple. The company's founders identified over 400 possible parameters that could be used to describe any piece of music -- a vast extension of the traditional stylistic categories such as "Chicago Blues," "Cool Jazz," "Electronica," "Rhythm & Blues" and "Progressive Rock."

What sets the MGP apart from most other "big data" these days is that music experts are hired by Pandora to fill in those parameters, making the MGP potentially the most sophisticated and precisely catalogued library of music the world has ever known. In addition, as Rocco pointed out in his article Friday, human interpreters of user data are every minute responding to user input, tweaking and refining the song lists in the hopes of making the listener experience a perfect fit for every individual.

User data tempered by direct and deep human involvement is the future for this industry. Pandora has that right. The problems lie mostly in the shape of that involvement.

First, music isn't primarily an individual experience. Individual musical experiences aren't worthless -- the old practice of field hollers in the American South and or of yodeling in the Swiss Alps is still satisfying if there's no one else around to hear you. It is possible to sing or play music to cheer yourself up when you're all alone.
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