Exclusive: Inside Pandora's Music Genome Project, Part One

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There's no doubt I have the greatest job in the world. It's impossible -- and ungrateful -- to complain about anything I do. That said, I like some parts of the gig better than others.

Truth be told, I don't get as much out of, say, the Netflix (NFLX) story, as I used to. Bullish and as prophetic as anybody on the stock, it's cartoonish to continue policing the inanity of the underlying business. I don't want the stress and shame of being part of the cartoon. I'll leave that to Reed Hastings and his choir of press release writers in the media.

I feel better about myself, the material I deliver to readers and the contribution I make to larger conversations when I'm covering subject matter not shrouded in smoke and mirrors. So that's how I intend to proceed.

There's no better way to start (and continue) in 2014 than with Pandora (P). Once treated like a cartoon by an unwitting financial media, it's a company that now commands, relatively speaking, a considerable level of respect. I like to think my work, as well as the work of Wall Street analysts such as Richard Tullo at Albert Fried and a handful of fellow media members, played a small role in the creation of this new level of understanding. 

While I can't speak for others, I don't consider it my job to make you like Pandora or believe in the company and its personalization and discovery platforms as much as I do. Rather, I'm here to do the work. To get as deep behind the scenes as I can. To build the relationships. And, from there, relay information others fail to provide so you can draw your own conclusions.  

Here's a preview of what lies ahead in this exclusive series on Pandora, followed by some context and the first couple video installments on Page Two. 

Ever since Pandora went public in June 2011, I have established relationships with folks from every corner of the organization. From Pandora's co-founder Tim Westergren to several executives and dozens of key employees. While I have been largely bullish on the company and stock, I'm proud to observe that I have been not only objective on, but critical of Pandora at (or close to) the appropriate times.

See Pandora Must Do Better Now for an example of where I have pushed the company.

My work over the last 2.5 years has helped me obtain more access to the people and technology at Pandora than most, from the tech to the financial to the music media. In fact, in December 2013, I received the deepest behind the scenes look at Pandora's Music Genome Project (MGP) ever provided to somebody from the outside:

In that tease video, I'm combing through the way the MGP serves up songs, track by track, in my personal Pandora account with the company's VP of Playlists and Chief Scientist Eric Bieschke. You can learn more about Bieschke and see what turned out be a surface scratch look at the MGP in this article from October 2013.

In the present article (on the next page) and several others that will follow here at TheStreet, we take things several steps further.

I had about two hours of tape with Bieschke to comb through. Not much hits the cutting room floor. Just repetitive bits and pieces and segments I'm pretty confident would have been of little interest to most readers. Otherwise, over the next two weeks, you'll see the whole two hours, cut into multiple subject-specific videos.

In each article, expect YouTube videos like the two below, alongside descriptions of what Eric and I discuss in each. At the top of each article, I include a TheStreet-branded video that summarizes the longer YouTubes included in each article.

While I'm excited about every second that came from my time with Bieschke, I'm most proud of the two videos in this article and another video or two I will include in a forthcoming piece where Bieschke and I listen to a shuffle of my Pandora account with him telling me how and why the MGP decided to play each song. If you love music, radio, data, and/or tech, the entire exercise should fascinate you like it did me.

Follow me here at TheStreet, on Twitter and subscribe to my YouTube channel, so you'll know when the next article/video hits. I expect to publish everything over the course of the next two weeks.

So here we go ...

In this first installment, Bieschke discusses how Pandora personalizes the listening experience for every user. As he explains, the MGP employs a dual-faceted approach using multiple algorithms to determine which song to play next. (In the videos where Bieschke dissects my Pandora account, we dig deeper into how these individual algorithms collaborate).

In this second, longer installment, Bieschke details something I'm not sure investors -- even those who are long Pandora stock -- and general observers completely understand, even after all this time.

Number one -- music analysts analyze the musicological attributes of every song that enters Pandora's catalogue. Number two -- the MGP then determines what to play, when and for whom on the basis of this musicology. So it serves tunes on a track-by-track basis, not artist-by-artist or via some blanket genre-focused approach.

While intensely interesting (IMNSHO), these videos scratch the surface of what Bieschke and I covered. As the series continues this week and next at TheStreet, we delve deeper and deeper into specifics of how the MGP works, using real-time examples.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Pendola makes frequent appearances on national television networks such as CNN and CNBC as well as TheStreet TV. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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