Cultivating Music Fandom: MySpace vs. Pandora vs.

While MySpace gets all the attention and Pandora builds ever-greater popular buzz,, based in London, has been doing some innovative things connecting music fans with one another. It’s loaded with examples of what to do and what not to do, so I plan to write about it here now and then. I thought I’d start of with a quick comparison between and its more widely known counterparts.

MySpace is much broader than a music space, but it’s nonetheless an important space for musicians and music fans: bands put their music up for those who visit their profile, people describe themselves in terms of music by listing bands with which they like to be identified, and bands and fans can friend one another. I’ve heard complaints from people in bands about the time required to approve all the friend requests, since indie bands need all the friends they can get to have a credible presence. Famous bands have queues large enough to require professional handling. But people are clearly getting turned on to new music through that site all the time, and for any artist seeking new fans, having a presence there is simply required. For a fan, I don’t think that’s as true. Personally, I don’t care for MySpace. It is (famously) ugly, and I’m bothered by the visibility of its advertising (AdBlock has fixed that). I went there to hear a song by an obscure Swedish pop band called Peter, Bjorn and John and there was a banner ad for Paris Hilton. I thought “I will not go to a site that juxtaposes Peter Bjorn and John with Paris Hilton” [on that note, google just bought the right to manage the searching and advertising on MySpace for $900 million. Yes, that's $900,000,000.]. I do visit MySpace on rare occasion when friends recommend particular songs, but I don’t have a profile and haven’t felt particularly left out on account of it. And I hear that all the cool 20-something indie kids are suddenly done with MySpace.

Pandora has fine-tuned abilities to generate personalized radio streams of music you’re likely to like based on bands you say you already like. The selections are based on their own analysis of the music itself – they’ve developed a system for breaking down the sound of a song into components and finding others that share many of those qualities (e.g. lengthy guitar solos, emphasis on harmonies, fast tempo). Search blogs and you’ll find plenty of arguments over how well it really does, but a lot of people really like it. What Pandora doesn’t do at all is connect people who listen to similar artists to one another – it’s a personal site, but not a social one. I’ve tried Pandora a few times and haven’t been impressed. I realize that to truly reap its benefits you need to spend time with it, letting it know which songs you did and didn’t like so it can better learn your tastes. I found that although I could hear similarites amongst the songs it chose for me, they were still different in ways that made all the difference to me. takes a very different approach. When you play music on your computer, information about what you’re listening to is uploaded to your (public) profile on the site. generates personal charts of your listening habits and, out of its enormous and ever-growing repository of over a million users’ actual listening habits, it recommends “neighbors” (an interesting metaphor) who have similar taste and makes music recommendations. Like Pandora, it incorporates personalized radio streaming, but it has many more ways to personalize it. also offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of communicative possibilities for fans and for labels and artists seeking to reach fans – friending, shoutboxes, personal messaging, journaling, discussion forums, artist wikis, user groups. Like a true fan, I have a love/hate relationship with To have a social networking site that is based on actual music listening habits is just great. It enables me to find people I’d never otherwise find who are interesting to have brief chats with and who are able to make some really great recommendations. I also enjoy that it offers a space for writing about music and I think it’s inherently interesting to see one’s own habits laid out so objectively over time. Each week I’m surprised at who made my weekly top 10. I discover I like some bands more than I thought and others less so. But I find the site a source of endless frustration as well – they are trying to do too much with too few people. There are often glitches (though it has been functioning far more smoothly since its recent upgrade), the organization of the site is far from user-friendly, I don’t like the aesthetics of the new design, and I am continuously frustrated by the communication between staff and users.

At any rate, it’s all happening on — direct fan-artist communication, web radio, artist/fan fan/fan artist/artist label/fan label/label etc networking, and anyone interested in the future of the music industry and online fandom ought to be keeping an eye on the site.

Comments (4) to “Cultivating Music Fandom: MySpace vs. Pandora vs.”

  1. Great write-up! I’m a big Pandora fan because it consistently delivers the music I want, and I can switch genres quickly.

    I’ll admit I haven’t explored Last.FM all that well.

    Please check out

    a site I’ve set up to try and tackle some the sharing/connecting with friends issues at Pandora.



  2. Tim —

    That’s a cool site. How many people do you estimate you have submitting playlists? Are you getting a growing social scene on your site?

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. nancy,
    do you ever use the pandora/ hack? I never use pandora outside of that interface, and I mostly use it on lab computers and things, but it’s proved to be tremendously useful. Since my laptop is still (eyeroll) b0rked, all my recent Last.FM submissions come through that interface. I actually really like Pandora’s algorithms, which I know is the uncool thing to say. The interface is:

  4. Museumfreak — I haven’t used that. Is it uncool to say you’re into Pandora? That’s too bad, anything that’s getting people music they like is cool in my book.

    When I was a kid I listened to AM hit radio, and then there was a radio show on our college station (hosted by Jon Ginoli from Pansy Division) that turned me on to a lot of music I still define myself through, but since then I’ve been too much of a musical control freak to listen to radio. I want to KNOW that I’m going to like the next song and have very little patience for music that I don’t love. So I hardly even listen to’s recommendation radio and haven’t got the patience to train Pandora to know me better. Most of the new stuff I’ve gotten turned on to via has been through personal recommendations sent to me or just seeing someone come up so often that I went and checked them out on my own.