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Fast Talk

Creating The Perfect Pandora Playlist Takes More Than Algorithms—It Requires Humans

The tech wizards in this month's Fast Talk say they know what you want before you do. Here, Pandora CTO Tom Conrad talks about how to use the "musical DNA" of songs to create personal playlists.

Tom Conrad | Photo by Toby Burditt
Photo by Toby Burditt

Tom Conrad
CTO and Executive VP of Product / Pandora
Goal: Use the "musical DNA" of songs to create personal playlists.

"Hundreds of musical attributes are used to describe songs. Twenty-six alone describe vocal performance: how breathy or gravelly it is, how much falsetto is used, and more. That's too much nuance for software on its own. So we hired humans—specifically, professional musicians with four-year degrees in music. Every day, they come into the office, put on headphones, and listen to every song that will ultimately play on Pandora, listing as many as 450 different attributes a pop. When combined with users' past listening habits, those detailed fingerprints enable our algorithms to discern, for example, that when you say you like the Beatles, you're talking about their earlier sound and not their later one."

More Fast Talk: Predicting Desire
Kimberly Dillon

Read the extended interview

A version of this article appeared in the February 2012 issue of Fast Company magazine.