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MOG: it's growing on me

As I've mentioned in previous articles (Pandora's pitfalls...prefer analog falls short), I find that online music services generally fall short of my needs. Pandora's collection is restrictive, leaving out a significant percentage of the bands I want to know about. It also does a poor job of finding related music, rarely finding bands I like that sound like those I listen to. does much better at finding "sounds similar" bands but you can't just listen to a band's album. Sometimes you can preview parts of their songs, or hear whole songs as part of the their "station" but it's hit or miss, you can't simply listen to an entire album. Spotify isn't bad, it allows you to listen to whole songs, but it always feels a bit overblown and invasive. I haven't found value in its desire to merge my personal collection with its online collection, and the native app is yet another layer of baggage between me and listening to music. What I really want is to simply listen to music.

When MOG first became available, a good friend mentioned it to me, suggesting that I should check it out. This was before their UI rework and the site was a bit drab and scattered. I tried it out as a place to host my bands' music and, sadly, found it did not fare well against We weren't able to flesh out the Scattershock and Danger, Ltd. profiles and MOG did not relate us to any similar artists. MOG was a disappointment to me, and I soon discontinued my use of the service.

At some point, however, I learned of their UI refresh and was once again in the market for a streaming service. I need a way to review music for my KGLT radio show, both to pick songs and artists out, as well as find expletives that can't be aired on the radio. iTunes is pretty good for quick evaluation, answering the question "Do I like this enough to play it?". But iTunes' short previews prevent me from reviewing an entire song and the F-word or the Sh-word can lurk in any crevice of a song, there's no guarantee it'll show up in the section provided by iTunes. and Pandora also fail here, because you can't just select a song and listen top to bottom. Spotify just feels too complicated for me; what I really want is somewhere I can very quickly look up a band, find their latest album and start playing their (full) songs.

With those goals in mind, suddenly MOG rose solidly to the surface. It's really easy. Open the MOG webpage and then you can execute exactly the steps I mentioned: 1) search by band name, 2) click through to band summary page, 3) click through to album with most recent release date, 4) click to play album. Done. It's been wonderful for my radio prep and now it's becoming my "go to" source of background music when I want something outside of my own iTunes library.

Happily, as I write this article and wander around the MOG site, I realize that another of my criticisms has fallen away. Both Scattershock and Danger, Ltd. now have similar artists. I'd had a similar experience with, it took awhile (months) before we achieved some magical threshold and started showing similar artists. Maybe a similar buildup was needed for MOG or maybe they just fixed a bug. Regardless, I'm pleased to see the progress made by MOG. It's vaulted the MOG service to the top of my list and if you haven't tried it lately, I'd recommend you check it out.

If you have love, hate or anywhere in between experiences with music streaming, share your thoughts in a comment. What do you like or dislike about the services available and what decision-making process led you to your current favorite?


Pandora's pitfalls

Recently, while digging through the business news, I ran into this article about Pandora's earnings shortfall: Pandora's earnings miss. Those of you that caught my previous articles about digital streaming's unfulfilled promise and digital vs. analog search know that I have been disappointed in the past by Pandora and other streaming services. The article about Pandora's earnings announcement inspired me to dig deeper into Pandora and whether my criticism is justified.

First, a disclaimer: I submitted Scattershock's album, Wrong Train, to Pandora shortly after we completed it. Within a short period of time we received a rejection letter, with the message, "Thank you for your submission to Pandora's Music Genome Project. We wish we could say otherwise, but we have decided that this submission does not fit our collection needs at this time."

Having attended UCSF for my graduate studies and received a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Pandora's use of the term "Music Genome Project" has often nagged at me. The concept of mapping musical forms by a defined set of criteria and using that mapping to establish relationships between artists is intriguing. What bugged me, though, was that unlike the Human Genome Project, Pandora's project is mostly subjective, based on qualitative assessment of each artist's songs. Here I have excerpted the goals of the Human Genome Project (courtesy of the HGP website):

 (The Human Genome Project's) goals were to

  • identify all the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA
  • determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA
  • store this information in databases
  • improve tools for data analysis
  • transfer related technologies to the private sector
  • address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise from the project

 Those goals are clear and are all-encompassing. The first bullet point clearly states the goal includes ALL of the genes in human DNA. Imagine if the HGP had instead opted to catalog only some of the genes? Would the resulting data be anywhere near as scientifically useful? Absolutely not. Partial data in this case would lead to skewed conclusions and lack of confidence.

So then, what does that mean for Pandora? Well, they've opted to call their efforts the "Music Genome Project", with an obvious tip of the hat to the HGP. But, we know that they chose to leave Scattershock out of their database. And that's where the article about Pandora's earnings left me with this nagging question. Is there a reason that Pandora isn't simply blowing everyone's mind and making money hand over foot? There are clearly some fundamental business reasons why the streaming business may not prove successful for anyone. I'm not here to dig deeply into that question. However, I am interested in the question, "Why are some digital music services more valuable to me than others."

As a DJ (at KGLT) and a guy with a huge appetite for new, heavy music, I'm looking for ways to discover the wide variety of heavy bands all around the world. Pandora seems like it'd be a powerful tool for that but I wanted to understand how helpful it really is. I decided to assess a number of the music content and streaming services to see which ones fared best.

I decided to ask a fairly simple question, then collect appropriate data and analyze the results. I took the playlists from two of my recent KGLT shows and identified all the bands that I'd played. Then I asked, "How many of these bands could I have discovered using each of the music services I surveyed?". I have included the raw data below, but here's the executive summary:


Total Bands Pandora iTunes Spotify MOG
74 56 74 74 64 72
  76% 100% 100% 97% 97%


And that clearly demonstrates why Pandora has never worked well for me and has. If I used Pandora, I wouldn't be able to play one quarter of the bands I play on my show. This data is for only two of my shows, meaning that over the last 8 months that could amount to over 100 bands simply left out of my show. Pandora would sweep them under the rug and pretend they just don't exist. You say, "David, but those bands are all obscure ones like Scattershock, no one knows about them and no one cares." If you look at the detailed data, you will see that Pandora's oversight includes Amaranthe, Bloodbound, Down From Up and The Slot. Sorry folks, these are serious bands with multiple album releases and videos. You might think that these bands somehow haven't submitted their works to Pandora, and that's a valid point. Maybe all these bands are boycotting Pandora for some reason. That's absolutely possible but, that just goes back to my point.

Pandora's collection is biased. It omits major name bands, many of whom have won music awards around the world. It also omits small, unestablished bands, some of whom will eventually become household words. And if you want to be an early adopter of such acts, you are much better off with any of the other services I surveyed, and especially iTunes and

So, tell me, what's your favorite music service? And, if any of you have invested in Pandora, what are your thoughts about your investment and the bands that aren't available via the service?

Streaming Service Comparison - the raw data...


For finding new music, I prefer analog search

We have iTunes. We have Pandora. We have Facebook. We have and Spotify and MOG. So, where have I discovered most of my favorite bands?

I tried Pandora a few times. Awhile back, I tried creating a station based on two bands I love, Sevendust and Systematic. I started listening to it, and as one might expect the first couple songs were from Sevendust and Systematic. Then the station started throwing other bands at me. The first few of those sounded like weak knockoffs of Sevendust and Systematic. But then, the real fun kicked in. The station started playing me singer-songwriter material, including a number of songs recorded with only acoustic guitar and vocals. Not quite James Taylor, but bordering on that. This is in no way a criticism of singer-songwriters or acoustic guitar, but I'd venture to guess that most of us that are in the mood to hear Sevendust, Systematic and similar artists are not really interested in having our attention interrupted by a mellow ballad on acoustic guitar. I thought, hmmm, maybe I screwed up the station settings. No, when I dug around a bit, I noted that one of the characteristics that Pandora associates with Sevendust is acoustic guitar. To be fair, Sevendust, does use acoustic guitars and they do a ballad here and there. Still, their work always lands far away from singer-songwriter ballads and when I put together a Sevendust/Systematic station, I'm expecting Heavy!

Now, does quite a bit better for me. If I look up one of my favorite bands on and stream their associated station, I will often discover some bands that I haven't heard of that I like. Usually, the hit rate is 30-50%, where the remainder I don't like, regardless of whether I've heard of them or not. For me, it's a much more useful discovery tool than Pandora but still falls well short of what I look for when I'm trying to discover artists that I like.

Given that the digital age hasn't quite given me the ideal tool for discovering new bands, how do I discover most of the bands that get added to my library? From people... A few years back, Steve Shumake ran a Live 365 radio station named VonGoober Radio. I discovered it at some point and was awestruck by how many of the songs were a) new to me and b) exactly the kind of music I love. I discovered dozens of bands every time I listened to the station. It led to a great period of musical discovery for me, broadening my listening to include bands from Finland, Sweden, Germany and throughout the world. My own music library grew rapidly during that period and the newly discovered bands had a big influence on my musical arrangements and songwriting. So for me, a single human music mentor is orders of magnitude more effective at expanding my musical knowledge than the sum total of all the digital services out there. The key is that Steve likes similar music and has a big appetite. When he discovers new music, he makes it known to the rest of us, and I know from past experience that if Steve likes it, it's very likely that I will like it as well. Steve eventually decided to shut down the radio station but he still maintains a VonGoober group if you'd like to explore his taste in music.

Looking back at digital tools, I do find Wikipedia to be a powerful tool for discovering new music. Whenever I notice myself asking the question, "What ever happened to that band...?", I look them up in Wikipedia and find out. That often leads me to discover they split up and started new bands, or renamed themselves or just reunited and are due to release a new album. Still, this isn't really at the heart of what I imagined would be possible on the web. In a general sense, the innately "analog" learning channel, human advice, is still much more accurate and reliable for me than any of the recommendation/rating services online. Perhaps someday that will change, but for now... Thanks Steve!

Where do you discover most of your music?