How My Favorite Pandora Station Became a Microcosm of the Entertainment Industry. Or Something.

This is really important, you guys.

I know I like to joke around, but this is serious. I have a critical warning that you need to hear, so stop playin’ grabass for one minute and listen.

Stay away from that ‘Thumbs Up’ on Pandora.

Seriously, I know what I’m talking about here.

If I can get nostalgic for a minute, I remember when I had to buy whole damn CD because I liked one song that I had heard on the radio. Yeah. This kind of a story is my generation’s version of the ‘I had to walk 15 miles through the snow to get to school when I was your age’ speech, except this one is TRUE! We had to do that, and God only knows how many poor bastards ended up with an entire album by the Squirrel Nut Zippers because of it.

But the internet changed all that.

First, there was Napster and the Wild West years, where everything was free if you had a fast connection. Then Metallica mobilized and got Napster shut down, and all it cost them was their fans. That left people like me, who were only savvy enough to steal music online when their roommate did it for them, out of luck. Unless I wanted to pay for my music again. Ugh. Even if it was possible now to just buy that one Squirrel Nut Zippers song for $.99, I couldn’t go back to paying to listen to music. I’d tasted freedom. I couldn’t go back there. I wouldn’t.

Then Pandora came along, and it was like they made it just for me. I work in front of a computer, and I listen to music all day. Even an extensive iTunes library gets boring after a few days. I need variety. I like to be surprised.

Pandora was a gift from the gods.

But she wasn’t everything she seemed…

There’s always a catch. In mythology, it was Hope, trapped in the bottom of the jar for better or worse. In technology, it’s a little icon that pops up with two choices you can click on, one a hand with its thumb up and one with its thumb down. Like an emperor in the Colosseum, you can decide if the track lives or dies. It’s an intoxicating power, I won’t lie.

And like so many intoxicating things, I became drunk on it.

I was delighted with this new discovery, and every time a song I remotely liked came on I gave it a big ‘Thumbs Up’. I was like Roger Ebert on ecstasy; I was that loose with the thumbs. (RIP Roger. I almost considered not writing that joke, but in a strange way, I feel like he would have wanted me to?)

But the good times were not to last. After week or so, I found myself getting bored again. I was hearing the same songs, over and over. They were songs that I liked, sure, but where was the variety that made me fall for you in the first place, Pandora? Where had the spark gone?

Deep down, I think I knew. Pandora was playing it safe, and it disappointed the hell out of me. I had to watch this new and exciting thing go the same way I had seen almost the entire entertainment industry go before it.

Call it a generalization if you must, but everything widely available to us as entertainment is boring. It’s all safe. No one wants to try anything they haven’t already seen somebody else do successfully, which never creates anything of real value. Pandora was now catering to me the way the movie industry caters to 14 year olds, and I didn’t like it. Like a dog that has been beaten before, my favorite station was now cowering and trying so hard to not get beat that a dark and irrational side of me sort of wanted to beat it. I’m not proud of it, but if I was better with computers I might have found a way to virtually smack Pandora on the nose with a newspaper.

In an age where media is surrounding us all the time, it’s so rare anymore to be surprised by it. Those who take significant risks are often marginalized in the industry if they make any impact at all. I want my variety back, Pandora. I want the old you back.

After all was said and done, I switched to Slacker. And I never let on that I like a song too much. I act distant with Slacker. I’m an enigma.

And every once in a while, Slacker will still surprise me.

Skee-Lo? Well played.

I wonder if he ever got any taller…

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