How Machine Learning helps Pandora find the music of the moment


Finding the music of the moment can often be a challenging problem, even for humans with well-versed musical tastes. These challenges further explode into a myriad of complexities when attempting to construct algorithmic approaches for automatic playlist generation. A variety of factors play a role in influencing a listener’s perception of what music is appropriate on a given seed (e.g. musicological, social, geographical, generational), and these factors vary across different contexts and listeners.

Erik Schmidt, Senior Scientist at Pandora was recently interviewed by Nikita Johnson, Founder of RE•WORK.

Tell us more about your work at Pandora

One of the most fascinating areas of research at Pandora is Machine Listening. In the music domain, we seek to develop systems that are capable of automatically understanding the musicological content of an audio signal. These systems rely heavily on supervised machine learning, and Pandora’s Music Genome Project provides the largest and most detailed corpus in the world for performing this work, spanning over 1.5 million analyzed tracks. As a result of this dataset, we have been able to develop incredibly rich and accurate machine listening representations.

At the core of Pandora’s recommendation system is a massive ensemble that spans over 60 recommendation strategies. Most listeners are likely unaware, but we are constantly adding, removing, and tweaking these strategies to improve the listener experience. Where things get really exciting is when we’re able to take things developed on the research side, like machine-predicted musicological attributes, and incorporate them into recommendation systems. It’s possible to get tens of millions of thumbs back within a short period of time, and there is definitely something both exciting and addictive about working at this scale.

The most exciting large-scale project I’ve led to date is the design of Thumbprint Radio, a hyper-personalized station that has had over 25 million listeners. Thumbprint is a multi-genre experience that sequences all of your thumbs from across all of your stations alongside personalized recommendations. It has spun over 7.6 billion tracks and is currently one of the top stations on Pandora.

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