Pandora is one of the oldest and most popular streaming radio services, but if you’re a long-time user, you might notice a certain sameness in some of your custom stations. The Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down rating system tends to repeat the same 100 or so songs after a while, something I’ve certainly observed on some of the “evolving” stations I’ve been curating for years.
If you’d like to freshen up your reliable old Pandora stations, or start fresh with a new one, there are a few techniques you can use to more precisely manage the kind of music you hear from it.
Use Your Thumbs Carefully
It’s easy to take the venerable Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down system at face value: I like this song, I don’t like this song, at least in the context of a specific station. But for the purposes of actually managing your music, It’s more useful to think about the way Pandora’s algorithm actually takes your feedback into consideration when presenting new music. To put it simply:
- Thumbs Up: create more variety
- Thumbs Down: create less variety
This might seem obvious to some, but to others, it’s very different than what they may think is happening behind the scenes.
Take my personal country station, for example: if I hit Thumbs Up on a classic Willie Nelson track like “On the Road Again,” it tells Pandora that I want more country music with male artists, relatively slow tempos, and a focus on acoustic guitar, steel guitar, and harmonica. That Thumbs Up isn’t particularly useful on this station, which is already full of artists like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Pride, and Hank Snow. Telling Pandora that I like this music isn’t telling it anything particularly useful: there’s no “more variety” that can come from something so similar to other music on the station.
Now, let’s imagine that “Gravedigger,” also a song sung by Willie Nelson, comes on the same station. Though Nelson sings the song, it’s a cover of a song by Dave Matthews, with more complex key changes and a mare modern electric guitar/bass/trap set instrumental setup. Giving this song a Thumbs Up will expand the musical variety of this station considerably, giving me other music similar to Dave Matthews, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit the other country-specific variables of the rest of the station. Giving it a Thumbs Down will cut off that expansion and tell Pandora to focus the station on those conventional country themes already established.
Knowing this, be a little more intentional with those Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down ratings. Give the big, recognizable songs of a particular genre a Thumbs Up if you’re hoping for a more focused station with less variety, but save them for lesser-known and more diverse artists if you’re hoping for a bigger and more interesting group of core songs.
Re-Curate Your Station History
On both the web and mobile apps, you can access the complete history of Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down song recommendations. (Click the station name on the web, and tap the “…” menu on the Stations list on the mobile app.) With your newly-acquired perspective on the Thumbs rating above, go through your station and delete the Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down ratings for any songs you want. Remember: conventional songs at the center of your desired genre will give your station less variety, with more fringe artists and songs adding more variety.
On the same page, you can add some more songs to the “Station Created From” list. These are the songs you put in to create the station—imagine them as “Super Thumbs Up.” No matter what your thumb history on the songs that come into the radio station, it will continue to play at least some music with elements shared from these foundation songs. Knowing this, you can add more “Created From” songs to get more variety and delete some of the originals to create a more narrow focus.
Keep in mind, while using the Thumbs rating system often is generally encouraged for song curation during regular listening, you shouldn’t load up on too many “Created From” songs. Since even quite similar songs have different technical tags in the Pandora curation system. Having dozens or hundreds of songs in the “Created From” list will make your station incredibly broad, and it will be difficult to “steer” the music towards any particular genre or theme.
Avoid the Shuffle Station
Pandora’s “Shuffle” feature lets you play music from all of your stations at once, with the option to exclude some stations (like seasonal music). This is a fine option if you just want some quick music, but keep in mind that the Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down ratings you give in Shuffle don’t carry over to your more specific stations. If you’re actively working on tuning those stations for a particular genre or sound, listening and rating on Shuffle won’t help.
The hidden secrets of customizing your Pandora stations
After using Pandora’s basic features and tools for creating playlists, you may find that you are not totally satisfied with the results.
When you listen to music on Pandora, you may feel that the selections don’t provide the right mix for your interests.
You might find yourself hitting Thumbs Down too often or wanting to skip songs. The number of times you can skip songs, remember, is limited unless you have Pandora Plus. You may also just be getting bored with the station and hearing the same songs.
Keep in mind that Pandora uses all of the qualities of that first seed song — the song or artist you used to create the station — but does not match every quality to every song it plays. Music is unique and few songs have the exact same qualities — or, in Pandora’s terms, the same DNA.
Perhaps Pandora is playing music you don’t like because it’s not matching the qualities that you like from the seed song. Or maybe you like the station, but you’d like to mix it up a bit by adding some songs with a faster tempo, or by adding a country song or an oldie that may have different quality parameters.
How to Fine-Tune Your Station Further by Combining Tools
If you are committed to fine-tuning your station, in time you can get it just the way you like it. You must be consistent and dedicated to finding the right mix of variables to get exactly what you want.
- Use Thumbs Down Frequently. If a song doesn’t fit that station, give it Thumbs Down. Show no mercy. It can be hard to Thumbs Down a song you like but which doesn’t fit, but be brave; you have a goal. Thumbs Down will not affect the song showing up on your other stations. Over time, Pandora will eliminate qualities that you don’t find important.
- Use Thumbs Up Occasionally. This allows you to reinforce the songs that fit in with the station.
- Create Several Stations. As you listen to your station, you may find a song that is closer to the mood you are looking to create. Use that song to create a new station. On a media streamer, or another compatible device, you can click on “create station” and type in the name of the song.
Try creating a number of stations using similar songs, then employ the Thumbs Down strategy to refine the stations. Once you create the perfect station, remove the other testing stations.
If none of those songs work, think of the qualities you want in the station. Perhaps a song you don’t love is a better match and could create the station.
When creating test stations, you may want to group them together. Rename the stations with a letter and number to keep them together in the station list — “A01,” “A02,” “A03”, and so on.
How to Get More Variety
Conversely, it’s possible to create a station with a greater variety of songs and mood.
- Add more seed songs or seed artists. You can use the “add variety” button on your computer or you can add songs to the station page.
- Be generous with the use of Thumbs Up. The more music you like, the more qualities that will be used in the selection of songs for that station, thereby creating more variety.
- Use “I’m Tired of This Song.” This option is on most network media players and network devices. Click on this option rather than using the Thumbs Down, which will narrow the types of music played.
The Bottom Line
The more committed you are, the more you will create your ideal station. Music is personal. Personalize your music. Once you get the hang of, and take advantage of Pandora’s programming and setting options, you are well on your way to controlling your personal music listening experience.