Pandora Radio: Teaching us free comes with a cost

Mara Yamnicky

What seemed like the answer to all music enthusiasts’ prayers, Pandora Internet radio provided a world where streaming songs was endless and free. But as of July 2009, restrictions were set on free Pandora accounts that many listeners today fail to recognize exist.

One of the most deep-rooted restrictions includes the monthly listening limits placed on free accounts. These allow each with a free account only 40 hours of streaming per month. Once this limit is reached, Pandora will not allow users to listen for the rest of the month unless they pay a fee of 99 cents or pay $36 for a full year subscription.

For some, 40 hours may seem like a lot of time. But with the increase in accessibility of music in modern culture due to technology such as Internet radio and iPods, music has become the soundtrack for people’s daily activities, making it easy for anyone to rack up 40 plus hours.

Both enthusiasts and casual listeners can agree that just leaving the radio on accidently can rack up time as well.

Luckily, the 40 hour limit is reset every month, but still, the cost of freedom is high when a listener is left music-less and banned from their account until the next month.

The cause of these limitations surrounds Pandora’s royalty obligations to the artists of the songs being played on the stations.

“We hate the idea of limiting anyone’s listening,” said founder Tim Westergren in a blog post on Pandora’s Web site. “But we have no choice but to react to the economic realities of the new rates.”

Westergren, also founder of Pandora’s unique copyrighted technology called the “Music Genome Project,” explained how the Pandora team listened to thousands of songs and gave each traits or “genes” based on their makeup.

“The project’s aim was not about what a band looks like, or what genre they supposedly belong to, or about who buys their records, it’s about what each individual song sounds like,” Westergren said.

These genres can range from classics such as “Wah-Wah” Guitar and “Gangsta Rap Attitude” to some out of the ordinary traits like “Flugelhorn Solo” and “Wet Snare.”

But despite these bells and whistles, many users complain about restrictions in this technology as to how much music played on Pandora is really part of the Music Genome Project or just another marketing technique to get an artist more air time.

There seems to be a pattern arising in successful free music interfaces that once enough people latch on, the company is forced to adhere to the music industry’s needs and not those of the users who actually use the product.

Whatever the case may be, these restrictions should send up a red flag to Quinnipiac Pandora users that anything free can still have its expenses.