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Digitally Conscious: Your private pipeline of pick-and-choose tunes

PandoraJam streams your favorite music genres, and tags the songs for iTunes.

ATTENTION: All Mac user music lovers.

Your private pipeline of pick-and-choose is close at hand. Just head over to BitCartel's website and check out the PandoraJam app. It's a paid software program that works in tandem with the popular Pandora streaming music service, though it has pretty much flown under the radar for most of its operation.

Pandora, if you don't already know, is essentially a proprietary Internet streaming radio player with music selections and recommendations based on user preferences (i.e. song, artist, genre, station). Its premium, paid service, Pandora One, has more than 50 million users worldwide and upwards of 10 years in the business.

With a $36 yearly subscription fee, the Pandora application eliminates all typically jarring and interruptive ads from your music stream. There's not much worse than grooving to your favorite songs, only to be interrupted by a loud announcer urging you to try the new quadruple bacon and cheese hamburger melt at Company XYZ. ("NOW! NOW! NOW!")

If you're like me and listen to music pretty much all day long, you might consider the yearly subscription to Pandora One. It's worth it, particularly when paired with PandoraJam, and I'll finally tell you why in a minute.

Pandora's music recommendations are based on what they call the "Music Genome Project," (MGP) which, according to Pandora, is comprised of exhaustive research performed by musician-analysts in identifying key features common to certain songs and genres, giving the user a "custom"-like music stream based on the aforementioned input.

Okay, here's the hook: PandoraJam can not only stream Pandora in what's called a Site-Specific Browser (a stand-alone application for a particular website), but the software also records your music stream as well as tagging pieces for iTunes, so you have track title, artist, and album information automatically added to your iTunes library.

Pretty sweet, huh?

For me, it was a no brainer. For the $15 PandoraJam lifetime ownership price and a Pandora One subscription (yearly), I have increased my iTunes music library by more than a thousand songs, and I've gotten immense pleasure out of exploring new genres and artists. The service has, as you may agree, changed my life, if only by a little.

If you're asking yourself right now if it's legal, the answer is somewhat gray.

PandoraJam, and much of the wide audience advocating for increased Internet freedom stake the claim that it is no different than recording local AM/FM channels on the radio. And, for its part, Pandora has not challenged PandoraJam in court thus far. (Pandora, FYI, pays artists a set commission according to how many times the artist's song is played across the global user domain.)

The contrary side to this argument is that the artists are not directly receiving money from the recorded songs on PandoraJam.

It is, for me, a quandary. I can see it from both angles. That said, I finally gave myself permission to do what remains legal and record the songs, and, then buy the albums from the artists I like through iTunes, or, locally, through a local venue like Peaches Records.

Besides, entering a specific song in the Pandora search bar does not -- at all -- mean that you will hear that particular tune in any swift order. It's done that way on purpose (think increased revenue).

So, I ask you this: Can you remember your teenage years with any clarity? If you can, you'll certainly remember how much music influenced your development as a hormonal, sometimes melodramatic, gushing young up-and-comer.

I remember. I was hooked on B97 (FM) and Q93 (FM), two local stations available in the greater New Orleans area. The former played pop, and the latter hip-hop or rap (NOT today's "hip-pop").

I learned about following the crowd, listening and purchasing albums from Pearl Jam, Guns 'N' Roses, and Temple of the Dog. And I loved what I heard.

But I also was a closet rap lover. I say closet because absolutely none of my friends listened to rap, and I caught a lot of flack for liking the genre. I went to a private Uptown school, and bucking the norm wasn't socially rewarded. Nonetheless, I liked the music, and I would follow that path as often as I could in between dodging criticism and homework.

The question is, what would my life and musical interests have been like had I at the time had access to something like Pandora and PandoraJam?

I realize this is a complex and totally hypothetical question, but my point is this: Have you ever been moved by a song from a particular group and then gotten into that group more because of that one song? Or expanded your musical horizon by way of one song or exposure to some overheard rumor?

My answer is yes, and I believe most will agree. We hear that one song that we sing to ourselves over and over again until we become sick of it. At that point, we either delve further into the band, seeking alternatives, or, we seek out something else that is totally novel and just as engrossing.

This is where the beauty of the MGP shows through. It's a dynamic process, whereby users can either vote "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" for songs they like or dislike, respectively, or, they can not vote at all and let Pandora keep producing a variety of songs and genres. Up or down votes yield altered streams.

Had Pandora existed back when I was so musically impressionable, all I would have had to do to get more into the type of music that my ear fancied would have been to enter the song title or artist in the search bar in Pandora and then be amazed as the software algorithms produced more music I liked, but from artists I'd never heard of, or even some that I had, but was beginning to hear in a new light because of this direct path of exposure.

I imagine I would have gotten more into rap than I did. Who knew that my rebellious side had a soundtrack? Thank goodness for Q93, the local hip hop and rap station in New Orleans, now a stalwart, entering its fourth decade of service and keeping a large audience, though there is, today, a competing voice (102.9 FM).

On the national scene, there was Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Nas, and Outkast, among others. Locally, there was Juvenile, Master P, Manny Fresh, and, of course, Lil' Wayne (yeah, he did alright for himself). Wild Wayne, a DJ at Q-93, still hosts a locally aired rendition of the most popular songs in the city during his "Hot 8 at 8." That's the hottest eight songs at 8 p.m., in case you were wondering.

Since my younger days, I've gotten into many types of music, including classical, country, electronica, ambient, classic rock and a whole host of other interests I don't know the appropriate genre name for, but nonetheless now populate my Pandora station list.

This sort of cosmopolitan sequencing of music discovery percolates now among a wide variety of generations, in part due to an increase in cultural tolerance, but also because the sources of discovery are so plentiful.

For a city like New Orleans with such a rich history of music, Pandora and PandoraJam offer opportunities for some choice tunes, thanks to the MGP. You can input that song you heard last weekend at the Maple Leaf bar, Howlin' Wolf's, or Tipitina's, and start the enjoyable cycle of discovering new music baed on it.

As Internet streaming music develops and expands, so, too, will our collective appreciation for different types of music. We are already pretty darn tolerant here in New Orleans, but the word to emphasize is appreciative. We don't just accept that there are many different types of music celebrated here, but actively pursue discovery through live performances.

So give Pandora and PandoraJam a look-see, and revel in the rewards of a diverse music culture, populated by expert opinions you will probably like as well. If not, hit that thumbs down button and move on.

And if you want karma on your side, help the artists both here and abroad by purchasing their albums or songs, and go hear them live. That is truly the best way to dive into the music scene.