Pandora’s Thumbprint Radio Is What Apple Music Needs

One of the problems with Apple Music is that it tries to fragment everything. It presents you with playlists and albums you may like, but if you want to listen to music for a few hours, you have to go back every hour or so and pick something new. If you set up a radio station, it has to be based on an artist or a song (or it’s one of the stations programmed by the marketing department).

I have eclectic tastes, and while I could listen to a radio station based on the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, the Clash, Bill Evans, Brian Eno, or Miles Davis, I’d love to hear all of them on the same station.

Pandora has announced Thumbprint Radio, which is, as the company describes:

… a hyper-personalized station for each listener. As the name implies, each station is based off of your thumbs — every thumb up you have provided throughout the time you have listened on Pandora has helped create your individual Thumbprint Radio station. This is a living, breathing station that will continue to change as you listen — each time you thumb up a track on Pandora, your station will update and evolve.

This is a brilliant idea. There are times when I’m working and I want to listen to music without choosing; when I want background music. But I also want tunes I know, to hum along to, tap my feet, and why not some tunes I don’t know that I may like?

I just looked at the For You section of iTunes, showing playlists and albums that Apple thinks I’ll like. It’s getting stale, seeing the same playlists every week or so, as if I really might finally want to listen to them. I listened to a couple of Bruce Springsteen albums a while ago, so I get inundated with For You recommendations about his albums and playlists. I listened to an Elton John album (Madman Across the Water; great record!), and Apple Music constantly wants me to listen to their Elton John: The 70s playlist. And they keep recommending playlists with names like Relax and Restore, Late Night Ambient, Massage Mix, or the ludicrous Classical Music for Elevators. (Everyone knows that elevators don’t like classical music; they’re all into EDM.)

Classical music for elevators

Pandora’s approach makes a lot of sense. Rather than try to funnel my listening into a single unit – an album or playlist – a radio station that plays music I like, and related music, across all genres, is far more interesting. Sure, there are times I’m in the mood to hear some Cabaret Voltaire; I’ll just spin one of their albums. Or when I want some mellow jazz, I’ll put on some of Miles Davis’s early records, and when I want funky jazz, I’ll turn up the volume and listen to Bitches Brew. But sometimes I just want music.

I hope Pandora comes to Europe. The company seems to have good ideas. It is currently only available in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. My guess is that the licensing situation has scared them off, but if they are to remain a player, they will certainly need to extend their reach.