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Here's a way to enjoy music that almost magically matches your moods and what you wish to listen to.

An 'intelligent' music stream sends you the types of music you've told it you like.

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Intelligent Interactive Internet Radio

Amazing personalized music services that send you customized music streams to uniquely suit your taste

The old concept of 'one size fits all' broadcasting of music to as large a group of people has been totally turned around.  Now you can have your own unique music station narrowcasted directly to you.

Part one of a three part series on intelligent interactive internet radio services; see also :

1.  An Introduction to intelligent interactive internet radio service
2.  Creating your own personalized music streams
3.  Specific services reviewed



Even if you have an iPod full of thousands of songs, it is still a hassle to pick and choose each song you want to listen to, and to change tracks or albums at the end of each selection.

Plus there is something nice about having someone else choose the music for you - sometimes you get unexpected 'bonus' surprises - music you like but had forgotten about, or music you hadn't heard before.

But until now, listening to someone else's programming has always been hit and miss - sometimes you get good tracks, and sometimes bad.  Plus maybe you also have to accept advertising and other interruptions.

Now there's a wonderful new alternative.  Just like Amazon 'knows' the sort of things you might like based on your past purchases, these intelligent interactive internet 'radio stations' know what you like and play only the music you want to hear.

Intelligent Interactive Internet Music

An evolution from broadcasting to narrowcasting

Back in the 'good old days' of radio, stations would design their programming to be as generically appealing to as many people as possible.  As the number of radio stations grew, each station became more segmented in the audience it chose to target, but it still wished to be broadly inclusionary.  Stations needed as large an audience as possible to survive.

The thought of a different station for every listener was of course a completely impossible concept.

But now, with the marvel of the internet and the enormous computing power and storage that is so wonderfully affordable, it has become feasible to offer unique customized and automated personalized music 'narrowcasts' to each individual listener.  When done well, this revolutionizes the convenience and pleasure of listening to music.

What and how they work

These new services provide you with a wide selection of music that will play automatically through your computer, or through various other devices such as the Logitech Squeezebox and Sonos music players, some stand-alone 'internet radio players' such as the Livio, and even through many modern cell phones such as the iPhone and iPod Touch.

This means you can enjoy their music pretty much anywhere, the same as with regular or satellite radio, and the same as with an MP3 player that has a collection of music stored on it.

The key component of these new music services is that they learn what you like to listen to, and adapt the music they send to uniquely match your preferences and tastes.

These are not services that sell you music for you to download.  They simply send you music to listen to, like a regular radio station.

Sometimes they are free, and sometimes their basic service is free but if you want more flexibility you need to pay extra.  Some have occasional advertisements on their streams.  Monthly fees for upgraded services are seldom very expensive.

How these Music Stations Know What to Play

There are two parts to how this works.  The first part is being able to categorize music in an accurate and standardized manner, the second part is being able to create a profile of your preferences that can be used to create a template to select music from the collection of categorized music.

Categorizing Music

The most definitive of the music categorization undertakings is coordinated by Pandora.  Their 'Music Genome Project' analyzes pieces of music, rating each piece on several hundred different attributes, so as to come up with some type of abstract and 'scientific' description of the piece of music.  Some of the scales include features such as (chosen at random from the huge list available) :

  • Use of vocal counterpoint

  • Tenor sax solo

  • Sad lyrics

  • Prominent rhythm piano part

  • Mexican influences

  • Large orchestra

  • Female vocal

  • Blues roots

and so on.  A typical song might be scored on as many as 150 or more of these attributes; more complicated music might be scored on 300 or more, and in total there are over 500 attributes available to rate each piece. works on a different basis.  It looks at all the music you have on your computer and considers that as being music you like, and also keeps track of the frequency with which you play your music, assuming you play music you like most more than you play music you don't like so much.  It also looks at the type of music that other people who like the music you like, also like.

As such, doesn't need to understand what each piece of music is, merely the links between one piece of music and related pieces of music.  This is a much easier and more automated methodology - it takes Pandora's analysts something like 20 - 30 minutes to analyze a single short song.

Understanding Your Preferences

When you first create your own 'music station' you can specify the type of music you want to be featured, both in terms of general genre, or more specifically in terms of particular groups or artists, or even more precisely by naming specific songs you want to hear.

After you have provided some information, the service starts to send you music that contains elements that match the elements in the types of music you have specified.

Fine-tuning Your Preferences

Once the music service starts sending you music, you typically then have the ability to rate each piece of music they send to you.  You usually have three choices - do nothing (which implies that the choice of music is satisfactory), tell the service you don't like that piece of music, or tell the service that you particularly do like the piece of music.

This helps the service to continue to refine its understanding of you and the music you like.  Plus it simply helps it to know what exact pieces of music never to send to you, and what exact pieces of music to send more frequently to you.

The more you listen and the more you provide feedback, the closer a match of music you'll get.

NOTE :  See the second part of this series for a more detailed discussion of how you 'program' your own music stations.

Saving Yourself Hassle and Bother

Okay, so even if you have a huge amount of music that you've stored on an MP3 player, all of which can be accessed via only a few quick and easy keystrokes, that's solving only half the problem.

The other problem is choosing what music to listen to.  If you're like me, you'll sometimes gaze unseeingly at the huge long lists of albums on your MP3 player, unable to decide which one to play.  Sometimes it is nice to have someone decide for you what you will hear.

That is the great convenience of using one of these intelligent and interactive music streaming services.  They sort of 'read your mind' and with uncanny precision, send you music you like, without you having to bother to choose it yourself.

And any time they make a bad choice, you can easily correct them, meaning as the program learns more and more about you, it gets better and better at giving you what you want.

What Can You Play the Music On and How

The music is sent to you over the internet, so you will need either an internet connection or a cell phone that has wireless data service on it.

If you are using a regular internet connection into your house (or office, etc), there are a range of devices that will either work through a home Wi-Fi network or via a wired connection.  And, of course, your computer is an obvious first choice.

Because the player should ideally be able to interact with the music service, not every 'internet radio' player can support these intelligent music services.  You need to be able to log in to the service, to choose from the different music stations you may have created, and to be able to, on an ongoing and convenient basis, skip tracks you don't want to hear and give 'I like/I don't like' ratings to music you want to hear more or less of in the future.

Three other products that you can use to get the music off the internet and into your sound system are :

Logitech Squeezebox

The Logitech Squeezebox family is a range of equipment, some of which is detailed and reviewed already on our site (click link).  They have freestanding players that will both get your music from the internet and then play it through built in speakers, and also receivers that don't have speakers, but which output a signal to feed into a stereo or a/v system for amplification and playing through that system's speakers.

The equipment is extremely versatile, easy to set up and use, and affordable.


The Sonos music system is similar to the Logitech, and in some ways more sophisticated while perhaps not quite so open ended.  It also gives you a choice of complete systems all the way to speakers or just receivers that then play through your existing sound systems.

Sonos systems are beautifully designed, but are considerably more expensive than the Logitech systems.

Livio Radio

The Livio internet radio looks a lot like a regular radio, and allows you to play internet radio stations plus also Pandora, either through its built in speaker or via an audio output through other external stereo systems.

Although very much simpler than the Logitech and Sonos systems, it is not very much cheaper.  So many people will probably choose a Logitech unit rather than the Livio radio.

Your Cell Phone or iPod Touch

Some of the intelligent music streaming services now offer various ways to send their streams to your cell phone if it is one of the more fully featured phones that comes with data service and which supports extra programs being added to it.

The most obvious of these phones is of course the marvelous iPhone, and its related product, the iPod Touch.

When sending music to your phone you can either listen to it through headphones or send the music on to some sort of external speaker or stereo system.

How Much Do These Services Cost

Most of these internet radio providers offer two levels of service.  One level is free, but there may be some restrictions on how flexible the service is or how many hours a month you can listen to it, or it might include advertisements, and the other level costs you a monthly fee.

Being as how the music services have to pay the music copyright owners a fee for every song you listen to, there clearly needs to be some way for them to earn some money in return.

Monthly fees are seldom very much and typically about $3 - indeed, Pandora has a 99c/month fee in addition to free service and a more pricey full featured service.

Part one of a three part series on intelligent interactive internet radio services; see also :

1.  An Introduction to intelligent interactive internet radio service
2.  Creating your own personalized music streams
3.  Specific services reviewed

FTC Mandatory Disclosure : I was not given any of the products written about on this page by their manufacturers. I have not been paid money to write this article.

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Originally published 23 October 2009, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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