Lab DJ

pandoraDo you have music playing in lab?  I like to have some music playing, and over the years our lab has accumulated a stereo and some speakers.  So I bought a headphone-to-RCA connector and I was quickly able to play music from my computer through the lab sound system.  For a while, I would play albums from my computer through iTunes (and when Ruckus was still around, I had built up a pretty solid collection).  Fortunately, everyone in ear shot of the speakers has approximately the same taste in music, so there were rarely any disagreements about the music being played.

Lately, though, I’ve been pretty much using Pandora exclusively.  If you haven’t found yet, you simply must check it out.  Even if you aren’t your lab’s DJ, you’ll soon find yourself turning to Pandora as your default music player. (more below the jump)

When you register with Pandora (free for ad-supported version), it prompts you to enter a few songs or artists you like.  It takes those ‘seeds’ and identifies the musical attributes that generally define the artist or song you’ve selected.  It taps into its database and returns other songs which also meet that musical criteria.  The only music you will here on your personalized station is music which correlates well with the seeds you have selected.  Basically – it only plays music you like.  Read the FAQ for more info.

It does this through the Music Genome Project.  From the MGP website:

Pandora is based on the Music Genome Project, the most sophisticated taxonomy of musical information ever collected. It represents over eight years of analysis by our trained team of musicologists, and spans everything from this past Tuesday’s new releases all the way back to the Renaissance and Classical music.

Each song in the Music Genome Project is analyzed using up to 400 distinct musical characteristics by a trained music analyst. These attributes capture not only the musical identity of a song, but also the many significant qualities that are relevant to understanding the musical preferences of listeners. …

By utilizing the wealth of musicological information stored in the Music Genome Project, Pandora recognizes and responds to each individual’s tastes. The result is a much more personalized radio experience – stations that play music you’ll love – and nothing else.

And with the launch of Pandora Mobile, you can take your Pandora stations with you on your Blackberry, iPhone/iTouch, and Windows Mobile devices.

The key to a good station is to have a lot of seeds – and a lot of VERY diverse seeds.  If you only have one or two artists which already sound alike, you’ll get a lot of songs that sound exactly alike and you’ll get bored very quickly.  So you need, I’d say, at least 5 seed artists you like, but who don’t play the same style of music.  Below I humbly present my seed list for your critique.  Not too hard, and not too teen pop-y, I think I’ve built myself a pretty good station, if I do say so myself.  If you like country music, though, you’re probably not going to get much out of my station:

  • Ben Folds/Five
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • Foo Fighters (possibly my favorite band right now)
  • Ingram hill
  • Linkin Park
  • Metallica
  • Sara Bareilles
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan
  • The White Stripes
  • Three Days Grace

I just added Stevie Ray Vaughan to my seed list a few days ago – and that turned out to be a great move.  It’s a style of music you don’t hear too often, but is really pretty damn good.  You can listen to my station if you’d like.  If you’re a Pandora user, post your station details in the comments.  Let’s have a music war!  Leave a link to your station, too, if you’d like – your station’s link can be found in the upper right hand corner of the Station Details page.

Happy listening 🙂


  1. One other thing I should mention.

    Pandora does have an explicit lyric filter, but it is turned off by default. If your workplace has sensitive ears, you’ll want to turn it on manually. Here’s how

  2. I like to use Songza, because it has every song ever made. Seriously, you can’t think of a song it doesn’t have. I also use the online version of local radio stations as a break from my Songza playlists.

  3. My workplace doesn’t allow iPod or even iTunes in that case, so I use and my headphone when I’m at the computer, and get this–CD when I’m in lab. I can’t wait till the day I am actually allowed to listen to my iPod when running a column.

    Surprisingly, my favorite band to listen to while doing lab work is the Pussycat Dolls! I don’t even like them!

  4. cookingwithsolvents says:

    THANK YOU for the link to the explicit filters on pandora! I’ll have to make some stations with them enabled. Lately I’ve been using just streaming in lab and I’m about 1/2 through re-ripping/organizing all my music. I have a lot, but organization HAS to happen.

    I bought a decent 5.1 system from for about $50 (shipped…S&H is BRUTAL for 40lbs of speakers) on sale. It does an OK job in the lab (ok, a great job compared to most lab speakers). I know for a fact my productivity goes up when I use ’em and $50 isn’t really much money for the number of hours I work in lab.

    I also have a pair of noise-cancelling headphones (again, got on sale. . .patience for these kind of things pays off BIGTIME) for working at my desk. More than half the time I don’t even have any music on, I just block the noise.

    I have a bunch of stations depending on mood but my two favorite stations are composed of (NO LYRIC FILTERS ARE ENABLED!!!):
    1) hip-hop, trip-hop, ska/ska-punk
    2) classical

  5. This is an appropriate place for a question I’ve had on my mind a lot: what is too loud for a laboratory setting? When I have my iPod in the lab, I tend to use only one earbud, so I can hear the rest of the lab, etc.

    What’s safe and/or appropriate? Any comments?

    • I usually yell, “FIRE!” at my lab mates with earbuds. If they can hear me I don’t have a problem, if they can’t I ask them to turn down their music.

    • I also think you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you. I usually have both ear buds in, but at a reasonable volume.

      Now, what’s crazy is that when we listen to the music over the speakers, we can barely hear anything when standing in front of our hoods. The hoods just make too much noise and do something funky to the sound, cuz we can’t hear anything. But the crazy part is that if you go across the hall to one of the professor’s offices… you can hear it really really well. The sound just kinda skips past the hoods (where we all stand) and goes straight to the office across the hall (where we don’t)

      • cookingwithsolvents says:

        Hmm, did you try to reorient your speakers? Weird. . .

        • Yes. One is pointed more or less right at my hood. No change. The prof across the hall has come over more than once to ask us to turn it down 🙂

  6. cookingwithsolvents says:

    my rule of thumb: If it’s too loud to easily hear a flask break it’s too loud to be safe. I definitely believe everybody should use the “one ear” rule with headphones (though the dangling one isn’t particularly safe, either…depending on what you are doing). One HAS to be aware of what’s going on around them.

  7. I guess I can understand the “wearing earbuds” thing, from the perspective of having a lab with widely varying tastes in music. The idea of wearing earbuds never crossed my mind in grad school, though, I wouldn’t have trusted my peripheral hearing, if that’s even the right term. We had a good old fashioned stereo + speakers and had a pretty fair rotation schedule, so everyone would get stuff into the lineup. I would play (mostly) uncensored hip-hop, one of our postdocs had a bunch of stuff by Thievery Corporation, and on Friday mornings we listened to Poison’s Greatest Hits. You get the idea.

    • Poison. Nice.

      Ya know, Pandora also has regular, genre-themed preset stations if you want something new or don’t want to give a seed. I tried the hair metal station. Not really what I was expecting. Although if you really want an interesting experience, try the Stoner/Doom Metal station…

  8. Are there any labs that have invested in a Sirius/XM receiver? It’d be a pretty nominal cost for a pretty incredible service — I wouldn’t have minded a dose of Raw Dog in the lab.

  9. I don’t like Pandora. It keeps on playing crap I don’t like after making radio stations. I dunno why :(. makes me sad.

    • do you thumb down the songs you don’t like and thumb up the ones you do? Pandora will learn if you teach it.

  10. You can take your Pandora stations with you on your Blackberry…but not if you leave the US, of course, the big P is only available to US users as far as I know; of course you can use Hotspot Shield or a similar US-based VPN to spoof your IP…

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