Pandora Radio… In the UK… On a Mac (sort of)

picture-1I was a big fan of Pandora Radio when it started out. Both before and since I have tried music recommendation systems, including the new iTunes Genius, but I never found one that seemed to hit the mark better than Pandora. There was something about the way they analyzed the music (something they referred to as the Genome project) that made their recommendations very good – certainly in my case. and in the space of a year I must have bought about 12 CDs based on new music I heard on Pandora.

In their infinite wisdom, the various record labels and authorities decided that allowing me to listen to a radio station in the States given that I live in the UK, was a somehow damaging their profits and the sad day eventually came when I got the Pandora email saying they had been obliged to block listeners from anywhere outside the US. Go figure! So I put up with it and went on my merry way, but every so often I’d see a story about Pandora and I eventually started to miss discovering new artists so I set about looking for a way to solve my problem.

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In essence the trick was to access Pandora via a service that would disguise my ‘UK’ IP address and make it appear as though I was just another user in the States. Trouble is, many of the services that do this either require some sort of monthly subscription or require you to download and install fairly invasive software. I did try a few in the latter category, including Firefox add-ons, but most didn’t work either relaibly or at all with Pandora. I eventually discovered HotSpot Shield and before long I was enjoying Pandora again.

Now HotSpot Shield falls into the category of ‘free’ installed software. You download a small client package (PC/Mac) which you install and there it sits doing absolutely nothing – until you need it, which is exactly what I wanted as I didn’t want my everyday browsing interfered with. I tried out the Mac version and it worked well enough, but given my lack of familiarity with OS X I eventually plumped for running the Windows version inside a small VMware Fusion session. So I set up a minimal Windows XP virtual machine 512Mb, single processor, and as small a hard disk as I could manage, patched it with the thousands of XP fixes you need then installed HotSpot Shield and that was it. Now every time I want to listen to Pandora I just fire up Fusion, load the little VM, load IE7 go to Pandora and I’m away. HotSpot Shield make their money by placing a small add in a frame at the top of your browser window. It’s fairly unobtrusive plus you have the option to close it anyway.

So, I’m happily listening to Pandora and discovering and buying new music again. What could be better? Maybe the record labels seeing sense and removing this daft restriction?!