OAKLAND, CA—The headquarters of personalized online music provider Pandora remained in a state of chaos Thursday as frantic workers struggled to find a song that 32-year-old Boston subscriber Dave Lipton would enjoy.
Pandora, which allows users to create virtual radio stations according to their individual tastes, confirmed its employees had spent most of the day rummaging desperately through the miles of shelves in the company's massive 700,000-CD storage facility in search of a track to appease the increasingly fickle Lipton.
"It's called 'Steely Dan Radio,' for Christ's sake—why does he keep skipping over Donald Fagen's 'The Nightfly'?" song-selection associate Lincoln Foster said as he rifled through a laundry cart full of CDs labeled "'70s Jazz Fusion." "We've already thrown three-decades-worth of Doobie Brothers at him. What the hell does this guy want?"
"Okay, who's got the self-titled Blood, Sweat & Tears album?" Foster added. "I need 'Spinning Wheel' right now!"
As a user of Pandora's free service, Lipton is only allowed to skip six songs an hour, but sources said that by clicking the thumbs-down "dislike" icon, he has registered his disapproval for every track the 2,939-member Pandora team has put on his playlist in the past five hours.
According to genre-tracking department manager Rachel Davis, the problem has been compounded by Lipton's habit of switching without warning between several extremely specific listening profiles he has created for himself.
"Who makes a station with proto-punk and late-'90s jam bands?" said Davis, explaining how an effort to split the difference by playing the MC5 followed by the String Cheese Incident had failed disastrously. "There are what, maybe two songs ever recorded that fit those criteria? And he just keeps skipping them."
"At this point, I think he's just fucking with us," Davis continued before scaling a 30-foot ladder to retrieve a vinyl-only release by obscure Illinois ska-core group the Blue Meanies.
Lipton reportedly listened to that track for less than 10 seconds before skipping it.
Pandora executives acknowledged that the periodic Heineken and Ford Sales Event advertisements in Lipton's music stream are the only thing currently keeping the company from shutting down, declaring bankruptcy, and abandoning its manual music upload process.
Though the web radio service has dealt with difficult users in the past, including renowned rock critic Robert Christgau and Bay Area software programmer Richard Sutton, representatives for Pandora said that most subscribers are content to listen uncomplainingly to whatever the song-selection team chooses.
"We admit the meltdown today might have been avoided if we had duplicates of some of these albums," said Pandora PR representative Timothy Saltzman, sighing as a flashing red light above his head indicated that Lipton had skipped yet another track. "For example, we thought he might find 'Kashmir' really cool. Now, that might be a stretch, but my point is, we'll never know, because Janice DeStefano of Milwaukee has been hogging our copy of Physical Graffiti all day."
By noon Thursday, Pandora had decided to bring in a panel of genre-bending musicians to act as consultants on the Lipton case, among them Beck, newcomer songstress Janelle Monáe, and retired avant-rock musician Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart.
"I think the best plan is to blindside him with a crazy free-form jazz-rock freak-out," Beefheart said. "Then, before he knows what's happening, bam! A real old-time-sounding blues stomper with anachronistically modern lyrics and subject matter. Hopefully that will keep him interested for at least three minutes."
Added Beefheart, "But if you want to know what I really think, this guy is probably just some bored, bitter asshole who isn't capable of genuinely enjoying anything."