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Pandora Hopes To Lure Musicians Backstage With Analytics

Pandora founder Tim Westergren is a former touring musician himself, but some say the music streaming service he leads is hurting musicians more than helping.
Larry Busacca
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Pandora founder Tim Westergren is a former touring musician himself, but some say the music streaming service he leads is hurting musicians more than helping.

Coming up on the end of a year marred by bitter quarrels over royalties for online music, Pandora is now making a play for artists' goodwill.

On Wednesday, Pandora announced the launch of AMP (Artist Marketing Platform), a free service that pulls back the curtain on the widely popular streaming service and gives musicians access to data on who is listening to their music, when and where.

The Oakland-based streaming service is not the first to the analytics game — Spotify partnered with Next Big Sound in 2013and acquired The Echo Nest in March — but Pandora has, by far, the largest audience. The company reports that more than 76 million listeners tune in to Pandora for an average of 20 hours each month. In June 2014, that amounted to about 1.6 billion listener hours.

AMP offers artists daily updates on the number of listens for each song, demographic and geographic data on listenership, and the number of fans making artist playlists. Pandora says the service will enable artists to target cities with large fan bases for tours, strategize album and single releases and better engage with audiences.

"With AMP, the goal is simple: We want to harness the power of our scale and data to make artists' lives easier," says Pandora founder Tim Westergren in a press release.

So will this change anything for Pandora listeners? That depends on how much AMP wins over musicians and persuades more artists to join the service.

With profits from music sales far lower than decades past, artists are looking to data as they try to squeeze as many dollars as possible from everything else — touring, merchandise sales and other profit streams driven by audience engagement. Pandora's move to offer artists data might help, and could improve relationships with musicians.

"Especially now that everyone's listening habits are shifting to streaming, if they're giving bands and their teams access to data as well, that's great," says John Chavez of Ground Control Booking, who manages touring for bands like Real Estate and Titus Andronicus.

It's no secret that Pandora had been using its data before opening up the information to artists. With midterm elections coming up, political ads have been targeting Pandora listeners based on preferences. If you're listening to jazz, reggae, or electronic music, odds are that a Democratic candidate will be staring at you from a corner of your computer screen this week.

Musicians reasonably might want to get in on the same data pool. With the largest audience of any online music service, Pandora's AMP holds the potential to make an outsize contribution to musicians' data arsenal.

"Artists need data to work for them," says Mark Mulligan, co-founder of MiDiA Research, which consults on digital media strategy in the music industry. "Put it into a music service like Pandora or Spotify, then that impact becomes multiplied."

If Pandora wants to truly win over musicians, however, it will need more than data. Other services are offering features such as links to artists' websites for direct music sales.

"I hope [AMP] is Part 1," says Mike King, an instructor at Berklee Online and author of Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail. "I really hope there's Part 2, where [Pandora says] let's monetize this, or let's give these fans the option to opt-in to your email list, which is something a bit deeper."

Ultimately, AMP is unlikely to lure musicians to the extent that listeners would see a huge jump in Pandora's limited catalog anytime soon.

"It's not suddenly going to transform Pandora into a darling of artists and songwriters," Mulligan says.

Still, AMP may be an attempt by Pandora to recover from its damaged relationships with artists and labels over royalty battles. Westergren, himself a former touring musician, has been criticized for leading a company that some have seen as detrimental to artists' bottom lines.

"In 2009, Tim Westergren could kind of do no wrong," King says. "Over time, I think he lost some support; there wasn't a lot of continuity between what Tim Westergren was saying and what Pandora was doing."

While Pandora may not relinquish any ground in the royalties game, with AMP it can still offer more to musicians.

"Whereas Pandora may not be able to offer as much to artists in pure dollar terms, what it can do is value-in-kind, which is data," Mulligan says.

Robert Szypko is an intern on NPR's Business Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Robert Szypko
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