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How Pandora Helps Musicians Plan Tours

When music acts visit Pandora’s headquarters in Oakland, they get a surprise: detailed listener information.

How Pandora Helps Musicians Plan Tours
[Photo: Flickr user Rock Cousteau]

When touring acts come through San Francisco, they often drop by Pandora for in-office concerts. It’s a nice perk for employees, but the acts walk away with something too: As part of their appearance agreement, the Internet radio company offers them extensive listener info.

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Eric Bieschke, Pandora’s chief scientist and VP of playlists, says that touring acts and their management are given a “presentation of all their big data on Pandora,” which is based around a heat map showing the act’s listenership, zip code by zip code, across the United States. While the artists don’t have access to listener Facebook info or email addresses–which many artists request in order to alert listeners to upcoming shows–it does give extensive regional information. They also receive a detailed breakdown of how their music is received by different demographics, “different slices and views of things they can take advantage of,” and what their next single should be based on Pandora play charts. He says that the company offers hundreds of these demonstrations for artists each year.

For most people, Pandora is synonymous with Internet radio. But it’s also an amazing storehouse of data. The Oakland-based company keeps tabs on what kind of device a user uses to listen (smartphone? office computer?) and uses that to help determine playlists. The type of music a user listens to gives demographic and purchasing insights–a listener of Latin music, for instance, is far more likely to be served with ads for Latin American vacation destinations. And, for artists, Pandora keeps metrics on listenership that mash up old-fashioned radio ratings with contemporary data science.

The main tool used to sort through the massive amounts of data the service produces is Tableau, a popular data visualization platform that is commonly used to measure media consumption and audience metrics. Due to the nature of Pandora’s freemium business model, the company depends on advertising revenue to keep stakeholders happy. And for artist stakeholders, who are still adapting to the strange world of streaming content royalties, Pandora wants to make sure they’re on their good side. For musicians, that means access to all sorts of listener metrics.

Artists and management use the info from Pandora, along with conventional music stats and analytics from services like YouTube and iTunes, to plan tours. Co.Labs was given a detailed look into how this happens through the world of country music. Average Joes Entertainment is a Nashville-based country label best known for acts Montgomery Gentry and Bubba Sparxxx.

Nathan Thompson, director of digital business development at Average Joes, says that Pandora’s play metrics (which are shown to recipients on heat maps) are crucial in finding out where people are listening to his label’s acts. In the case of one musician, Lenny Cooper, Pandora’s metrics indicated many plays in Indiana and Michigan–states which previously registered low sales for Cooper. The high play amount made Average Joes realize there was an opportunity to build an audience there. Based primarily on Pandora’s metrics, Average Joes made the decision to strike a regional deal with Walmart for sales and a upper Midwest tour.

In the case of a second Average Joes act, the country-rap Moonshine Bandits, Pandora’s metrics were used in tandem with iTunes analytics to boost regional sales. The central California-based Bandits tour extensively on the West Coast and built up a strong regional fan base, but their label wanted to break them in other markets. They were intentionally paired with a Southern act, The Lacs, and sent together on a package tour that visited each other’s most popular cities for fans. Average Joes then followed Pandora metrics for both bands in each other’s markets following the tour dates, and used that to influence song selection for an upcoming EP.

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Tony Morreale, Average Joes vice president of promotion and marketing, added that “Pandora gives us a quicker national picture and allows us to act accordingly.” By combining Pandora’s analytics with Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, and other services, labels have access to something resembling real-time listener analytics for the first time in pop music’s history. But, as Thompson puts it, the chief challenge is turning all those Pandora plays into paying customers.

Soon, Pandora’s analytics will be available for just about any musical act, management, or label. Industry site Digital Music News reports Pandora is working on a listener data analytics dashboard for artists. Although Pandora would offer us no further information for this article, it’s believed that some sort of fan interaction capability will be included. Although third-party vendors such as Next Big Sound offer Pandora analytics, there’s no official Pandora analytics dashboard available on a mass basis at this time.

The rise of digital music effectively ended business patterns that existed in the pop world since the 1960s, and regional markets have become more important for musical acts as a result. But they are hard to find and define. Reaching out to fans via Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, or any other platform of choice is crucial for any act hoping to make a living from live music and digital music streaming or sales. As every song we listen to is turned into discrete data points, the hope is that analytics–Pandora included–will turn into a dependable secret weapon for artists and management.

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