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Why Pandora Is Opening Its Big Data To Artists

Pandora’s new artist analytics platform is genuinely useful, and it’s also an olive branch in a bigger battle.

Why Pandora Is Opening Its Big Data To Artists
[Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

For nine years, Pandora has been amassing a stockpile of data–and 45 billion “thumb” button clicks later, the Internet radio company knows so much about how people listen to music that the insights have become its chief competitive advantage. Not even Apple has succeeded in shaking Pandora from dominance.

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But what about the people that make all those songs in the first place?

Today, Pandora stops hogging all the big data glory for itself and opens up the Pandora Artist Marketing Platform (AMP). Through it, artists can see basic analytics like how many times their tracks get played, how many stations are built from their songs, how many thumbs up or down they’re getting, and a breakdown of geographic and demographic data.

For artists who have a presence on Pandora, the insight could be incredibly useful. Are listeners in Baltimore suddenly taking a liking to your ’90s throwback alt-rock band? Pandora AMP’s interactive heat map will show you. Did everyone in Miami thumbs-down your new single? Maybe you could save the gas money on tour next time.

This is type of insight that Pandora has been sharing on a one-off basis with artists who stop by its Oakland headquarters for some time. With the launch of AMP, the company makes it available to everyone whose music is included on the service (provided they’ve formally claimed their artist profile).

Pandora AMP is part of the company’s broader efforts to better cater to artists, some of whom have criticized the company for its low royalty payouts. The issue came to a head in 2012 when Pandora sponsored a bill to lower royalty rates for Internet radio. The company said it was an effort to level the playing field between terrestrial and Internet radio, though as it so happened, the change would have reduced Pandora’s massive operating costs as well.

That bill failed last year, but it left a lasting dent in the relationship between artists and Pandora. Cracker frontman David Lowery–always the loudest, crankiest voice in any debate about the new digital music economy–was joined by prominent artists like Brian Wilson and Rihanna in opposing the bill.

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Pandora and its Internet radio brethren continue to pursue their quest for a more sustainable business model, but realize they can’t do so without handing some kind of olive branch to artists, lest they be labeled anti-musician boogeymen who don’t care about the livelihood of hardworking artists. Data sharing is an obvious way to do that: It makes Pandora more useful to artists, and costs Pandora almost nothing to do.

Pandora isn’t a pioneer here: Spotify already gives artists access to their data via a partnership with Next Big Sound. But Spotify’s streaming model and Pandora’s Internet radio model are different, and their users may be different too. Artists no doubt would prefer more money from both models, but perhaps the artists who learn to harness this data will at least find ways to turn it into cash.

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About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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