Pandora: my heart hurts

I’ve been pretty disparaging about Pandora’s business acumen in the past (twice). I love the service because it’s just so quick and easy to ‘get’ and I was intrigued by the Music Genome Project.  Or, should I say, ‘loved’ – because, being non-American, I can’t use it anymore.

If you’re resident outside the US you probably received a similar email early in January 2008:

hi, it’s Tim,

This is an email I hoped I would never have to send.

As you probably know, in July of 2007 we had to block usage of Pandora outside the U.S. because of the lack of a viable license structure for Internet radio streaming in other countries. It was a terrible day. We did however hold out some hope that a solution might exist for the UK, so we left it unblocked as we worked diligently with the rights organizations to negotiate an economically workable license fee. After over a year of trying, this has proved impossible. Both the PPL (which represents the record labels) and the MCPS/PRS Alliance (which represents music publishers) have demanded per track performance minima rates which are far too high to allow ad supported radio to operate and so, hugely disappointing and depressing to us as it is, we have to block the last territory outside of the US.

Suddenly, I feel very bad. I castigated Pandora for, well, being incompetent or so I thought. It seems however that they’ve genuinely been trying to make it work despite a music industry that cannot get its head around the opportunities afforded by online music distribution.

EMI is already suffering, quite simply because it’s been taken over by someone who actually gets what’s going on. People don’t buy CDs any more. They download. They listen. They interact with other people who listen and download. People, and their preferences, are key. Not what executives think.

If I were an entrepreneur in the music industry I would look to enterprises such as Pandora as the best way to publicise my product. I have bought music on the back of the wonderfully creative Pandora algorithms.

And this is truly why I’m sad. Because, now that I’ve moved across to Last.fm – who are probably also in trouble but are less open about it than Pandora – I find that I’m listening to music I already know. I just moved from Beck to Flaming Lips to Radiohead, all of which I’m familiar with. Pandora would throw lovely unexpected moves at me. Last.fm isn’t doing this – yet.

Plus, it’s taken me a short while – just a short one, but a while nevertheless – to get myself up and running with Last.fm. And if I want to get other people interested in it, I have to persuade them to download software, which I didn’t with Pandora.

And is it just me, or does Last.fm keep skipping momentarily, while Pandora’s feed was rock-steady?

Oh well. Maybe I should emigrate to the USA then I can enjoy it all over again.

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6 thoughts on “Pandora: my heart hurts

  1. Brendan

    This whole thing saddens me. I’m Chair of Salaam Shalom – the UK’s first Muslim/Jewish radio station which is online only. We are able to gain a licence at reasonable cost because we ONLY broadcast only and it allows us to play a range of music. We’re lucky.

    I think the industry has got itself into a bind that it can’t extricate itself from. Because of past history, and their high-handed, profiteering approach they are now unable to turn to their one major ally – the consumer. They have got a massive amount of bridge-building to do, but with the right approach they could start educating consumers as to why artists should be paid for their music and where the money actually goes.

    The reality is, rather than closing down Pandora, AllofMP3 and others that are acting “illegally”, why not work with them. Sure, I’d be prepared to pay another 25 or 50 cents on top of my download fee for each album in royalty payments. I’d even be prepared to pay 50 cents a week to listen to the radio (it’s cheaper than my TV licence!!). It’s still cheap at twice the price and I know the artist and composers are getting paid.

    More importantly, as you point out, I’m going to be coming back, listening to and maybe downloading new bands that I wouldn’t normally try, and even contacting friends to say “listen to this”. Why is the industry so short-sighted? There’s enough there for everyone and the whole world isn’t going to stop buying CDs or whatever the latest hardware becomes.

  2. You’re right in that there’s enough for everyone. The music industry seems so hooked on the product model – shifting mass-produced ‘units’ of records, then tapes, then CDs – that it’s going to take painful culls such as is happening right now at EMI to change things. I’m not surprised the music industry is scared of such change, but the solution is staring them in the face – and it’s social media. We’re managing it, so why can’t company execs? They can’t just lay claim to having promoted people on YouTube and hope everything else will just fall into place.

    Good luck with the station. I’ve heard about it.

  3. I love Pandora. I used it to search for new tracks to make a Valentine’s Day CD for my wife.

    I downloaded 15 songs that I never would have bought otherwise – 13 of them from artists I’d never heard of, but want to hear more of.

    They just. Don’t. Get it.

  4. Pingback: Could social media save digital radio? « Brendan Cooper - Your friendly PR social media planner

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