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Pandora: Don't hate the game, hate the players

January 11, 2013|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • The Pandora app is seen on an Apple iPhone.
The Pandora app is seen on an Apple iPhone. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg )

Is Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren a band’s biggest enemy or best ally?

Last year, he began lobbying Congress to lower digital music royalties, a move that made him appear a soulless businessman all too eager to bite the hand that feeds him. (After all, Pandora is nothing without its music.)

But at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Westergren cast Pandora in a different light.

“Speaking to a room full of technology executives and policymakers, [Westergren] pitched his online radio service as a ladder into the middle class for working musicians,” writes The Times’ Jon Healey.

Most bands have to rely on relentless social media to introduce themselves to new listeners over the Web. With Pandora, musicians get a platform (that they don’t have to pay for, or even think about) with a massive audience.

And that’s not all. At the event, writes Healey, Westergren “touted Pandora's ability to help artists figure out where to tour and promote their live shows to a receptive audience.”

Healey describes how Pandora could eventually connect artists with their fans:

The key, Westergren said, is in the feedback Pandora users give on songs. The site allows listeners to give a thumbs up to songs they'd like to hear more frequently in their personalized radio feeds, and a thumbs down to those they don't. This feedback can help identify the people most interested in going to an artist's concert.

Westergren said he could see allowing artists to log into Pandora to see a heat map of the thumbs up ratings, showing the areas where they had the largest number of potential fans (but not their identities). Artists could also enter their tour information into the site, and Pandora could send alerts to listeners who'd given those bands' songs a thumbs up -- along with the option to buy tickets with one click.

So, actually, Westergren may be doing more for musicians than their so-called music fans.

We’ve become entitled, greedy, human siphons. We want everything now, and when we can get it for free, all the better. Yes, the Internet makes it possible to get away with paying little or nothing for music, but that doesn’t mean we’re blameless. If we continue taking, taking, taking without ever paying a realistic amount of money, musicians will flee and music will suffer.

Music, for a lot of us, is stitched into our daily lives. It’s part of our experiences, our memories. Yet we take it for granted. Yes, we pay for concert tickets and merch, but so few of us actually pay for the music at the core. 

In a recent piece for New York Magazine, Elizabeth Wurtzel laments this new era. “The arts have thrived, and great work has supported itself without the benefit of government subsidy, because this country was founded with an intellectual property system and a free press that understood that creativity and capitalism are happy partners,” she writes. “All of that has broken down, between piracy and technology, and I do not expect that a satisfactory model will be invented that allows these choices to work.”

Can the old-school model, in which art and commerce are harmoniously symbiotic, exist within our new reality? Of course. Music writer David Greenwald tweets suggestions on a regular basis for how we, the consumer, can do our part. It’s simple. If you like a song or an album enough to listen to it on repeat, buy it. And Internet music providers, he says, should help facilitate these transactions.

“Did we save music yet?” Greenwald recently tweeted. I hope we’re on our way.

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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

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