Thumbs Down: Pandora Refuses to Let Fans Connect With the Artists They Love

The erudite Kristen V. Brown writing in SF Chronicle tells us that “Pandora tries to woo musicians with data, not royalties“, but it turns out that another Pandora charm offensive is failing.   The one thing that Pandora could easily do that wouldn’t cost them a dime is of course too valuable for them to give away to the artists they are screwing–let fans connect with directly with the artists they love.

What is the one bit of data that is (A) most valuable to anyone selling a product online and (B) something that almost every artist already has?

Fan emails that artists could add to their often very well tended email lists.  A zip code would also be nice.  Almost every band has an email sign up list on their website (assuming they have a website other than Facebook, which is a whole other issue).

Here’s what’s not valuable:  Heat maps showing you are getting streamed in Biloxi, Tucumcari and Yellowknife and that’s exactly what Pandora is offering.  (Try routing that tour.)  Extraordinarily aggregated data that tells you everything and nothing at the same time brought to you by people who have never humped a trap case.

Pandora Data

This may have worked back in the early 00s when record company new media execs would buy almost anything that said Internet, but no more.  Everyone is wise to this scam.  And want to bet that this level is just the tease and they either try to get you to take a lower royalty or simply pay in order to get the good stuff–if they even have any good stuff?

Ms. Brown tell us:

Olive branch

So far, few musicians have been wooed by Pandora’s olive branch.

At Pandora headquarters this month, Leftover Salmon guitarist Vince Herman wanted to know how the band could improve its Pandora numbers.

Leftover Salmon has had a good relationship with Pandora. The company often trumpets the exposure that Pandora brings to artists, since an algorithm selects what its 75 million listeners hear, rather than the listeners themselves. Leftover Salmon isn’t a band that has radio hits — but it has more than 400,000 monthly listeners on Pandora.

At first, Herman was enticed by the data. He even opened a show for Pandora employees with a data joke. “This is a little bit different than our demographic,” he said. “You should really be 70 percent male. We’re making progress already.”

But a few days later, he came to reconsider the value of the numbers. They mostly confirmed what the band already knew about its fans. They weren’t detailed enough to provide greater insight.

Bottom line

And they didn’t change the band’s core concern — that Internet music streaming companies simply don’t pay artists enough.

“You go to the bank to check your bank account, and maybe they give you a free cup of coffee or let you open a savings account for free, but there’s still just $3 in the account,” he said. “It doesn’t change the bottom line. Pandora should be paying musicians more for what they built their company on.”

Exposure, after all, doesn’t pay the bills.

Here’s what Pandora could easily do for artists (and why they won’t).  Pandora could at relatively low cost put a button on the “Now Playing” page right next to the Facebook share button that said something catchy like “Connect”.  Clicking that button would take the fan to the artist’s email sign up on the artist’s website and the fan could sign up or not.

See what I did there?  The artist would have to give Pandora the link–otherwise, no “Connect” button because there’s nothing to connect to.  The fan decides they’d like to connect–they’re not forced to do it, no one is giving up their information without a complex set of permissions.  The privacy policy in effect for the sign up is not Pandora’s policy but the band’s policy (assuming the band has one, ahem…another issue).  Or it could be a third party like Constant Contact, Mail Chimp or whoever the band uses.

The fan then can decide where to go next, including back to Pandora, where they probably will return eventually.

And it’s that decision that will create the biggest pushback from YouTube, Pandora, Spotify or any of the other platforms that could do the same thing I’m describing.  Internet product folk absolutely hate the idea of letting consumers make such choices (not withstanding Google’s “one click away” BS).

Maria Schneider is on the right track here:

Maria Schneider, a composer and Big Band leader, said that data can be extremely useful to artists trying to squeeze profit from the shrinking margins of the industry, allowing them to better plan tours, set strategy for album releases and connect with fans. But the information provided by Pandora, she said, is useless.

“If Pandora wanted to help, they’d reveal exactly who those fans are, so that the music creator could develop direct relationships with their fans,” she said, rather than giving the artists just basic information like a fan’s age and where they live.

I would suggest that allowing fans to choose to sign up would be an easier work around that would also work on all music platforms anywhere in the world.  The disclosing part can get tricky, especially in countries that actually protect consumers.  Maria’s coming from the right place with good intentions, but I’d suggest that the minor repair of making the “Connect” button available for fans to use voluntarily would go a long way to avoiding any pushback based on privacy concerns (that only seem to come up when some tech companies are trying to protect consumers from other tech companies (see “Do Not Track”).

But count on Pandora, YouTube, Beats, Spotify et al to oppose this simple idea that would actually convey something of potential value to the artists these New Boss companies profit from.  Thanks to Kristen for getting out the truth.

2 thoughts on “Thumbs Down: Pandora Refuses to Let Fans Connect With the Artists They Love

  1. Here’s the trick the artists, labels and retailers want to know where those fans are BuyingThis(TM) next release and our use of a Fan Heat Map in this context has allowed two or our release to reach the top of the Charts (Goldenheart & Getting There) and more importantly pushing several others into selling 100s if not thousands of physical unites. And this is as an upstart Independent Entertainment Co and very little press so we have to make sure that our engagement is about the core activity of selling and what a better way than to ask who’s BuyingThis and where?


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