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NYC Pandora Listener Meet Up

Monday, March 22, 2010 at the New World Stages in Manhattan

Do you listen to Pandora?

If you do, keep at it! If you don’t, then you can be Pandora’s 50 millionth listener. Yes, according to founder Tim Westergren, Pandora will breach the 50 million mark in a short amount of time!

I just got back from the New York Pandora listener meet-up hosted at the New World Stages. At this town hall-like get together, Tim spoke about Pandora’s history, the Music Genome Project® it runs on, and the future of Pandora. He also opened the floor to questions so that the meet-up became an open discussion about Pandora.

If you are not familiar with the “who, what, when, where” of Pandora, here is some basic information to catch you up:

Pandora Meet-up

Pandora Meet-up


WHO: Tim Westergren is the founder of Pandora station. Tim is a musician; he used to play in rock bands. Before Pandora, Tim used to be a film composer, which is where he got his music genome idea for the Pandora radio station. Tim explained that a film composer’s job is to figure out someone’s musical taste and translate it into musicological information.

WHAT: Pandora is an internet radio that creates a uni-cast environment. What makes Pandora unique is how it personalizes music stations through the Music Genome Project® (below is more detailed description of the project).

WHEN: It all started in 1999 when Tim caught the start-up fever (“It was the 90s” as he smartly remarked). The company was running pretty smoothly, developing the Music Genome Project® and building the soon-to-be Pandora radio station, until 2001. In 2001, the company ran out of money and began paying its employees part-time and ultimately not paying them at all (salary deferral). This kept on for two and a half years until 2004 when the company was able to raise $9 million through an institutional investment (who that was, Tim did not mention). However, he was able to pay back his poor employees 2 1/2 years worth of hard work. it was only by the fall of 2005 that the Pandora we know today emerged.

WHERE: The Pandora headquarters are located in Oakland, CA but there are now sales offices in major cities like Los Angeles and New York City, and so on.

The Music Genome Project®

Tim described the Music Genome Project® as a “collection of songs each analyzed by trained musicians who pull out 400 attributes.” These 400 attributes are called the “genes” of the song. They are the features that relate songs and separate them.

Tim made a point that Pandora “does not know anything about Meta data.” Pandora does not take into account an artist or song’s cultural aspect, popularity, or reputation; it’s all about the song’s musical characteristics, such as rhythm, form, vocalization, and instruments used.


After entering this categorization in the database, Pandora then relies on its listeners to “thumb down or thumb up” individual songs so that it can “calculate [their] musical proximity and map them back onto the database.” The Musical Genome Project® is a giant musical ear that tunes itself to your likes.

Radio and Pandora Facts and Stats (according to Tim):
Radio Pandora
  • Less than 100,000 songs in the entire history of radio broadcast have ever been played
  • On average an individual listens to 17 hours of radio per week
  • Of the 17 hours of radio listened, 96% are listened to through broadcast radio (so NOT Pandora because it is a unicast radio)
  • It costs Pandora 2¢/hr to stream music
  • Pandora adds about 85,000 new listeners per day
  • Pandora makes up 1 1/4 of all radio
  • Out of 100 hours, 1 hour and 15 minutes of radio is listened to on Pandora
  • Pandora has 3/4 of a million songs so far; 90 million of those three-fourths were played last month
  • “Dancing Queen” by ABBA was Pandora’s first song analyzed through the Music Genome Project®
  • It takes about 15 minutes for a trained musician to analyze a pop song and about one hour and a half for a symphony
  • 1 out of every 4 or 5 songs gets a thumb (whether up or down)
  • Pandora receives about 20,000 emails per month
  • Pandora music analysts are paid about $40/hr; they are covered by health insurance; they work flexible hours (Tim definitely encourages this job)
  • Pandora has advertised for 45 out of the 50 top advertisers
  • During Pandora’s first year, 90210 was the zip code people out of the country would type to give the impression they lived in the US so that they too could listen to Pandora
  • Pandora admits to 0.4% of missed searches. That is, Pandora will get stumped 0.4% of the time when you enter a song or artist
  • Pandora pays a publishing fee to composers and a performance fee
  • Pandora abides by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, which shapes radios and mandates royalties

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