Pandora’s grand plan: A CRM system for recording artists

February 18, 2015, 8:48 PM UTC
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 3:  Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren  in Washington, DC on February 3, 2015.   (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 3: Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren in Washington, DC on February 3, 2015. (Photo by Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)
Linda Davidson — The Washington Post/Getty Images

Musical acts today make the majority of their money from touring. (Unless, perhaps, you happen to be Taylor Swift.) Because of this, an entire class of apps and Web services exists to help artists promote themselves and their tours. There’s Artist Growth, Bandsintown, SongKick, Thrillcall, YPlan,, Jukely, and Superglued (which appears to have already shut down).

But if you talk to people who actually manage bands, they tend to say the same thing: These services are great for concert-goers, but few of the apps really deliver what artists need, which is complex analytics on large data sets of fans.

With Pandora’s artist management platform, called AMP, the company hopes to be that service. Launched in October, the software allows bands to see where their listeners are located and provides to artists detailed data about how fans respond (thumbs up, thumbs down) to different songs. This information can help with tour planning.

On Wednesday at the Code/Media conference Pandora co-founder Tim Westergren announced a new feature which is likely to excite artists, especially smaller ones with no advertising budgets to promote their tours. It’s a feature called Artist Audio Messaging and it allows artists to speak directly to their fans.

An artist can record a short message to be injected into playlists based around their music. He or she could use it to tell fans in a specific city about an upcoming show, or simply thank them for listening. Pandora, which makes the majority of its $712 million in annual revenue from ads, has no plans to monetize this feature. It’s more of a way to curry favor with artists. Westergren hinted that this is the start for a whole customer relationship management, or CRM, platform for artists.

Pandora (P) has an advantage over its competitors because of the size of its listener base and how many hours they listen. The company had 81.5 million active listeners as of last year, who listened to 20 billion hours worth of music in 2014. (Spotify is hot on Pandora’s tail with 60 million active users.) In an interview, Westergren said Pandora’s large set of data, which includes 50 billion thumbs up and thumbs down signals, is one of its most-overlooked advantages over competitors.

The news comes as Pandora experiences stronger competition than ever from iHeartRadio, YouTube’s streaming service, and Apple’s radio service. Meanwhile, the company missed its earnings expectations last quarter, sending its shares into a downward spiral. Westergren said that, like many times in Pandora’s 10-year life span, this is just another period that Pandora will have to weather. “There have been at least 20 ‘Pandora-killers,'” Westergren said in an interview. The only time the company saw a blip in the growth of its listening hours was when Apple’s iTunes radio service launched, he says. But even that quickly went away.

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