Pandora CTO Tom Conrad insists his number one priority is to make the best playlists in the world. But he’s also aware that users increasingly expect more than a simple music-listening experience from their music apps.
Nowhere are these competing priorities more difficult to balance than on the small screen of a mobile device. On Monday, he and Pandora will release their best attempt: Pandora 4.0 for Android and iOS.
Apple is getting into streaming radio, according to The Wall Street Journal. But Pandora has survived worse.
Savage Beast Technologies launched its music kiosk software business in 2000—at exactly the wrong time. The brick and mortar music industry was collapsing. Tower Records, the first to offer Savage Beast’s service, closed the last of its U.S. stores in 2006. Virgin Megastores shuttered in 2009. Other major retailers that sold CDs, including Circuit City and Borders Books, followed suit.
“Unfortunately, that was a dying business,” said Joe Kennedy, CEO of Savage Beast successor Pandora. “The company hit hard times very very early in the process.”
Why does it take so much input from so many sources for Pandora to build perfect playlists? Fast Company spoke with with Tom Conrad, the CTO and Executive VP of Product, to find out.
The one thing you can know absolutely about a piece of music is what musicological constructs are at work in a song. If you can understand that, you can, by extension, find other songs that are musicologically similar. Which means songs don’t have to be popular or well-known to be able to participate in the Music Genome Project system, since it’s based on underlying musical attributes. And oh, by the way, it turns out peoples’ musical preferences are hugely influenced by what the music sounds like.
Since its inception, SoundExchange, the organization that collects royalty payments from digital music services like Pandora, has brought in more than $900 million—$292 million of which it collected last year alone. But how much of a cut does SoundExchange take for itself? Nothing, other than for operating and administrative costs.
Yeah yeah, this happened on Friday but it’s still relevant: Pandora just filed for a $100m IPO, so if you’ve been saving your birthday checks from Grandma and want to start making real cash, you might want to check it out.
Rumors have been bubbling for months over an IPO for the 80-million strong streaming music service. Asked recently, founder and Chief Strategy Officer Tim Westergren declined to comment one way or another about whether his company ended 2010 with estimated total revenues of $100 million (the company ended 2009 with its first profitable quarter and $50 million in total revenues). “It’s all going in the right direction,” Westergren told Fast Company.
Under his direction, the company has grown significantly, and now dominates a significant chunk of the Internet radio market and holds more than a 2% share of all radio listening.
Step up your game, music bloggers: the above image is an application to work at Pandora, the Internet radio station that recommends you new music based on your preferences. Are you down with the Wu-Tang? Check out Odd Future and Dipset, Pandora might say. Into Katy Perry? Try Robyn and Sade! But Pandora doesn’t just run on an algorithm—it also depends on a staff of listeners acting as arbiters of taste, making the call when a comparison is just right or laughably off-base:
Pandora’s secret sauce is people. Music lovers. Professional players who pass job application tests requiring them to pick, for example, one of four jazz tunes and “describe the harmonic language,” answer whether it’s “tonal or modal,” and “outline the progression.” These wonks pour over every track that Pandora downloads or rips (yes, rips from hundreds of CDs purchased each week) and catalog its 400-plus attributes before adding it to the 850,000-plus song library. It’s this hominal factor that has helped Pandora keep its engine serving so many new listeners in so many new places.
Heavy stuff. We’re guessing a snide “This is just derivative of The Beatles” crack won’t fly at Pandora HQ. Check out the full story at the main site.