Pandora stole music files from thousands of bands and musicians, packaged it, sold it to Ford for millions. The founder Tim Westergren was keyboardist in Yellowwood Junction and other projects. He appears September 9 at The Guild. In a related matter, the Winkelvoss Brothers — co-founders of Facebook — played in a nightclub in Berkeley last month: vanity projects.
I’m a critic of Silicon Valley as a whole, so something that hits as close to home as streaming services I find especially offensive.
Pandora launched its personalized radio service in the second half of 2005 paying a per performance rate of $0.000762 each time a song was played. (Hayes, 2021)
Despite its growth and the excitement it was generating, Pandora spent its first several years struggling to keep the lights on. It had publicly warned of pulling the plug. It was paying artists according to the law — which wasn’t a given in the early days of digital music — but it didn’t think it could afford to have the rates double or triple.
My point is that like Napster Pandora started by file-sharing music on a large scale. Then over time as they became subject to the consent decree, they reimburse labels, artists and composers the legal rate — which made Tim a millionaire of quasi-billionaire but still leaves most musicians struggling.
“We should have done what Spotify did and ate a pound of flesh to get the industry on our side, then expanded the scope of the product and then really gone global and become an all-you-can-eat service,” said Westergren.
In the end, musical artists continue to be the ones dealt the bad hand. Spotify pays major labels huge financial sums and upfront guarantees while it’s estimated that most artists will see payments of between $0.003 and $0.006 per song play.
Pandora still remains an active player in the music streaming space and counted 58.5 million monthly active listeners at the end of 2020. Depending on which music listener you ask, Pandora is a fond memory of digital music coming into its own, or its radio service may still be a vital part of their passive listening experience. Attention wise, however, Pandora is being left behind as Spotify and Apple Music push faster and further into on-demand streaming, sucking all the oxygen out of the room.
I mean “stole” in the sense of getting a great bargain or getting the much better benefit of the bargain that the thousands of musicians do or did.
A billionaire can sue a non-billionaire for saying the sky is not blue enough. So I am sticking my neck out here. Its possible that Tim is a donor to The Guild theatre, which was built with $30m in donations from people a lot like him.