Pandora Internet Radio And The Music Genome Experience With Tim Westergren

Tim Westergren, brainchild of the Music Genome Project and founder of Pandora Internet radio spoke at Babb’s Coffee House in Fargo, at a town hall style meeting on Nov 2.

Musical Background

Tim Westergren, a musician by background played in rock bands and traveled all over the western U.S.  He is a native from Minnesota and he attended college at Stanford university. Traveling throughout the Colorado West as a pianist and playing with different bands, he was able to understand the challenges struggling musicians face in finding audiences and listeners.

Westergren said that traveling back and forth from small towns to big towns in search of music led him to seek technology as help. That gave birth to Pandora Internet radio and the Music Genome Project.

Town Hall-Style meetings

Westergren first started these meetups in Manhattan, N.Y. and admired the feedback that he got and he decided to keep doing it. Today the 250-some-town hall style meetings he has held keep growing with audiences.

Westergren informed the audience that the purpose of these events is to collect feedback to the company. He wants to speak for the listeners of Pandora.

Music Genome Project

The purpose of the Music Genome Project was to analyze music in a granular way. It was created 10 years ago and uses about 400 different attributes in the taxonomy of each song. Every detail of the song is manually scored by musicians and thus, there is a 400-string musical DNA of each song.

Using sequence based musical co-relations with thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons that have been used about 7 billion times already in the site, the genomes learn what the listener likes and each time his or her personal station is recurated.

Artists in the system are used as identifiers and once they are there in the system about 70 percent independent artists have an equal chance to be heard on the website. This way radio could support musicians.

Westergren further said, “the Music Genome Project built a critical mass of music which was a powerful music generator. Its goal was to have a huge range of genres, about 90 percent of the songs play every month.”


“With about 850,000 songs in the collection and about 10,000 new songs being added every month, Pandora is very quick to get you to the right musical neighborhood” said Westergren.

He said he now sees an opportunity to reshape radio. He talked about millions of radio hours that are spent in radio online and the new change in business because of invention of smartphones.

Westergren said that he thinks that today Pandora competes with broadcast radio and is a very effective forum. Unlike radio Pandora pays royalty to both composers of the songs and the performers of the songs. With Pandora Tim sees an opportunity to reshape radio. He sees Pandora as the broad mass consumer opportunity now further scoping flat screen TVs, cars etc.

The future

Westergren said there might be a place for human DJs in Pandora. He acknowledges that Pandora can on one hand be a part of a listener’s social experience and on the other hand their very private one. There are also devices like Roku in the market and these kind of devices are an effective way to stream Pandora to the households.

There are also plans to catalog Asia and East Asia and their music markets. Westergren says that Internet radio companies are not competing with each other but with broadcast radio. On-demand streaming makes sense and in each context for any given song if people are thumbing down gradually a thumbed down song will play less often. Skipping a song would have a neutral effect on a song and thumbing up a song would mean it would play more frequently.

He said there are huge ambitions to impact musicians and to help audience in discovering bands. Westergren also said that the web is a wonderful medium to deliver targeted music and the web can also deliver geographically specific advertisements. Two percent of all radio listened which is one hour out of every 50 hours of radio listened is through Pandora.

Pandora is hoping to go global soon, said Westergren and remembered how Pandora grew from word-of-mouth and now it has about 70 million listeners. It is considering international markets and is willing to work locally.

The weblink to Tim Westergren’s personal blog.

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