Data the rock star behind Pandora’s music

Radio streaming service Pandora may be a music company, but it’s also a business built on data.

At the heart of that data is the Music Genome Project. Twelve years in the making, it’s a big part of how the company decides how it will serve up your next song.

According to Pandora’s trans-Tasman boss Rick Gleave, 450 attributes are assessed by 25 music experts familiar with a wide ranges of genres, who go over every tune that goes into the genome.

The in-depth analysis means it can take as much as three months for a song to get a place in the genome. Currently there are a million songs, but Gleave says that will double.

Another tool in Pandora’s data arsenal that helps it personalise what a user hears is what Gleave calls the wisdom of the crowd. It’s collected 40 billion thumbs – users hit thumbs down or skip when they don’t want to hear the song next on offer.

“It’s a really important part of our data collection,” he says. “It’s making sure we know exactly what the next song should be, so that we know if you skip a song, we’ll give you what you like next.”

The company has what it dubs listener advocates in the US and Sydney who comb tweets, Facebook posts and emails from fans saying what they like and what they want to change.

To be as ubiquitous as possible, Pandora’s done a range of deals with companies from car makers to electronics companies. That means consumers can listen from the time they wake to day’s end, Gleave says.

“I can get up at 6am and stream Pandora onto my Sonos. We have a significant number of car deals, the first is with Holden and we have others with Mazda and Ford, on the connected car. The 4G dashboard isn’t here yet, but you can Bluetooth connect or use a USB jack in your car.

“From nine to five there’s a lot of desktop use, then mobile usage kicks in about 3PM. Eighty percent of traffic is on mobile, evenly split between iOS and Android. There’s the iPad version or you can Air Play using Apple TV.

“There will be significant number of deals we’re brokering in market to make sure we’re on a number of touchpoints during the day.”

Pandora will never rely on traditional advertising, says Gleave, adding loyal listeners will on average recruit eight others via word of mouth. Through this method it’s on track to reach a million registered users across Australia and New Zealand by November, when it will celebrate its first birthday in the region, he says.

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