Download Squad Interview: Tim Westergren of Pandora
Pandora is a music discovery service we've covered before. It goes beyond "regular" internet radios, who largely base their taxonomy and discovery services on rather flat databases and sterile genre/artist/album nomenclature. At best, you might get web-based social suggestions, like what built MySpace and makes Virb sing. Pandora utilizes the research and ongoing classifications of the Music Genome Project to suggest songs similar to the ones you already enjoy.
The Music Genome project is a story in itself, but Pandora uses real, live musicians to dissect songs and analyze their pieces and parts, organizing that data in such a way that, frankly, makes it a little scary to use Pandora regularly. Once you "seed" a radio station with an artist (something you can try on their homepage for free without even registering), subsequent songs are based on the style of that original artist (and the random song chosen by Pandora from said artist). You can give a simple thumbs up or down to indicate your song preferences as each new song plays.
A provision in the DMCA allows Pandora to play these songs, almost every released song out there. They really make an effort to grab the long tail and most of their songs, once you start just listening, are not well-known. You can't rewind or even go back, due to the restrictions of the DMCA, but you can order the songs from Amazon or iTunes as you listen. All together, Pandora is a remarkable service for a "simple" internet radio service.
But a ruling from an obscure, 3-person panel from the Library of Congress threatens the existence of Pandora, and every other internet radio service out there. The plan from the Copyright Royalty Board is to increase the fees to internet radio operators so high that they will effectively be out of business. Paying $.0008 a song might not sound much, but if you consider the millions of songs per day served up by Pandora alone, it becomes a very large bill indeed.
There is an appeals process, and those threatened are taking action. However, it might require legislative action. Ultimately it is puzzling why the RIAA (proponents of the onerous charges) would threaten a nascent industry in such a way. What's to gain? Web radio has no doubt spurred online music purchases, much as the radio generated (and continues to generate) wads of dough for the music biz.
We sat down with Tim Westergren, the man behind the Genome Project, and the founder of Pandora. In our interview, Tim explains the basic situation, and where some logic might prevail (we hope).