Pandora Forces $29.95 Payments From Indie Bands

Pandora poster (UPDATED) Until recently, Pandora accepted music from indie artists at no cost in almost any form including home burned CD-R's. But now, in part because of a deal to display album cover art via Amazon's servers,  submissions must be available as a physical CD for sale on Amazon and include cover art and a UPC code to even be considered for airplay.

Compliance with the new rules will cost artists in several ways. According to its FAQ page, to get play on Pandora you now need:

  • Cd many a CD of your music
  • a unique UPC code for that CD
  • your CD to be available through Amazon (must be a physical CD, not just MP3s for download)
  • the legal rights to your music
  • MP3 files for two of the songs from your CD
  • free Pandora account, based on a valid email address, which can be associated with your music

In addition to art and packaging costs, Pandora explains that to comply with the new "available through Amazon" rule, indie artists should join the Amazon Advantage Program. Membership costs $29.95 each year plus Amazon takes 55% of the list price of every CD sold.

Established artists and labels already comply with Pandora's new rules. But for an indie artist trying to win new fans with a little help from Pandora and to keep his hard earned cash by selling direct, the new threshold may shut off an important avenue for exposure.


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  1. Return of the “only the wealthy ones get exposure”
    The same threshold is true about many radios and webzines which require “pro CD” submission only, no CDR, no mp3
    Payola not dead…

  2. I sent this letter to the co-founder whom I’ve done business with and I’m awaiting a reply. Here it is:
    [name reomved]:
    I really have to say that I’m shocked by your recent move and encourage you to speak with your team to remove this prohibitive measure for Indie Artists as soon as possible:
    For DIY Digital Only bands like mine, Pandora would have been one of the few destinations on the web that we could have had a fighting chance to promote our new music.
    How can you justify saying that “we’re always looking for great new music” when you make it prohibitive for those same artists to post to your Radio station in the first place?
    And what happens when many new artists do not or will not want to sell their CD’s but only digital versions of their music?
    Personally, I find it extortionate, a Digital version of Payola.
    You’re operating in the digital world but instead are promoting the submissions of CD’s by artists to you? This is not only so old school, but kills the potential of great new music coming into the Music Genome Project only to appease your deal with Amazon.
    Tell [name removed] at Amazon that I says that’s b.s. and you’ll be attaching a Rider to revise your agreement.
    Because it’s for your own good, for the future of Pandora’s Music Genome Project.
    Lemme know, thanks.
    [name removed]

  3. Although the move sucks for those who don’t have money falling out of their pockets….it should not be a surprise. Sooner or later..these services have to make money to stay in business. Rob from the poor and give to rich? I think Robin had it the other way around. Go figure. Again, think local. Start small…spread from within your circle of influence. Rock on brothers and sisters…it’s all we have. BTW..I’m looking for the next great truly southern rock band…let me know…mitchell.fox@comcast.net

  4. the digital world broke down the stronghold that major labels had on distribution, but they still control promotion, and they’ll do everything they can to hold steadfast.
    charging an indie artist $30/year, PLUS 55% of CD sales just to have the “privilege” of selling your music?!

  5. Not to mention that aggregators like IODA and The Orchard keep raising the amount of downloads that need to be sold before indie labels even see a pay check. IODA recently raised that amount to $250.
    Those much-vaunted digital revenue streams keeping turning into snake oil, the filters keep filtering, the screws keep on turning, and the music industry CONTINUES to be paid for on the backs of the artists!
    I shoulda gone to fucking law school like my mama said!

  6. Let me first say that I am not a huge fan of Pandora. As a record label employee, I question their business model, which is based on getting content free from copyright owners (unlike radio, which pays for usage).
    However, I know a little about the process by which they add music to their library, and it is time-consuming and therefore costly. Their music-theory-trained staff classifies each release using up to 500 different descriptors of sound, style, themes, etc. They use those classifications to associate different artists/albums.
    It’s understandable that the costs of doing this work for artists for whom there is no chance for affiliate revenue (the commission per sale they make when someone links through to Amazon/iTunes to buy the record), have become too high for Pandora.
    As for the Amazon deal, 55% of list price of CD sales is actually comparable to what an artist would make going through a distributor. Wholesale price to stores is generally 60-65% of list price, and the distributor takes 20-30% of the wholesale price as their fee. This leaves the label (or artist) taking home about 42-52% of list. And if the artist has a 50/50 deal with a label, they make half that.
    $30 a year doesn’t seem like that much compared to the amount of work involved in setting up a release with a distributor and dealing with invoicing/etc. in order to get it on Amazon, but sure, it’s annoying. Ultimately, though, this is not the awful, DIY-killing move by Pandora/Amazon this story is characterizing it to be.

  7. @mreasy,
    If it costs Pandora money to review the CDs, then why don’t they just charge a submission fee? Why are they using Amazon as their collection agent instead of just going directly, honestly, to the Artists?
    The reason: Amazon will pay Pandora more than $29.95 for each Artist signed up.
    Amazon is going to pay Pandora an affiliate fee (part of the 55% cut that Amazon gets on every sale made) for all of the Artists they can drive into the program.
    In case you didn’t know, Pandora hired a new CEO. And he has one mandate – turn Pandora into a cash machine for the investors.
    True, these companies need to make a living and pay back investors. But will they go too far too fast? Abandoning your roots and core values (which is what they are doing) is best done in small steps. Its like boiling a lobster. You put them in cold water, then turn up the heat – they never know they are dying. This seems like a rash decision by a new CEO desperate to ‘make his mark’.
    And, what happens when Pandora leads a ton of Artists over to Amazon and Amazon comes out with a competing product to Pandora? Wonder if they’ve thought of that.
    Anyway, the indirection is what makes it feel disingenuous. If it costs Pandora money to review the works, then, by all means charge a fee. But to hide behind a retailer like Amazon so that they can get paid way more than the $30 they say it costs them is deceptive and will likely backfire.
    Pandora, if you are listening, why don’t you give Artists the choice of paying you $30 or having an Amazon acct?
    Or, be straight with the Artists and divulge the terms of the deal you have with Amazon for all to see.

  8. It would be one thing if I were paying Pandora for the huge service they provide. I wouldn’t mind giving them money to put my music up for gobs of new listeners to discover. Paying Amazon to host my CD for sale is another thing.
    Although I’m not in favor of the deal with Amazon, it doesn’t take a huge chunk of your income. All things considered though, $30 a year to host multiple titles under your Advantage account is not bad. It’s not a huge chunk of income. And yes, they do take a large cut your profits, but hey… don’t encourage your listeners to buy there.
    Just a thought.

  9. Having used Pandora quite a bit (still trying to figure who has the best streaming service for me) – I cannot remember the last non-signed artist I have ever been recommended and I have listened at least for 100 hours and have ‘adventurous’ starting points. I recognize every artist / label I get.
    Would they really not carry a digital only Nine Inch Nails single unless they got $30 from Trent and he set up a deal with Amazon. Or how about a digital only label, now are they forced to press product?
    I hope no one ‘falls’ for this in hopes of getting air time on Pandora. And how is this any different from ‘pay to play’ in fact it is kind of worse as it is ‘use this supplier’ for the chance of access.

  10. I still need to read more about this, but I’d say that overall it’s fair for Pandora to charge more, but the Amazon bit is tough to swallow.
    To my mind, the only reason for Amazon to demand a physical CD as part of the deal, is to ensure that Amazon would be the only distributor. There is no benefit to the artist in this model, little to Pandora and lots to Amazon, because such a deal essentially forces artists who want to be on Pandora to also be on Amazon.
    I think a better model would be for Pandora to up its fee, say to $10 a month, but reduce that fee if an artist’s music catches on. In other words, artists who attract listeners would pay less than artists who don’t, because they’re the ones the advertisers can count on.
    No need for Amazon whatsoever. Oh, and as for the UPC code requirement, well, I’m not sure I understand why it’s required, but if it helps ensure that an artist’s copyrights are protected, I’m all for it.

  11. I was just looking into spending my savings to reproduce my CD so I could send it in to Pandora (and a few others) when I read this article. Forget it. I’ll wait until I’m actually making money from music to try this mess. It’s ironically backwards that a digital radio company requires a physical CD for submission. And can’t album art can’t be submitted digitally too? It worked fine for me through Tunecore…

  12. There has been a number of interesting and useful service pop up like Pandora. They all want to help power the indie music community and create a “Musician’s Middle Class.” The problem comes when they have to pay their bills, and the original vision is lost. They quickly turn their back on the community that made them popular in the first place.
    I don’t blame Pandora for taking a hard look at how to make their service profitable, but at the end of the day, if they just become a sounding board for major label artists, someone else will fill the void as the place to stream the best new music.

  13. How does Spotify work again? Do they charge indie artists? I hear nothing but great things about this service just can’t check it out as it isn’t in the US

  14. Well, Pandora has to conform to at least some standard when placing music in their database. I don’t think the staff is nearly big enough to sort through thousands of submissions from unsigned artists (in addition to signed artists) just to determine what will be included in their rotations.

  15. It appears that my CD can be ordered through Amazon, although I did not sign up for their “Advantage Program”. Presumably, this is thanks to CD Baby. I wonder if this is a work around Pandora’s requirement?

  16. “Having used Pandora quite a bit (still trying to figure who has the best streaming service for me) – I cannot remember the last non-signed artist I have ever been recommended and I have listened at least for 100 hours and have ‘adventurous’ starting points. I recognize every artist / label I get.”
    Exactly, I think people are blowing this out of proportion – assuming Pandora gave indie artists much exposure (if any) to begin with. I don’t think this changes much of anything for Pandora or indie artists looking to gain exposure.
    If anything, it is good because it encourages indie artists to establish an online presence on the digital retailers.
    Just my 2 cents.

  17. DIY artists have to face the fact that certain services are going to charge. What, just cos you haven’t got a deal makes paying outrageous? Come on!!..most will have a day job and bands have an average of 3 members. It costs a lot of money for certain sites to operate so you betta get used to paying for services.

  18. Let me first say that I am not a huge fan of Pandora. As a record label employee, I question their business model, which is based on getting content free from copyright owners (unlike radio, which pays for usage).
    Being in the record business myself, and in radio, I am totally not feelin ya here. Pandora has to pay into the SoundExchange for the performance royalties, something we in terrestrial radio do not have to do, unless we’re streaming our content ….
    That’s the entire debate behind the Performance Royalty Act and the Free Radio Act … the NAB is lobbying for no performance royalty, while the RIAA is lobbying FOR a performance royalty …
    re the other comments here … i only wish that it was a requirement for musicians to take two years of business and economics LOL

  19. Two thoughts – first, the title of this post is disingenuous. Pandora isn’t charging anything, just changing their requirements.
    Second, even as an indie (or should I say *especially* as an indie) you should have your material up on Amazon.
    If you’re not making enough selling CD’s via Amazon to cover the $29.95 yearly costs, maybe you need to consider a different career other than music.

  20. Are these requirements *really* so onerous? Having once run a digital distribution company, I became familiar with how many thousands and thousands of people who claim to have a band but haven’t put a serious ounce of effort into it – a super crappy demo, some Sharpie-made t-shirts and a gig at a friend’s party. They aren’t seriously pursuing music but if they can send it a few places for free, why not?
    Anyone who is seriously pursuing music – including all those delivering pizzas or waiting tables to make it happen – should be taking some measurable steps in furtherance of their goals. Pandora’s changes are one way of weeding out the completely bogus submissions and only allowing those that at least have a modicum of potential.
    Pressing some CDs isn’t costing you a fortune and frankly, isn’t a bad idea. Even if you WANT to sell everything digitally, not everyone is into it (especially the crap lossy quality) . . . why would you retaliate against the opportunity to sell a physical product?
    Pandora isn’t taking money solely for the privilege of having your music played – you’re getting a tangible benefit in addition to getting into the Pandora system. It’s a smart business move, anyway. Given the modest investment, how can anyone consider that a bad thing?

  21. This isn’t so bad – there is a cost to uploading and storing content and at some point these business need to make the model work. This whole ‘fail pandora’ attitude is ridiculous and ignorant. I agree with kc though – why are Hypebot’s headlines so frequently inflammatory? It seems like they’re trying to incite a riot reaction rather than a level headed and rational look and what is actually happening.

  22. “I question their business model, which is based on getting content free from copyright owners (unlike radio, which pays for usage).”
    Pandora pays for the content it plays through Sound Exchange. We actually pay more for usage than radio does.
    Obviously you must not be in a very important position within your record label if you didn’t know that.

  23. I think your comment “Having once run a digital distribution company” says everything that I would have had to say (but now don’t) about your comments.

  24. Coincidentally, I just received an invitation from Spotify today. With Spotify you don’t have to pay a fee or send them a CD but you can’t send them anything directly either. They use three distribution services to post to them. In their own words:
    “The current solutions we offer indie artists offer are CDBaby,
    Ditto Music and Record Union. They are artist- aggregators, who
    we’ve recently made an agreement with, and we highly recommend to
    you as a method to get your music onto Spotify. With them you
    can create a standard agreement and upload your music onto
    Spotify as well as deliver your music to other great services
    such as 7digital and Amazon.
    So if you want to join Spotify as soon as possible we strongly
    recommend you to go one of the following sites:
    We’re really looking forward to having your music on Spotify soon!
    The music team at Spotify

  25. kc: 29.95 is not a problem. But as s.o. said, Spotify requires a different aggregator, and soon we may well be forced to subscribe to each and every service out there, for a grand total way more than 29.95… Also many radios, fanzines, etc, require a “pro CD” (no CDR, no mp3) and these don’t come cheap…
    If you’re ok with everybody having to put several grands into promotion then let it be, but don’t whine about pure marketers pushing crap music and the return of MTV power because that is the kind of music ecosystem these guys are able to create
    I think Van Goght would still die poor in 2009…

  26. to TD: your position is bogus for the following reason
    Among the not serious ones doing crappy demos, some have money enough to push their crap further out
    Among the very serious ones waiting tables and producing marvels, not everybody can invest the money
    In your system, money not merit is the key
    The poor marvel producers will end up being lent money by businessmen, in exchange for 95-5 contracts… good old world welcome, let’s build money empires…

  27. I realize there are issues of integrity and equal access at hand here. And, while I do support those efforts, it seems this is a minimal barrier to entry for any person or group trying to build a serious music career
    Here is a quotation from a comment left on Cnet’s piece about this subject:

    “I am already using CreateSpace, an Amazon subsidiary, for my physical CD manufacturing – a free service, by the way – which gives me an Amazon-sanctioned barcode, and manufacturing on demand, so I don’t even have to put up the cost of a CD pressing if my music is accepted.”

    In low volumes, credit card processing takes 22% of revenue(when all the monthly fees are accounted for). Considering the added exposure and trust with consumers (wrt entering sensitive info) that Amazon can offer, this would be a no-brainer decision for a business manager, managing a band professionally.
    There is a lot more to the entertainment business than simply writing or performing. There will always be the cost_of_doing_business and it is quite a bit cheaper than it used to be.
    It seems all of these pieces together allow an artist to focus on being an artist better than ever before.

  28. Pandora should be ashamed of themselves. Pay to play??

  29. Good to see Kevin responding here, that’s a pleasant surprise!
    I am an indie artist and I’m on Pandora as well. As far as I know, having your CD’s available through Amazon doesn’t mean you have to sign up for the Advantage program… I sell my albums through CD Baby only, I’m not sure if being in Amazon’s download store counts for Pandora.
    If this means my future releases won’t be accepted via Pandora, then I’m disappointed. Nothing, however, will ever convince me to sign up for Amazon’s crap “Advantage” program. I’m making my living off of MY music through CD/track sales via CD Baby and direct subscriptions via http://matthewebel.net
    A lot of new people have heard me through Pandora, it would be a shame if they torpedoed the service in the name of increased profit. There’s got to be a way to keep the barrier-to-entry low.
    Oh, and if you’re curious, here I am on Pandora:

  30. I gotta agree with you here. I don’t understand why everyone thinks indie artists should get a free ride. If they’re smart, and they make good music, they’ll get exposure. Besides, everyone else has to pay; Pandora didn’t come up with this policy simply to screw indie artists over. Other artists worked hard before Pandora even existed.. come on.

  31. I have a fairly simple solution.
    I’m 21 years old last month, and I’m the Founder and President of an alternative model for the Music Industry, called Beat-Play.
    Beat-Play solves every single problem associated with the music industry today, including Piracy eventually.
    The Internet is a beautiful thing. It allows for a tool, like Beat-Play, to be accepted by Independent Artists, like myself, everywhere, and it also allows for things like free promotion, increased revenue streams, increased sales and profits, decreased sale price, and complete creative and professional freedom over every aspect of an artist’s career. Beat-Play can provide this and a LOT more. It is a completely risk-free environment, where posting songs or “stems” is free, and we only take 5.5% of whatever the artist chooses to charge. So we don’t get paid until you do, and because of that, we promote you for free in a vast number of different ways, including EXPANDING THE PANDORA MODEL IN WAYS THEY WILL WISH THEY DREAMED OF BEFORE STEPPING OVER TO THE DARK SIDE. To learn more about Beat-Play go to http://beatplay.com/forums and go to About Beat-Play.
    Learn about the World’s first Audio Component Auction. More info soon with videos from last week’s South Park Music Tour, The Highest Independent Music Tour in the World, in CO, with footage from a speech I gave on the subject of Beat-Play to the artists, as well as footage of a lot of really talented bands, plus interviews with the independent artists and fans.
    Also look out for CD reviews. 10 coming soon. If you want a review DM me on Twitter /illprincipe22
    If you’re an artist and you want some FREE PROMOTION, go to: http://musicwithoutlabels.com
    This is a brand new site. It’s a place to get artist’s information so we can contact you when Beat-Play is ready for Beta testing this fall, and also you can get some free promotion while you wait.
    Link us in your facebook or twitter and tell your friends that the internet indie revolution has come and already conquered. Nothing can stop the wave!

  32. The fact that radio, CDBABY, Amazon and now Pandora require physically released product is a necessary screen to keep quality in the music that is presented. If you as an artist are not willing to spend a little money to create quality product, I probably don’t want to listen to you anyway.

  33. I love Pandora and the music I have discovered there. I have been disappointed more than once by not being able to find something I have heard available for purchase. As a launching artist, I will not hesitate to meet the new requirements. What serious musical artist would not have a CD with a UPC code anyway?

  34. Unless I missed something, Pandora’s submission requirement only states that you have to have a physical CD available through amazon and it is offering the Advantage program as an option for making it available. You can distribute physical CDs through http://www.createspace.com without any upfront costs.

    You get a free UPC for the CD and you don’t even have to press any CDs because they handle that on a per-order basis. All you have to do is submit your MP3s and the artwork for the CD.

    Of course there’s a royalty structure that some people might find less-than-desirable but nothing in life is free. But at least this might be an option for those of you who are opposed to paying $30 to be in Amazon’s Advantage program.

    I’ve never used createspace.com to distribute CDs but I have helped several authors publish and distribute books through them (which also get listed on amazon.com at no upfront cost) and from my experience it’s a very reputable service. I think it’s worth a try if you need a way to get your music on amazon. Just my two cents.

  35. I didn’t see your post before I posted about Createspace.com but I second that thought. 🙂 Music promotion isn’t a “free” business no matter what channels we use and anyone who truly thinks they can be successful in this business without making some type of investment needs to seriously reevaluate their priorities.

    Besides, all the costs we pay to do business are tax-deductible so I don’t understand why people are so uptight about spending a little here and there if they truly want to promote their music.

  36. I disagree, on a philosophical level at least
    You are saying :
    spend money on physical CD = quality
    I say :
    spend money on physical CD = you had the money available
    I have spent more than $10000 of equipment at home in order to attain the “quality” I’m aiming at. This is not a money problem.
    Registering to physical distribution will not improve the quality of my music.
    And for services to screen people based on what they are going to pay is not going to ascertain higher quality is achieved.
    It is just payola
    Simple example :
    From now on I will only read comments from people who pay me. That way I’m sure to read better comments ?????

  37. Yes, also TuneCore is offering the Amazon program as a store that can be added for 99 cents, so if you happen to have contracted with TuneCore for digital distribution, it is easy to comply with the Pandora requirements
    I’m in the process of doing just that… so far Pandora says Amazon doesn’t know the UPC… waiting for the update…

  38. Yeah I found this out the hard way. (Multiple emails from both Pandora and Amazon, they weren’t even exactly clear about this…I assumed given their partnership) Anyways, what’s even worse, is that our band WAS signed for our first two releases, and since we split ties with our label, we can’t get our newest release on. I suggest we just stick to the sites that ARE artist friendly, Spotify, Lastfm, radiolicious, etc….Oh and I also have a Nokia phone…They don’t support symbian phones, claiming they are “a small company that is going to concentrate on the phones that are more in-demand.” Riiiiight, like the whole world uses Nokia’s except the U.S…….but they didn’t know that. Genome project my ass….I stopped listening to/using pandora as a whole. Much happier now 🙂

  39. @CNByrd (we do have a upc code as well…Amazon also has our mp3’s up as well…Amazon and Pandora just don’t wanna recognize the UPC code due to the fact that it’s not one that Amazon issued.)

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