Music Business

Pandora Co-founder Tim Westergren Opens Up On Topics Like: Who’s Really Screwing Artists?

Tim-westergrenPandora Co-founders Tim Westergren and Tom Conrad recently sat down with PandoDaily's Sarah Lacy for a PandoMonthly Fireside Chat. The series is ongoing, featuring major figures in tech, and Lacy typically includes some difficult questions in the process of giving entrepreneurs a platform to open up. Tim Westergren's responses are currently being featured and he discusses the difficult early days, the isolation of the entrepreneur and answers the question, "Who's really screwing artists?"

PandoDaily typically shares some highlights of their Fireside Chats before eventually releasing the whole event. Highlights to date from the Pandora Chat feature Tim Westergren:

On Facing Seemingly Insurmountable Odds

Pandora's success to date has been against tremendous odds. It took four and a half years before getting serious outside funding:

"The founders had 11 maxed out credit cards, were $500,000 in personal debt, and were on the verge of being evicted. Across the company, 50 people had been working for several years without salaries, five of which were suing the company for back wages."

Tim Westergren pitched VCs 348 times before getting to yes:

"I got told no by every living VC, and understandably. It was a completely fucked up idea to hire 40 musicians and have them come in with a pair of headphones and writing numbers with pencil and paper and then transfer them to spreadsheets."

Eventually they got funded but they also had to take their case to Congress multiple times.

On Being An Entrepreneur

Tim Westergren discussed some of the weird psychological aspects of being an entrepreneur that tend to get downplayed in media worship. For example, as Westergren pointed out in an exchange with moderator Sarah Lacy:

Westergren: “I’m telling you something you’re familiar with now, first-hand…You’re gonna borrow investment money, you’re gonna borrow goodwill, you’re gonna borrow time.”

Lacy: "You’re always selling and asking for things."

Westergren: "You can start to feel like a big mooch."

But Westergren clarified that it goes beyond just feeling like a mooch describing a complex that emerges for entrepreneurs in which they often feel completely out of touch with the rest of society.

So Who's Screwing Artists?

Westergren responded to the question with:

“I don’t think there’s a bad guy,”

But he also noted:

"The industry has for a long time been propped up by a product where you’re paying $20 for something you really wanted to pay $1 for. Maybe you could argue that the bad guy was the one who made that possible?”

More importantly:

“The key is for artists to begin thinking of themselves as small businesses: I gotta develop my audience, I gotta find ways to make that audience large and get them to contribute in small ways to patronize me…I think the Web is well suited for that, but it’s not easy.”

The full evening is likely to be available at PandoDaily by end of next week. Until then they'll continue to drop juicy morsels so checking back will likely be worth the effort.

[Thumbnail of Tim Westergren by David Shankbone via Wikipedia.]


Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is building a writing hub at Flux Research. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. For better or worse, Pandora is still a better option for me as an artist than anything else, even terrestrial radio.
    The amount of money an indie artist has to spend to get any terrestrial radio airplay makes the positive income (tiny though it is) from Pandora and other streaming services look downright lucrative. And because Pandora’s backed by the Music Genome Project recommendation engine, it’s still the best discovery tool for new musicians.
    Every week I get at least one new subscriber to my mailing list who cites Pandora as the place they found me. I think I’ve seen one, maybe two, from Spotify. Ever.
    None of these services support anything close to a real business model yet, but my business model will never be based on streaming income alone.

  2. “”The industry has for a long time been propped up by a product where you’re paying $20 for something you really wanted to pay $1 for. Maybe you could argue that the bad guy was the one who made that possible?”
    This is the third time I’ve responded to this inaccurate, mischaracterization of purchasing complete works by artists IN THE LAST HOUR. A comment voiced so often, by so many, that people actually believe that the only work worth owning by artists is their single.
    So Tim, if you were truly a supporter of music, you would understand the impact of this statement. An opinion that started with the pro-pirate pundits and now uttered by everyone that thinks streaming is the only way to consume music. This FALSE generalization has contributed to a severe loss of revenue by indie artists who are just trying to hang on.

  3. I thought he was referring to the widespread pre-internet experience of buying albums off the strength of one or two singles and getting burned by albums that just didn’t hold up.
    We partly kept doing that because we also bought albums that were fucking incredible that we wanted to own.
    Now I can do that but I can also find out if an album is worth owning by actually checking out the music rather than guessing based on a single.
    Of course, a lot of that problem can be solved with song samples but the reality remains that so many of us got fucked over by artists with only one or two good singles that we were happy to not be forced into that situation any more.
    That’s real but doesn’t support the conclusions that you claim it leads to.

  4. I really think this comes down to how you value music. A movie ticket costs $12 and lasts two hours. A Starbucks latte cost $4 and lasts 30 minutes. If I love even two songs on an album enough to listen to them dozens if not hundreds of times, and more importantly own them forever, I think it’s ridiculous to say that’s not worth the price of an album. If the entire album is incredible, $14 is an absolute steal. What other form of entertainment can you buy for that price and enjoy for years, over and over again? Thinking this should cost just two dollars for two tracks seems totally out of line with how we value all other forms of entertainment.

  5. I read your replies to this on Digital Music News. I think you’re confusing the true music fan with the general population. It’s accurate that the true music fan want’s to listen to the whole album, and I think that a whole album absolutely has value both artistically and monetarily.
    However, the general music fan likely only wants the single. Now that the iTunes model has been around for awhile, I think it’s pretty apparent that there is much more real life demand for the single vs. the album. Hilariously, we’ve regressed to the 1950’s music economy, except that in the 50’s it was technically impossible to steal music unless you had the balls to rip off the record store. Oh well. Screw it, music will always be amazing.

  6. pandora has yet to make one cent of profit, so their real viability is still a long way off. in the meantime, i find that their efforts for “music discovery” are terrible. both pandora and spotify need to make far more effort to engage people with new music. right now, if you look at the spotify top 40 it’s nearly identical to the commercial radio top 40. that means that people are “discovering” new music on traditional radio and then going to spotify, etc. to listen more extensively. there’s very little opportunity for music discovery on either spotify or pandora right now.

  7. Westergren’s comments on “who’s screwing artists” are interesting. In the past he has been a strong supporter of compensation for artists. Encouraging artists to think of themselves as small businesses follows this idea. It is important to say that, while artists may choose to give some of their music away for free as part of their business model, artists should not have to provide their music with no compensation.

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