I enjoyed attending Pandora's Town Hall meeting last night at Swig in SF. The event was sponsored/co-organized by AMP3. Being an early (and continuing) fan of Pandora's music service, it was peachy to get to ask questions and see how this unique company connects so directly with its audience.
Co-founder Tim Westergren gave a good overview of where Pandora came from and a glimps of where it's going. I'll describe a few things that coaught my attention. First, I didn't realize that their music genome has over 400 data points in cataloging the music on the site. It takes between 40 and 120 hours of training for the musician-coders to learn the genome system. Second, since Pandora's major push and public launch in 2005, they have been growing very fast. Pandora gets much bigger spikes in new listeners when it's mentioned in the blogosphere than from more traditional media (like magazine articles and other traditional press). Third, on the conversion from music listeners to music buyers, Pandora can boast that 10% of Pandora sessions result in someone purchasing a new piece of music. That's evidently a ginormous conversion rate compared to traditional music advertising. Fourth, they are considering implementing bells and whistles that allow listeners to interact with the recommendation system and with each other. This is a great idea, and is consistent with the belief that users want to interact with their on-line media.(I wrote about this earlier this summer.) Fifth, Tim said are looking at adding classical music to the collection by the end of this year. He explained how it is a much different coding beast than rock (broadly defined), but they are looking at ways to get the classical selections up and running soon. Lastly, Tim explained that he thinks it makes sense to stay away from creating a "top 10" or ranking system out of their database (e.g., here's the top ten stations, or songs, etc.). He believes that there's such a great diversity of artists who do not get played, that charting or ranking just cuts against one of the best things that Pandora offers: introducing listeners to new bands and new music. I say: right on!
After the town hall ended, I got to meet Tom Conrad, Pandora's CTO. Tom and I both attended Gnomdex earlier this summer in Seattle so it was great to finally meet him in person. I also got to meet Lucia Willow, who has the title of "Listener Advocate". Isn't that great? They have advocates in-house who are looking out for our interests. So cool.
Here are a few photos from the event:
Tim Westergren talking to the town hallers
Pandora fans and co-geeky lawyers Kim Schmitt and Alice Garber. I can call them geeky because Kim was the first person I met (many years ago) who read slashdot, and Alice (who is way better at finding great music than I) was one of the first to introduce me to Pandora.
Tom Conrad & me
Town hallers (sorry about all the redeyes!)