“My dream is that when teenagers tell their parents they want a career in music, those parents won’t be horrified and wonder where they went wrong, but say ‘Great, that’s a solid career’” - Pandora founder Tim Westergren at the first Melbourne Pandora Town Hall event on Tuesday 11 December 2012
2013 will no doubt see the quest for music platform dominance between Pandora, Spotify and (possibly) the new MySpace as we increasingly turn to smartphones and online for music inspiration. Did someone say iTunes? No? Good. Probably too busy downloading that new update that doesn’t change anything.
So what does Pandora bring to the table? It distinguishes itself by allowing you to create your very own personalised radio station, learn what music you like through a thumbs up/thumbs down function, and introduce you to a whole lot of artists you never knew you liked. It has no concept of genre, user connections or ratings. It doesn’t care what other people who like Coldplay also like. Having manually analysed 400 musical structures present in the songs you like for a catalogue of hundreds of thousands of songs, it plays other songs that possess similar musical traits.
In a frank and open Town Hall session to coincide with the Australian launch of the Pandora app, we learnt a lot about the founder, the organisation, and the Pandora employees who went two years without pay to get their version of internet radio off the ground.
Because, according to Tim Westergren, internet radio is the future.
1. WHAT DO MOVIES AND MUSIC HAVE IN COMMON? Taste. As a musician, Tim spent five years scoring film soundtracks, and in the process discovered the key to success in this job was understanding the personal music taste of the director. There, the hint of an idea was born.
2.PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR STUFF. We already know this, but a good reminder. Pandora was originally introduced in a format that allowed the free listening for the first 10 hours per month, and after this you had to pay $3 per month for unlimited hours. They thought that was pretty reasonable. So what happened? People listened up to 10 hours then stopped, until the next month resumed. They do have a freemium model now, whereby the free version includes some advertising between songs, and the premium model which has no advertising. Of 175 million users, only one million have opted for the paid subscription, so advertising is by far the biggest revenue stream.
3. RUNNING A START UP REQUIRES INCREDIBLE DEDICATION…and belief in what you are doing. After an initial round of funding from venture capitalists, the money ran out and 50 Pandora staff worked TWO YEARS without getting paid (it’s actually illegal to defer payment of staff, although they didn’t know that at the time and could have gone to jail). Tim was $250,000 in debt to family and friends, had 11 maxed out credits card to a value of $120,000, and the dotcom bubble had burst. They hung in there for three uncertain years, until finally getting another round of funding and back-paying all staff in full.
4. THE BEATLES AND THE BEE GEES? After nine months of painstakingly working out an algorithm to analyse 10,000 songs, the team tested the program on – what else – a Beatles song. And the Pandora algorithm played… a Bee Gees song. They were devastated until they realised that early Bee Gees were really just a knock-off Beatles band, and even shared a producer. When they listened to the song they realised it was actually a very good match.
5.EVERYONE LIVES IN BEVERLY HILLS: Except not. Pandora initially only had license to stream music in America, so on signing up you had to enter your US Zip Code. So what are foreigners to do? Enter the only zip code they know, and that explains why the majority of Pandora uses were from 90210. When it became obvious that people outside the US were using Pandora, there was pressure to introduce IP filters and shut off foreign users. This is why Pandora was available in Australia before we were blocked some years ago.
6. YUGOSLAVIA HEARTS PANDORA: Tim said the saddest email he received after other countries were shut out was from a man in Yugoslavia who lived in a town of 300 people. They had little access to new music, and so every Saturday night was “Pandora Night”. Everyone would gather in the town’s one club, and listened to their own Pandora station, which they finessed and added to every week. The town was devastated they could no longer have these community nights, and Tim looks forward to the day when Pandora will be available everywhere.
7. THE iPHONE APP CHANGED THE GAME: Originally Pandora use was tied directly to office hours. People used it between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday…and that was it. Since the app launch (initially iPhone only) it not only doubled the sign up rate (to about 40,000 per day) people were listening at all hours, and plugging their phones into speakers and cars so everyone could listen to it. Now their most popular times are Friday and Saturday nights
8. HOW THEY SOURCE MUSIC: There are three ways. 1) A team crawling the net looking at charts and trends.2) Direct musician submissions. They listen to every song submitted, no matter how rough, and their curators make the decision to include or not. 3) Listener suggestions, and search failures. If people search for a band or a song and it isn’t there, they will make a note of this and look it up so they’re not missing anything.
9. THEY RESPOND TO EVERYONE: I can vouch for this as Tim personally responded to my multiple emails adding people to the RSVP list. They get 70,000 to 80,000 emails a week and have a team to respond to every single line of communication. This is similar to Pinterest in the level of personal interaction driving an engaged community and improve the product. While it may take time, in both cases it has definitely worked.
10. DAMN BECK AND FRANK ZAPPA: They are apparently the hardest musicians to build a station around as their songs are so inconsistent. They use the ‘thumbs up’ and ‘thumbs down’ to essentially crowd source what people are responding for these artists so they can still deliver the right songs. They really pay attention to this data, and will increase and reduce its usage based on this simple feedback.
11. FIRST AUSTRALIA, THEN THE WORLD: One thing you may not know about Mandy – she lies. There’s 11 things. Tim’s first Town Hall meeting in New York saw two people show up. But he persisted and more than 1,000 attended his most recent. Pandora is now available in USA, Australia and NZ, and they want to include more local and international bands (they are researching Melbourne talent as we speak). They are working towards creating “Pandora for artists” pages which musicians can use to find out which songs get the most thumbs up, which postcodes are the most popular so they can arrange tours, and potentially email those users directly (through Pandora) to notify fans that they are coming to town. Unknown bands have had great success with this, with one band in LA seeing 3,000 people attend when they previously struggled to get 30.
12. $250 MILLION PAID IN ROYALTIES THIS YEAR: What? I already told you that I lie. There’s actually 12 things. Bands like Coldplay and Adele will obviously take the lions share with $1 million each, but more than 2,000 bands will receive $10,000 this year, and relative unknowns like French Montana will receive $138,567.
It is a great way to discover new music, independent bands, and Tim hopes it will create a “music middle class” whereby bands and musicians can make a comfortable living without needing to sign with a major record label, be on traditional radio rotation and have a multi-million dollar promotional push behind them.
While it is great exposure, artists are paid a flat rate pro rata based on the number of times their song is played, and while $250 million sound like a lot, with 175 million users, that’s spread pretty thin. Most artists will still have to rely on touring, merchandise etc to make supplementary money, and exposure on Pandora will help with this, but music in general definitely doesn’t bring in the kind of money (we like to think) it used to.
A new media leader and a rock star come together to talk about The End of Business As Usual –Brian Solis and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins.
We are in a new age of music consumption. Napster was a watershed moment for the music business, and Corgan says record labels attacked instead of recognising need, and suffered for it. The net worth of the music industry has plummeted by tens of billions in the last ten years.
So how can artists make money now?
“You can no longer think of the thing you make as your main source of income!” Billy says. “The greatest artists are adaptable. Picasso did movies and plays. What’s wrong with that?”
We are used to seeing movies stars and pop stars selling perfume and coffee and cars. Maybe we need to start accepting that rock bands and other musicians need something “commercial” to keep producing the music we love as well.
Corgan is calling for fans to be more sophisticated, and go on a journey with the artist. Let them try new things, and sometimes mess up. The current culture of condemnation kills this; musicians would rather be picked on for lip syncing than suffer the embarrassment of being a YouTube laughingstock.
And while it might be easier to rise quickly to celebrity status via the “Bieber route,” if you don’t have the talent to back it up, you’re not going to go to the next level. Or even worse, “If your inspiration is fame, then you’re not invested in culture at all.”
Corgan is passionate and clear in his thinking, but one point he made I really disagree with. He says you can’t get people interested who aren’t interested already, and they are going to follow the herd so just let them. He’s not interested in pandering, thanking people for listening to or buying his music, which is fair enough. But I think to completely ignore a section of society because they haven’t heard of you or don’t listen to stations that would play your music is really underestimating people.
We love to be acknowledged, our time is precious, and if you go to the effort of reaching out to us on a personal level, we will give you a lot more attention than someone who doesn’t. There are so many channels and duties and marketing messages flying at us on a daily basis, we need to shut some of it out, don’t judge us. And hey, maybe we’ll like it.
We are Generation Connected, so why not take advantage? Just no spamming. We hate that.
What is the solution?
Corgan is clear – the solution is to create content that goes behind the recording, but this is not the Behind the Scenes video. Five thousand people care about that, but a million don’t. That’s not going to cut it against cat videos.
Spotify is a step in the right direction but it is a “transitional technology,” says Corgan. “Artists need to create their own worlds,” and it needs to be visual and self-sustaining.
Thanks to being nominated employee of the year at PN Sydney (I’ll pay everyone back), last week I was both honoured and privileged to be given the opportunity to visit Siem Reap in Cambodia – home to the world famous temples of Angkor and most importantly the Green Gecko Project.
The Green Gecko Projectwas originally set up by Australian-born Tania Palmer in 2004, who read a touching article during a Virgin in-flight magazine about an orphanage in need in Siem Reap. Tania walked off the plane and straight into a travel agency to book a flight. Several years of perseverance and tireless dedication towards making a difference for beggar children resulted in the birth of Green Gecko.
Now a home, school and family for 70 children who previously lived and begged on the streets of Siem Reap, Green Gecko provides security, education, love and opportunities to these children.
Through their younger years into adult lives, it empowers each and every child to achieve their full potential. Not only this, the project also supports the children’s families and the broader community through long term health, education and training initiatives.
Since its inception, Green Gecko unashamedly acknowledges that out of seemingly nowhere came the abundance of advice, support and brilliant ideas –all from simply from doing the right thing.
At Green Gecko, the children’s days are filled with a wide-ranging timetable, from English and Khmer lessons to living values, computers and the ancient Khmer martial art of Bokator. As well as this, there’s a schedule of specialised activities through volunteers – I was lucky enough to meet the pretty impressive pink-haired hoop lady, Jules, who was preparing the children for a hooping hip-hop performance for friends and family. I didn’t realise you could do so much with a hoop!
During my week there, I was taken aback by how much it really did feel like one big family. Every child has suffered a great deal, yet from the small children, right through to young adults – there’s so much laughter, love, smiles and support for one another and the wider community.
Green Gecko describes the children as having ‘boundless potential’ and this is no fabrication. I walked through the Green Gecko gates feeling horrified at the thought of each child’s past and how much they have suffered, but I left wearing a smile, feeling moved. In Tania’s own words ‘the kids are such incredible human beings. They inspire us daily with their strength, courage and their innate ability to roll with the punches and come up with a beaming smile’.
Thank you to the Green Gecko crew and children for such a memorable week and to Porter Novelli Sydney for giving me this opportunity.
Despite what you may have read, Pinterest wasn’t created a few months ago; it has been a long slow road of pins and people since 2009. How much market research went into coming up with the concept? How about none. In this session, co-founder and CEO Ben explains how Pinterest was just something he really wanted to see built.
How it came about
Taking a cue from the simplicity and success of Twitter, Ben decided to concentrate on just three things people, boards and pins. They went the venture capital route in order to delay discussion on monetisation. Making money was not the focus, and is still not the focus. Yet.
Labouring over the design stage, they had 12 fully coded versions before deciding on the final. If your collections didn’t look awesome, why would people spend time to build them? he says.
“The average consumer has really high expectations. If you don’t give them something that is worth their time, then they shouldn’t give you their time. They can watch TV or play Angry Birds.”
Pinterest has also put boards back on the map. While they had been very unpopular within the tech community, Pinterest persisted as Ben explains – “Boards are a very human way of looking at the world. I’ve always loved folders; they are a way to make sense of chaos.”
Then, why did it take so long to take off?
Ben doesn’t have an engineering or tech background, and I don’t think Pinterest would have been created if he had. Pinterest is unusual in that it wasn’t embraced by the tech community. Silicon Valley didn’t understand it, didn’t see a need for it. There was also no celebrity to join that made it go from 0 to 60, ala Ashton Kutcher with Twitter.
“I’m glad I didn’t read the proxy book on when to give up because it took a long time to get going. People ask me why I didn’t, and I think I just didn’t want to tell people that we blew it.”
It was just the everyday people that made it popular. And Ben made sure that these people were happy.
“I personally wrote to the first 5,000 users. I gave them my cell phone, and would meet them in person. People say that’s a lot of commitment, but I was just really happy people were using it and wanted to know what they thought.”
How did he know people would like it?
Ben was very much on the ground in developing Pinterest. He would peruse newsagencies and the amount of lifestyle magazines indicated that there is a great interest area and market for it.
“I loved the idea that you could take an offline activity and create an online service that could aid that.”
What is the actual purpose of Pinterest?
“The mission of Pinterest isn’t to keep them on the site, it’s to drive them out to get what they want, go to the places they want to go, cook the recipes they want to try. With or without Pinterest people have hobbies and interests, what we want to do is make sharing and collecting these easier. Helping people to discover things they didn’t know they wanted, he said.
“I also wanted to create a service that was timeless. If something’s your favourite book now, it’s going to be your favourite book in five years.
How has Pinterest been embraced that he didn’t expect?
“First to come to mind satire boards. A Fake Mit Romney account has already been created, with his suggestions on what yacht to buy, and how to take a San Pellegrino bath. You can find it here http://pinterest.com/fakemittromney/
“Museums have also started joining to showcase upcoming collections, and travel boards were also a surprise, as people created spaces to document their desired destinations.”
For SxSW I was particularly impressed with advertising agency GSD&M (who also created the Don’t Mess with Texas campaign) board with their Pinterest Guide to Austin http://pinterest.com/gsdm/, which is where is where I discovered Austin has a Pop Culture museum. I am in heaven.
What’s coming up for Pinterest?
Pinterest has reached the tipping point of mainstream success, and now the race is on to make sure Pinterest is the one and only pinning service worldwide. But Ben is not concerned about racing the clones: “We just want to make sure that what we release is of really high quality.”
Look for an all new profile design expected to be launched this week. We wanted to make it more beautiful, he said.
The team of 20, which was 10 people until a few months ago, wants it to be very different to your Facebook and Twitter profile – a snapshot of what you’re about.
You will also be able to see who people pin from and who is influencing others.
And something I am really looking forward to, they are expanding to include video. Sometimes you just need all your YouTube cat videos in one place, you know?
They are also working on platform expansion, with an iPad version, and planning to open up API, but no set date as yet.
I want Pinterest to feel like a human service.
He also values his workers; he is not looking to be the next figurehead of a company, the next Steve Jobs. The team is the most exciting product that we’re building.
Above all, Ben wants to celebrate people’s interests. Preferably on Pinterest.
After hours of planning, my schedule took a six block detour when I found out my social media crush Gary Vaynerchuk scheduled a last minute #eatup (eat and tweet). And I was not the only one, after tweeting the location, a crowd gathered instantaneously, lining up in an orderly fashion to speak to and take photos with the man himself.
Granted, this is his space, this is a crowd that knows his work and his charm. He has never had a TV Show (he turned it down as he feels cable is dying), never been in movies, but he has written books, made countless online videos, and if there is a world record for the amount of people an individual has replied to on Twitter, he would have it.
At the #eatup Gary had time for each and every person, and will not leave that space until everyone has had their turn. He knows the value of connecting with your audience directly, and his reputation shows that. It is interesting to compare this to the traditional “celebrity”.
For most celebrities, when they allow themselves to be available to the public, it is because they are promoting their movie/TV Show/album/tell-all book/perfume range. At that point, the time of showcasing your completed work, is it too late to expect them to care? What story have they told? How do they know how much work has gone into what they’ve produced? Did any work go into it or did they phone it in for a paycheck?
Looking back at the People’s Choice Awards, pretty much everyone who walked away with an award not only has a large presence on twitter, but tweets regularly. Vampire Diaries star Nina Dobrev was the first person to win an award when she wasn’t even listed on the original nomination ballot. How has this never happened before? Perhaps because previously stars didn’t have the almost 2,000,000 followers that they can mobilise in an instant like Nina can. Many stars still don’t, but the saying goes – “Build your network before you need it”, and she has dedicated hours and hours of time engaging and speaking to her followers. If public figures are not building their network now, and dedicating real time to it, they could find themselves being eclipsed by stars who previously weren’t even on the radar.
Or as Gary Vaynerchuk says – “whoever cares the most, wins.”
People from the age of two to the age of 60 use iPads. My parents didn’t even like The Beatles.”
Is it true? Do we have more in common with our parents than ever before? Do we like the same things? Use the same things? Are we Facebook friends?
The digital evolution has been credited with breaking down many barriers – between brands and customers, PR professionals and journalists, politicians and their electorates. But what does this mean for the future?
Don Tapscott, author of “Macrowikisnomics,” believes we are not in an Information Age, but an age of collaboration and participation, enabled by social networks. While social networks might begin as weak ties in your life, they can grow into strong ones, ones that will make a difference in your life, and potentially the lives of others. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. We no longer need leaders for a revolution; self-organisation by communities and peers will contribute to change.
Leaders of the old regime are always the last to embrace the new, and business can’t succeed in a world that is failing. Vested interest might resist change, but it is inevitable and history dictates it will be powered by the youth.
So it’s a good thing those two-year-olds are already practicing with communication technology.
From our times roaming the halls of high school we’ve been taught that popularity equals success. Don’t offend anyone, smile, and you could be the next prom queen.
But how do you inspire loyalty and evangelism when you are, you know, pretty boring?
The Power of Unpopular by Erika Napoletano, is a new book about to come out this month which encourages brands to go where no brand ever wants to go: out of the middle of the road. Because as Erika described it while launching her book at SXSW this morning , the middle of the road is “where people get run over.”
Capturing people’s attention is harder than ever. Social networks have been around for a while now, and the tolerance for self-congratulatory and boring content is about to plummet. Brands and companies have had years to experiment and get this right, and now is the time to push the boundaries, not link to your press releases.
The first step is to have personality. Who are you, what is your story, what do you have to offer? Don’t be afraid to show the people behind the organisation, or have a little fun. But there is a line between having personality, and being a jerk. Shock jocks might get the ratings, but being unpopular is not the same as being unlikeable, and this will do no favours for your company.
Next is accessibility. Are you really there? Do you care what people want to say to you? As mentioned above, capturing people’s attention is difficult, so if they take the time to contact you, they will not appreciate being ignored. Research has found that people are turned off by brands when they can see that people’s comments, questions and complaints are being blatantly ignored on social networks.
Sharability. Why not let people spread your content to your own networks? This is the very foundation of good PR – unbiased endorsement. Don’t make it hard for people to do this.
And finally, profitability, because really, if no one is getting paid, having all the above is not going to put food on your table. Focus on the channels that are working for you, cut out the things that aren’t. Social networks can also be a great place for market research, find out what your customers think and what they want, and have fun while doing it.
Not everyone will like you and what you are doing. That’s just the way it goes, even for prom queens. Don’t waste time on people who will never come around, and focus on entertaining and providing value for everyone else.