Talking Featured Tracks, Audio Messaging and More With SVP Music Makers Group Lars Murray

Lars Murray, SVP of the Music Makers Group at Pandora, recently sat down with us to discuss the DSP giant’s new Next Big Sound/AMP initiatives, which he says are seriously moving the needle for artists. It was part of the company’s “Rolling Thunder Tour” of industry types. Among those deeply impressed: Big Machine capo Scott Borchetta, who declared,  “We’ve wanted to have the ability to dive deeper into the Pandora platform for quite some time and we now have the ‘keys’ to do so. We are going to be super aggressive in this space and the timing of Pandora providing these tools to us is perfect. I’m very excited for our teams to create and realize all of the opportunities that lay before us.” 

The company’s Jason Feinberg recently visited the HITS offices to demo the offerings associated with Next Big Sound/AMP (and reportedly requested a Silkwood shower afterward). Among these: Featured Tracks, which allow rights holders to select emphasis tracks as with radio (without the grinding), Artist Audio Messaging and more. The company is also a goldmine of data for labels, managers, artists and others. Still, after talking to us, Murray may wish he’d never opened Pandora’s box.

How has Pandora’s audience grown, and what role does Pandora play in their discovery of new music, compared to other popular services?
Over the first 7-8 years, Pandora grew almost completely organically, through word of mouth, and through establishing a huge base of connected devices and automobiles. The company barely spent anything on brand marketing and thus got to 100 million quarterly average users and 78 million monthly without the traditional things that drove the growth of earlier formats like iTunes and even back to MTV — the direct involvement of artists and labels.  This is one of the reasons that huge swaths of the industry don’t understand the scale and engagement, and really the power — of the platform. Listeners are spending 22 hours a month on the platform, which is at least double the other services and actually more time than folks spend on Facebook. Pandora just wasn’t sharing that info until our Music Makers Group was established and AMP was launched.

 So, my team’s job is to unlock the power of the platform and tell that story — for example that for every person who creates a station based on an emerging artist, on average that artist is being heard by 45 other people who might like them. It can take a little while for an artist to hit critical mass, but it’s something that happens organically on the system without any push from us, the manager, or the label. Our brand and advertiser supported programs also help raise visibility, too. 

How are industry people using the data from by Next Big Sound/AMP? What aspect of it do you consider the “best kept secret”?
Other than the scale, which a lot of people don’t grasp, I think it would be the power of the station add. Every time a person starts a Pandora station around an artist or song, that person becomes part of the artist’s addressable audience. The artist can speak to that audience through various channels — push notifications, feed notifications, artist audio messages, and more. So, a station add is like a Facebook like or a Twitter follow, except that most of our artists have more station adds than FB of Twitter followers, and it’s tied to actual listening, which makes it more powerful. So, I’ll shout it from the rooftops: “Get fans to add your station! Your Pandora following one of the most powerful marketing tools available!” And oh yeah, it’s free.

 How does “Featured Tracks” work, and what kinds of results does it yield?
We’re the only service that allows an artist team to select and monitor their emphasis tracks from a self-serve interface. You don’t have to “work” us on that. This model only works when you have the massive scale we have. The engagement on Pandora is basically twice that of Spotify in the U.S., and going by the latest numbers, about eight times the number of Apple Music users. That’s a lot of people discovering a lot of music.

 The platform loves a good hit, and new songs sometimes have to elbow their way past established songs by the same artist in order to break through. Featured Tracks aid that process.

Featured tracks allow an artist to weight their plays a bit more toward a certain song. Thus, it’s useful for new artists looking to concentrate their focus on a particular priority and is especially useful for artists trying to follow up a big hit. The platform loves a good hit, and new songs sometimes have to elbow their way past established songs by the same artist in order to break through. Featured Tracks aid that process.

 We’ve just scratched the surface on Featured Tracks, and we’re still figuring out the art of maximizing their effect, but earlier this year Jill Scott featured a track that had been out for a few months. Critically, she also recorded Artist Audio Messages to support this effort. The track, "Can't Wait," went from 70 to 7,000 plays per day within about a week, and even after the initial bump, it settled in the thousands and has been there ever since. It subsequently got nominated for a Grammy as well.

What do features like Artist Audio Messaging (AAM) contribute to building audience engagement?
AAM speaks for itself with its absolutely insane clickthrough rates. We are working hard to spread the word. The ability to cut your own promos, geo-target them, place them next to your music, and see Click Rates anywhere from 2-10x—much higher with Premieres—what you get from Facebook ads is nothing less than revolutionary. Artists can use it to push on-platform content, tour dates, physical product, or whatever. The audience likes them too—as with everything, we have the data to support it. And oh, yeah—it’s all free.

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