In this piece in the NY post about “independent” artists gaining more market share, there is a very misleading statement about what Pandora plays. We can only assume that this information came from Pandora as the New York Post would have no knowledge of what Pandora’s spins or the contents of it’s servers. Here is the statement:
Songs from outside the major labels make up 50 percent of the content streamed on the 14-year-old service. On broadcast radio, it’s 13 percent.
So on first glance the takeaway is that in aggregate 50% of the total spins on Pandora are by independent artists while 13% of the artists on commercial radio are independents.
Yay! Pandora! The indie musicians’ true friend!
But wait. Did you read that really carefully? This is a statement that you would expect a defense attorney to concoct. It’s very carefully constructed. The statement is not saying that 50% of the total spins on Pandora’s service are from independent artists, it’s essentially saying that the content on Pandora’s servers are made up of more than 50% independent artists. And at some point they’ve been streamed.
Of course that’s true. There are many more unpopular bands than popular bands. And an overwhelming percentage of these “unpopular” bands are independent.
But Necrophagist is not being played nearly as often as a Miley Cyrus. Comparing YouTube views I’d say Cyrus is probably being spun ten thousand times more often than Necrophagist. Yet Necrophagist and Miley Cyrus have a similar number of tracks on Pandora’s servers. So we all see how this statement is totally misleading. Right? It’s not really saying 50% of the spins are indie artists.
Further the distinction between “independent artist” and “major label artist” is somewhat arbitrary and frankly no longer useful. Although Taylor Swift might be considered technically “independent” it’s not exactly edgy underground DIY music. Further like many of the “independent” artists in the count, these artists are promoted and distributed by major labels. That is major labels are actively working these titles and taking large percentages of the revenue!
The more important distinction to look at is how much “unknown” or “non radio friendly” tracks a music service plays.
As I’ve demonstrated with my own catalogue Pandora doesn’t really play that much more music from my “Long Tail” of popularity than commercial radio. For my catalogue it’s more like 20%. That is only 20% of my spins on Pandora are songs that weren’t also hits on the radio. Looking at other artists’ royalty statements I have observed the same approximate percentage.
While it’s true with my catalogue Pandora does marginally better than commercial terrestrial radio, Satellite radio and college radio play more music from my “Long Tail” than Pandora. A LOT MORE.
We’d be really surprised if Pandora’s total spins are any different from any other 80/20 model where 80% of the spins come from the top 20% of artists/songs while the remaining 80% of artists/songs only account for 20% of spins. This is where Openess and Transparency by those with the data would truly be informative to artists and musicians. Maybe we’re wrong, and we’d like to be, so let’s see the actual numbers…
Oh, and one might also just look at the promoted genre’s on Pandora’s homepage, doesn’t look like indies to us (well, Contemporary Gospel, maybe)…