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Pandora to Let Music Artists Like Lenny Kravitz Send Audio Messages to Fans (Video)

The messaging service is a continuation of a Pandora initiative to give more tools to music artists.

Asa Mathat

Even Pandora wants in on the messaging boom.

The music streaming service is launching a pilot test this week that will allow music artists to send personalized audio messages to its listeners, Pandora founder Tim Westergren announced at the Code/Media conference at the Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, Calif., on Wednesday.

The service is currently open to just a small number of artists, including Lenny Kravitz, Westergren said. But over time, the company expects to expand it past a pilot test. Pandora thinks artists would use the service, dubbed Artist Audio Messaging, to announce things such as new tours and new albums, or to provide context on a particular song.

“It’s the beginning of a much longer roadmap,” Westergren said, giving an example of artists using the service down the road to target messages to fans in a specific city.

Pandora is positioning the messaging service as a continuation of an initiative to give more tools to music artists, as Pandora competes with newer music services such as Spotify for both listeners and artist support. In October, for example, Pandora unveiled a new, free analytics service for artists that gives them information about where their listeners on Pandora are from, and which songs they are favoriting the most.

Eventually, musicians could even set up a virtual “tip jar,” Westergren said.

“This platform will allow them to build a patronage,” Westergren said in his interview with Walt Mossberg on Wednesday. “An audience of patrons for them.”

As for concerns about what Apple might do now that it has Beats Music as well as reports that subscription services might come down in price, Westergren said that he expects both lower prices and more big businesses to offer streaming music.

“It gets back to what you believe about listening,” Westergren said. “Fundamentally people want to hit a button, lean back and be entertained.”

Westergren said Pandora is about the belief that people don’t have time to curate playlists.

“That has been the genius of radio,” Westergren said, adding that radio makes up 80 percent of the time people spend listening to music and that Pandora has the lion’s share of the Internet radio market. He also touted the data that the company has built up over its nine years, including more than 50 billion “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” from its users.

“We actually feel very good about our ability to compete,” Westergren said.

As for why Pandora doesn’t generate more profits, Westergren noted the company did eke out a “modest” profit last year — its first — but said that more than half its revenue still goes to licensing fees. Creating enough advertising to offset its costs has been a long, labor-intensive process, he said, with the company’s struggles acting as something of a “Keep Out” sign to would-be direct competitors.

“We have had to put a lot of investment into people and technology,” he said.

Additional reporting by Ina Fried.

Here are some video highlights of the conversation:

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.