In a recent New York Times editorial called “Open the Music Industry’s Black Box,” David Byrne said that this should be the best time in history to be a musician. Never has it been easier to record, be distributed and be discovered. The power of the Internet and streaming services, including Pandora, have given consumers the listening experience they have always wanted, and artists a platform to build and connect with audiences. The Internet has also brought with it the opportunity to bring transparency and fairness to a chronically opaque and confusing industry. Byrne is right. And it is time for all of us to work together to make it happen.
The black box Byrne invokes is real. Too often, music makers cannot access even the most basic information around the rights, usage and economics of their music. This is true even for well-known artists like himself. The lack of information not only cripples the careers of working artists, it also greatly inhibits the growth of a healthy ecosystem of businesses looking to use the music, as simple questions like, “Who owns the music?” have no reliable answer. It’s quite an extraordinary state of affairs — unlike any other industry.
This is not news to us at Pandora, and we are doing our part. For starters, save for a very small amount of directly licensed content, our payments are completely transparent, administered through SoundExchange and governed by federal law — a law that every artist should know guarantees that 50 percent of the revenue goes to the performing musicians. We’ve also opened up our data to artists. Through our Artist Marketing Platform, every single artist can see a complete summary, not only of their song spin activity, but also a comprehensive view of their fan base. Such information can be used not only to audit the financial picture, but also to make smart, tactical career decisions, such as where to tour.
Thousands of artists are already using this resource. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We’re already beta testing a self-service platform that will allow artists to freely communicate with, and market to their fans, through Pandora. Recently we gave it a test run for a U.S. tour of an emerging band, Odesza, to sell tickets to its Pandora listeners, targeted to the show locations. We sold out our allocations in minutes in many places, and several additional shows were added just based on the demand we generated. We sold nearly 10 percent of the Rolling Stones’ Zip Code tour using the same technique.
The “working musician” is giving way to the musician as “small business.” And the foundation for the success of what could be hundreds of thousands of small businesses is information. Knowledge is power, and our goal is to enable musicians to harness that power to build sustainable careers. It’s exactly what the Internet was created for — to inject openness, creativity and innovation into old ways of doing things, making them better for all of us. That is the real future of music. I think David Byrne would agree: It’s time to start making sense.
Tim Westergren is the founder of Pandora, a music streaming and automated music recommendation service powered by the Music Genome Project. Reach him @timwestergren.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.