Have you heard of Donnie McClurkin, French Montana or Grupo Bryndis? If you haven’t you’re not alone. They are artists whose sales ranks on Amazon are 4,752, 17,000 and 183,187, respectively. These are all working artists who live well outside the mainstream – no steady rotation on broadcast radio, no high profile opening slots on major tours, no front page placement in online retail. What they also have in common is a steady income from Pandora. In the next twelve months Pandora is on track to pay performance fees of $100,228, $138,567 and $114,192, respectively, for the music we play to their large and fast-growing audiences on Pandora.

tim-map.jpgAnd that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For over two thousand artists Pandora will pay over $10,000 dollars each over the next 12 months (including one of my favorites, the late jazz pianist Oscar Peterson), and for more than 800 we’ll pay over $50,000, more than the income of the average American household. For top earners like Coldplay, Adele, Wiz Khalifa, Jason Aldean and others Pandora is already paying over $1 million each. Drake and Lil Wayne are fast approaching a $3 million annual rate each.

This revenue stream is meaningful. I remember the many years I spent in a band when earning an additional thousand dollars a month would have been the difference between making music an avocation and a hobby. We’re talking here about the very real possibility of creating, for the first time ever, an actual musicians middle class.

It’s hard to look at these numbers and not see that internet radio presents an incredible opportunity to build a better future for artists. Not only is it bringing tens of millions of listeners back to music, across hundreds of genres, but it is also enabling musicians to earn a living. It’s also hard to look at these numbers, knowing Pandora accounts for just 6.5% of radio listening in the U.S., and not come away thinking something is wrong.

Pandora was founded on the principle of supporting artists and we’re proud to pay performance fees. We think artists could and should ultimately earn even more. But all of this revenue is coming from a single company. A predatory licensing fee orchestrated over ten years ago by the RIAA and their lobbyists in Washington has devastated internet radio. Few now deem it worthy of major investment, including most notably, virtually every major broadcaster. After spending years building an audience, the original three largest webcasters (AOL, Yahoo! LaunchCast and MSN) fled the business after the last rate hike was imposed. This is not a recipe for a sustainable industry. It is a destructive stranglehold that is putting at risk a much larger reward for musicians everywhere.

I believe we can do better, both for artists and music fans. Driven almost entirely by our commitment to this business, internet radio is now the fastest growing form of music listening in the US. And even more encouragingly it has proven to have a positive effect on both music sales and the curtailing of music piracy. In fact, Russ Crupnick, senior vice president of industry analysis for The NPD Group, citing the annual Music Acquisition Monitor study, states, “Overall music purchasing was down in the last year, while the average Pandora listener purchased 29% more music during the second quarter of 2012 compared with last year. Additionally, Pandora listeners’ music acquisition came increasingly from legal purchases, while non-listeners showed a decline.”

Consumers have spoken, and they love personalized radio. It has earned its place in the music ecosystem. It is time to embrace progress and harness this innovation for artists.

Congress must stop the discrimination against internet radio and allow it to operate on a level playing field, under the same rules as other forms of digital radio.

Making performance fees fair for internet radio will drive massive investment in the space, accelerating the growth of the overall sector, and just as importantly accelerating the development of new technology that leverages the incredible power of the internet to build and activate new audiences. That’s where the great opportunity lies in the long run. The short-term reduction in revenue would be rapidly swamped by the overall growth of the sector. Imagine the impact on artists if this industry grew to become 25% or even 50% of radio listening.

Artists, this is your future. Own it.

Rascal Flatts ($670,351), Iron & Wine ($173,152), Bon Iver ($135,223), George Winston ($85,239), Zac Brown Band ($547,064), The Four Tops ($65,173), Ellie Goulding ($609,046), Mumford & Sons ($523,902)…

Founder, Pandora


  1. PharmD Blogger
    October 23, 2012 at 7:11pm
    These artists need to be paid. They are not selling CDs like they used to. You cannot make all you profits off of selling one song on iTunes. Pandora is great, and I know alot of people that use it, but their stocks show that they are not where they thought they would be. I think it will be a gradual change for the better.
    1. Neha patel
      April 19, 2013 at 8:43pm
      This is a great post, and it sure sounds unfair to me (though I wonder whether it might be fair for Pandora to pay a bit more than traditional radio, because it’s somewhere between traditional-format and music-on-demand )
  2. Armenouhie Kassardjian
    October 24, 2012 at 6:24pm
    I agree
  3. AlexN
    October 25, 2012 at 12:54pm
    Pay what the market will bear. If Pandora users are willing to hear more ads or give up personal information for more targeted advertising, there will be more money to cover costs (artist fees, infrastructure, bandwidth). End user activity and tolerance have an impact in this model on how much is available for the artist.
  4. David P.
    October 26, 2012 at 11:23am
    I love the service. I gladly pay for the service. I believe it is a great value for the money. I'm surprised to find any negative feedback to this message, yet it appears on balance to be unpopular. From what I read, the business model is very challenging. Sell too many ads (or turn the volume up more) and you alienate the audience. Charge too much for the service and you drive the audience away. So you end up being confined to a low(er) profit endeavor and watch while others with deeper legal pockets pursue greater profits while dampening diversity in the field. Bottom line - as interested, informed and caring fans of music we need to encourage business models that broaden the market and reward the artists. If you don't think Pandora is accomplishing that outcome then you are certainly justified in complaining. I think Pandora is accomplishing that outcome and should have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.
  5. Sifali Bitkiler
    October 26, 2012 at 1:10pm
    This article is disagreeable to characteristic out that they're doing a immense run for musicians--building a arrangement & income flowing for artists who wouldn't individual it, and salaried far, far statesman than traditional radio.
    1. Aairdancer
      June 29, 2013 at 2:10pm
    2. Timmy
      April 27, 2015 at 6:43am
      One of the more painful "paragraphs" I've ever read.
  6. Hammad Baig
    October 31, 2012 at 2:58am
    I'd bet that there is not a flat rate across the board for royalties paid to artists... So answering the question, "How much do you pay an artist per play?", may be a bit more complex an answer than could be addressed here.
  7. zuxamanyu
    November 03, 2012 at 11:44pm
    I love the service. I gladly pay for the service. I believe it is a great value for the money.'m Sure the good quality. The money to pay for his satisfaction. There is nothing better. Good service.
  8. c arnold
    November 06, 2012 at 6:05am
    1. Steven
      July 17, 2013 at 9:26am
      Well, just like andy other TV or Radio station, if you don't like the advertisement content, don't listen to it.
    2. Stephen Newman
      March 05, 2015 at 10:24am
      Pay for the service and you'll get no ads.
    November 25, 2012 at 9:02am
    Curious to know if the artist contract is the same for the free with-ad service versus the paid One service. So far the value to upgrade is not significant enough to me. However, if there was an option to pay more to have some of my subscription pay more directly to the artist, I would do that because I'd feel like I was showing my appreciation directly to the artist. Just a thought.
  10. TT
    December 02, 2012 at 12:23pm
    There are two types of artists. 1) Established 2) New and emerging. Established artists are old school and want to dominate with record label companies. But, the digital age has decimated the traditional record label companies niche/business proposition. So these artists are disillusioned into thinking they can still monopolize and deserve higher revenues. New and emerging artists are the ones who are using internet radio companies for exposure. This is in hopes of leading to online music purchases and other goodies that come with fame. I'd call them the middle-class artists. Basically the ecosystem has changed where the internet radio companies should be acquiring the record companies and artists should then work with these new identities. Consumers should benefit as there are more music and artists. But, this transition hasn't occurred yet so everyone will continue to bicker about lost profits and more revenues. While....and this is the best part...people continue pirating. Pirating is good for the ecosystem as it should be reminding all parties every day that it is there and profits/revenues are disappearing as they continue bickering.

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