A Holy Grail for the Artist Revolution

It’s a glorious time for music fans. All the music we could ever want is available at our fingertips. We can get a highly curated and personalized music experience on any device to navigate through the infinite sea of sounds and artists. The revolution has happened for fans. The machines we have created to access and discover music will never deny us, and it will only get better.

The revolution hasn’t quite happened in the same way for artists or their supporting creator ecosystem. While we have progressed immensely in connecting artists to their existing fans, there are no effective systems that enable creators to find new fans at scale and grow their audiences. Most artists can’t afford high cost radio promotion, and current methods like paying for banner ads on facebook, google, etc. are a mixed bag. They are blunt instruments blasting out promotion seldom in the proper context. It’s hard to track, so the ROI is dubious, and hence it all feels like a waste of money.

A key to enabling the artist revolution is to give all creators the means to introduce their new music most efficiently, almost perfectly, to new audiences. Those of us working to advance the fate of creators and artists affectionately call the machine to enable this, the Holy Grail. Artists would use it to promote a new single, and it would systematically find all the true fans who would love to connect with that new song.

Holy grail

[Image credit: Lucasfilm Archives]

The Holy Grail for Creators has long been elusive since it’s been near impossible to combine a massive audience with the self-serve capability to promote any new single to the right people at the precisely the right time. This is particularly hard to do with new music since those songs do not have any runtime or traction, and it’s even harder to do if it’s a new artist trying to break through.

At Pandora we have the ingredients to crack the code and build the Holy Grail. Pandora has the largest audience of music streamers in the US (76M) listening on average 24 hours a month, which is the most time spent in any app in the US. The Artist Marketing Platform (AMP) is available self-serve to ALL artists on Pandora, so the creator ecosystem is completely empowered to promote anything that’s important to them. Creators have received over one billion impressions and spins of artist audio messages. To commemorate this recent milestone, we’ve announced more powerful features for AMP. These systems are only getting better as demonstrated by the Pandora Data Science team finding new and better ways to quantify the artist-fan-connection. See Kat Glaeser’s piece on our Artist Affinity Score.

The data science that connects a creator’s song to the massive audience of listeners on Pandora is the most important part of the artist-fan equation. By harnessing hundreds of billions data points, Pandora can more precisely find the true fans for newly promoted music. It all starts with the Music Genome, which analyzes the attributes of a new song to jump-start it into the radio and recommendation systems. From there listener thumbing and engagement behavior are used by Pandora’s algorithms to find more new fans and listening opportunities for promoted songs. Artists and creators can get data on how their songs performed in AMP before deciding which one to promote as a new Featured Track. In a recent post, the Pandora Data Science team expands on our Featured Track approach and explains the science and process of promoting a new single at scale. Check out Andrew Asman’s work on helping artists find new fans with our Featured Tracks.

The Featured Track song targeting methods find more unique radio stations to play a promoted single and within those stations find the specific fans who are most likely to enjoy the new single. These new found listeners are on average 83% likely to give the Featured Track a thumbs up, which results in increased spins and more people listening. The impact is felt more for emerging and middle-class artists who spin less than 1000 plays a day. These artists experience a 2-5x increase in spins per day during the promotional period of a Featured Track.

Featured Track Impact

A Pandora Featured Track finds true fans who are genuinely likely to thumb up that new single resulting in more sustained growth for artists. It’s an effective way for artists to connect long-term to more engaged fans compared to getting placed on a random popular playlist or broadcasted to everyone without targeting science.

Most algorithmic approaches that introduce music to people optimize on behalf of the listener. These methods do not consider what the artist and label want to promote at any given time. Pandora’s Featured Tracks, however, puts the power in the hands of the artist and label by letting them promote whichever song they want simply, immediately, and for no cost. It’s worth repeating — ALL artists and labels, big and small on Pandora can promote their new singles for free unlike other networks and services that charge you to find new fans. Not a bad ROI.

It’s completely self-serve so you don’t need to know someone who knows someone or have to pick up the phone and talk to anyone. If you are spinning on Pandora, login to AMP today and use Featured Tracks to promote your new single and find more fans. There is no editorial monopoly or gatekeeping. All artists, creators, labels can promote their new music today.

As incredible as these features are, it’s important to recognize that there are no silver bullets or panaceas in artist marketing. These tools can help new songs find likely fans but once there, the fans either like the song or not, which ultimately determines how often that song plays and to whom. The best practice is to use all the tools available across all the networks and services to promote your music. It’s relentless and essential. Spend your time efficiently, however, and gravitate to the ones that you can access yourselves, where you are completely in control, and which will have the most impact. Pandora’s AMP is the leading contender in meeting all those unique needs. If you’re spinning on Pandora and have not had a chance to check it out, log in now and make the most of it.

If you are like us and not happy with the status quo, drop us a line to share the work you are doing to help artists find new fans and reach their full potential. If you appreciate the mission and ethos in this post or the great work of our Pandora data science team in either promoting creators or connecting them to their fans, reach out and connect. Let’s work together to bring the revolution to artists.

Pandora AMP


Michael Kiwanuka



Saw the amazing Michael Kiwanuka a couple weekends ago. It was sublime. He had announced his tour early 2016, and I bought tickets many months in advance for his Dec 2016 show. Unfortunately, he had to cancel due to tonsillitis and reschedule for May 2017. I missed the onsale day the second time around, and he sold out quickly at the Fillmore in San Francisco. His awesome song Cold Little Heart became the opening of the HBO series Big Little Lies between the time I bought tickets initially and the rescheduled onsale. He has been selling out ever since. Luckily, my friend Gurj Bassi helped us out by getting Nazlee and I two passes courtesy of Universal Music for Michael Kiwanuka’s show. He’s another one to watch as his music is timeless. His 2016 album Love And Hate was my 2016 album of the year. Despite my not blogging about it or shouting on the rooftops about him, I took every opportunity to let people know how much I loved and appreciated his music.

Here’s Father’s Child, one of my favorite Michael Kiwanuka songs live via BBC Radio 6. Enjoy.

Mad Respect.


The New Pandora AMP


Today Pandora is launching a brand new version of the Artist Marketing Platform (AMP). The original version of AMP launched in October of 2014 and was a great first step in enabling artists and labels to get insights into how their music was performing in Pandora. As it evolved, new marketing features like artist audio messages were added along with the ability to promote new singles to a wider audience. The new version launching today has been rebuilt from the ground up with a new codebase and gorgeous new design. Check out the video to see what it’s all about.

When I first joined Pandora in June of 2015, I was most excited by the possibilities of AMP and what it will mean for artists at every level and stage in their career. Today’s new AMP represents a great team effort in rethinking what a marketing platform needs to do to address the number one challenge for artists: promoting music to fans in a sea of noise and making money. This is fundamentally a marketing problem, and AMP solves it by helping artists create campaigns that let them promote whatever is important to them including a new single or album, a show, a tour, merch, a cause, or literally anything an artist cares about.

When setting out to reimagine AMP, we wanted to help artists execute a marketing campaign as simply as possible and also accommodate the complexity of involved campaigns that span multiple objectives and touch-points. For example, a campaign to promote a new single can be comprised of two different integrated campaigns: a Featured Track campaign to push the single to a wider audience and an Artist Audio Message campaign that lets the artist speak in their own voice about that new track. Both those campaigns live within the main campaign to promote a new single.

Similarly a campaign to promote a fall tour across 20 cities can include different artist audio messages each geo-targeted and customized to the different cities of the tour. Each message has a unique link to buy tickets at each venue. All of those 20 artist messages with different links to buy tickets would live in one main campaign called something like ‘Fall Tour 2016.’ This nested structure gives artists a lot of power to manage integrated campaigns in a simple yet powerful way. The new AMP is built for the future and is architected in a way that will let us add new campaign types in the coming months to help artists premiere new albums, book shows at Ticketfly venues, or participate in an ever growing list of promotional opportunities on Pandora. 

Another important new part of AMP is the activity feed. It alerts artists to how their campaigns are doing and helps them take further action quickly.  They can improve and optimize the campaigns or double-down and share them further. These notifications reduce the complexity and guesswork out of marketing, while making AMP more intuitive and instructive.


The activity feed also lets artists know that they have a newly ingested track to promote via an Artist Audio Message and Featured Track campaign or a new event listed within our Ticketfly network of promoters and venues. Simply clicking on these alerts will pre-populate the information so artists and their teams can quickly set the campaigns up and go live with a few clicks.


When you combine these new promotional capabilities with the the scale of Pandora’s base of 80M uniqued listeners a month, you get the most powerful artist marketing platform on the planet. As artists use AMP to promote whatever they wish, the engagement rates and click-throughs are literally off the charts and well above 10x what you would see on the social networks, paid marketing channels, or other music services. This is mainly because people are on Pandora to listen to music and welcome the connection that AMP gives from their favorite artists.

Check out the AMP Playbook for more info and best practices on the new AMP. Today also represents the general availability of our AMPcast product that puts the power of artist audio messages into the hands of all artists on Pandora via their mobile phone. If you’re an artist or label on Pandora go check out the new AMP and get on AMPcast here.



StoneDog, good new music

One of the best things about my job at Pandora is working closely with my incredible colleagues who happen to make great music. Adam Zabarsky on our Music Maker product team and Chris Dunn leading our advertising engineering team produced a great body of work in StoneDog. I’ve been listening to it at home and in the Pandora office. The album has variety yet definitely has a distinct sound and feel.

I work every day with Adam on our Music Maker products including AMP and AMPcast, and Chris and I sit 10 feet from each other in the office. The personal relationship I have to them both is a significant part of the connection I have with their music. It opens me up in different ways than if I didn’t know them personally. This added dimension to the relationship I have with their music deepens my connection to it. A deeper connection to good music can only mean a happier Shamal. So this is definitely something worth shouting about. Listen to StoneDog now and enjoy. Sailaway is my current favorite and reminds me of a Phish song. I love the bluesy, soulful Illiterate and play it all the time for the awesome lyrics (‘I must be illiterate, cause I can’t read you girl/My hearts an open book, baby take a look’). Au Revoir feels like a good song to sing along to at a Jimmy Buffet concert, and Lipgloss is for all the Cars fans. Enjoy.

Spooky Advertising

Every now and then, occasionally but increasingly frequently, I’m blown away by the efficacy of today’s targeted advertising. It may be purely coincidental ad placement, but sometimes the accuracy of an online ad is precisely right. When it hits the spot, advertising can actually be a good thing for everyone involved: a prospective buyer getting more relevant information on goods they actually want to purchase, an advertiser who ultimately transacts with a new customer, and the platform on which the connection was made. As wonderful as it can be, it feels a creepy when the targeted ad is so exactly right. How did they know? What information are they using to surface that particular ad at the most opportune moment? Was my information gathered without my permission or knowledge and traded to other parties in order for the ad to be delivered? I don’t know, and this lack of understanding makes me wonder and causes a bit of concern as to what other profile and behavioral information are being mined and traded about me.

These eerily accurate and spooky ads do haunt me at times when they hit the nail on the head. With so much at stake in the arms race of advertising, it seems that these types of spooky ads are happening so much that I’m going to start tracking and documenting them as #spookyadvertising.

Here’s the first example with context. On Saturday July 2nd 2016, I went into a Banana Republic in Union Square San Francisco and looked at their men’s shirts. I was looking for shirts that I could wear untucked at work, because in general I hate tucking in my shirt. I looked around the store and even asked someone who worked at Banana Republic about shirts that I could wear without tucking them in. After browsing a bit, I left without buying anything. Later that day, I got this ad on my twitter. This ad was for an online apparel company called Untuckit that sold shirts that are to be worn untucked. It was essentially a perfect ad. I browsed the site a couple times over the next two days and made a purchase.




How did they know I was looking to buy untucked shirts? It could be pure coincidence, or perhaps there was insight derived by my visit to a physical store at Banana Republic. I find it hard to believe that this ad was targeted based on the conversation I had in the store with a Banana Republic sales clerk. I’m still wondering exactly how they knew to surface that particular ad to me since it worked well in many different ways. Perhaps it’s a damn good guess as to what I would want to see in ad, and considering over 99.999% of ads surfaced to me don’t work, perhaps finally the odds were in this ads favor. #spookyadvertising.

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