What's working? What actually moves the needle? That's my #1 question when talking to D.I.Y. musicians, music marketers and label execs. Most don't have a great answer other than getting on an official Spotify playlist. But finally, I'm starting to see some solutions for the other 99% of musicians, and as this data from Glenn Peoples shows, Pandora's free artist audio messages is proving to be one.
By Glenn Peoples, Music Insights and Analytics at Pandora from Medium
How does an artist get people to listen to their music? It’s one of the most-asked questions of the streaming era. Streaming is a unique animal. Artists who grew up in the download era, and especially those old enough to remember selling CDs, are adjusting to a dramatically different way of reaching listeners. The same challenge also exists for the streaming generation that knows no CD sales. Your new music deserves to be heard. The trick is taking advantage of the right tools to reach the right listeners. But how?
Here’s an option: artists benefit when listeners launch their Pandora radio station. What can they do to help? It never hurts to ask.
This fall, two bands, Prophets of Rage and WALK THE MOON, want to create awareness for their new albums. In Pandora lingo, these bands wanted to spur artist station creates. For example, when a person goes to the Prophets of Rage artist page and taps “Prophets of Rage Radio,” the station plays and is automatically added to their station list. The payoff comes next: the Prophets of Rage station will probably play Rage Against The Machine, The Beastie Boys, Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, and, of course, Prophets of Rage.
To gain new stations, Prophets of Rage and WALK THE MOON both employed the artist audio message (AAM) tool built into Pandora’s Artist Marketing Platform. As a marketing tool, AAMs are remarkable for their simple process and ability to work on a massive scale — Pandora had 5.15 billion listening hours last quarter alone, and often an artist will have Pandora stations than Facebook likes or Twitter followers. These brief audio messages (e.g., “Listen to our new single,” “We’ve got a tour coming your way”) are uploaded to an artist’s AMP account. (This can be done through AMP on the web or, for verified AMP artists, through the AMPcast feature inside the same Pandora mobile app used by listeners.) The message is almost immediately heard by fans. A while back, I got a message from Phoenix reminding me about the release of its latest album, Ti Amo. Pandora knows my listening habits well, and recording the message was time well spent: Phoenix stations surpass Facebook likes by 34 percent and Twitter followers 760 percent.
In August, Prophets of Rage launched an AAM campaign that took advantage of the group’s all-star cast: Chuck D of Public Enemy; B-Real from Cypress Hill; and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk. While AAMs would certainly raise awareness for the new group, their main purpose was to encourage listeners to listen to the Prophets of Rage station. A single message from guitarist Tom Morello was served to fans of five groups: “Hey, this is Tom Morello. The new self-titled album by Prophets of Rage, featuring members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill, is out on September 15th. Tap the button on the screen to start a Prophets of Rage station.” Fans of the fourth and fifth Prophets-related groups, Audioslave and The Nightwatchmen, also heard that message. The campaign was nothing if not efficient: listeners have 10.8 million stations between the five bands.
The campaign was a success. Prophets of Rage station creates jumped 2,400 percent (24x) in just two days. In addition, Prophets of Rage spins in the two weeks following the campaign were 64 percent higher than the prior two weeks.
Personalized radio is the term Pandora has always used to describe how its algorithms, along with a user’s feedback, decide what song it should play next. (Here’s an article from way back in 2006 that refers to Pandora’s “personalized” stations. “It’s about the music, the service, and the listener,” Pandora founder Tim Westergren told students at University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.) Pandora has thousands of stations programmed by in-house experts (I can attest to their high level of knowledge and all-around music nerdery). But most stations have been created — seeded, in Pandora terminology—by listeners using an artist or track as the starting point. Based on that seed, Pandora will pick songs with similar traits, referring to the data stored in Pandora’s Music Genome Project such as genre, vocal style, instrumentation, and hundreds of others. By thumbing tracks, listeners help Pandora further fine tune how the recommendation engine will pick songs in the future.
AAMs get good responses from listeners. Last year, I compared AAMs for Pandora Premiers titles and social media click-through rates.
Across the dozens of AAMs for [Pandora] Premieres, campaigns have averaged a CTR of 9.37 percent. (This is a weighted value that takes into account the size of each AAM campaign.) That CTR is 2.3x best Facebook CTR, 24x to 31x times a Twitter CTR and 3.2 times the MailChimp email CTR for music and musicians. The artists’ messages succeed because they’re delivered in the artist’s voice when a listener is already engaged with their music. An additional factor is Pandora’s dynamic personalization, the ability to put the right message in front of the right person at scale.