Pandora Radio leaves Australia & New Zealand

Pandora babe, why you gonna leave me?

Pandora please!

I’ve been a Pandora Plus user since the day I used the service in 2012. I’m also likely to be in the top 1% of users of the service, given how many hours a month I listen to music through Pandora. Here’s a quieter month, December 2016, and the likes I’ve made on Pandora.

So since 2012 I’ve crafted over 50 radio stations for various moods and genres. This is all going away as of the 31st July 2017 thanks to Pandora no longer offering their service in Australia and New Zealand.

The likely reason Pandora is pulling out of Australia is the licencing costs for the music in the region is more than the returns from paying customers in that region. While there are no numbers available to support this claim, it’s hard to see any other reasons why the company would make this move. (I do recognise that using the service this much, I’m probably a paying user that the company is losing money on. The hope is that I at least made them back more than they lost through my constant endorsement).

Changing music streaming services is trivial, the inconvenience is in losing the years of cultivating a musical Eden. People are often perplexed by brand loyalty when they are not a user. So here I explain why I loved Pandora’s music streaming model, and why I’ve used it for so long when other more flexible services exist.

Pandora’s Special Something

User of other music streaming service usually point to the lack of on-demand and the lower number of available tracks on the platform as reasons why they did not go with Pandora Radio. Here’s why I argue these are reasons to use Pandora, or at least did.

Set and Forget — no On-demand

The most underrated feature of Pandora Radio in my opinion is the fact that it was (they now offer on-demand in the US) simply a set and forget music streaming service. There was no option for selecting which exact track should be played next, just which station should be played (the track would be determined by Pandora). This meant that as your stations were trained with your tastes over time (by thumbs up and downs), the effort you would need to input to get the desired musical output would decrease over time. On-demand music streaming services do not have this characteristic, as you need to constantly craft the music you are going to listen to. I dislike doing this as I listen to music while doing work. There are many conversations to be had about the positives and negatives of music while working, but I find that I get lost in the music and can focus on my work better, while reducing external influences. So the constant input required is not ideal. Software is meant to improve our lives after all, not give us more things to attend to.

Effort over Time: Pandora is purple, other services are green.

While playlists do solve some of the problems with effort input, it removes the key aspect of the system, discoverability.

Unrivalled Music Discovery — Less is More

According to this Wikipedia article, Pandora only has 1.5 million songs available in it’s library. Although significantly less than Spotify’s 30 million and Google Play Music, Apple Music and Microsoft’s Groove Music’s 40 million, the discoverability of music aligned with a user’s taste is unparalleled. I’ve honestly discovered more music through Pandora, despite it having ~25x less music available to stream, purely because of it’s unique, human crafted, music attribute database, the Music Genome Project. Each track in Pandora’s database has anywhere from 100–400 attributes (or genes) representing the characteristic of the music. As you listen to more music in a station, the genes of the station change to reflect the specific elements of the music you like, not just music other users listened to (the model that most on-demand services use to suggest music to users). This helps you truly determine what sounds you like and carves out a unique radio experience, not simply converging on the music defined by the masses.

Left: songs encircled by users who listened to them. Right: songs just by traits (genes).

E.G. In these crude diagrams, each song is a dot, popular songs are in the centre of the cluster, the dots encircled by the coloured rings (on the left) are songs users have listened to, dots that share a colour are songs that have some similar traits. As you can see on the left, in a system driven by a model of “users who listened to this song also listened to this” the less popular tracks are not likely to get recommended as the intersection of people’s listen history is small (unless some randomness is added to the system which would still not guarantee to any degree that you would hear these outlier tracks). This would result is very common recommendations based almost entirely off of popularity.

Using a model of “songs are comprised of genes, we’ll discover which genes the user likes and recommend songs that have those traits” the less popular/undiscovered tracks may be recommended as they fit a users gene pool. No tracks are excluded because they aren’t yet or never will be popular.

So yes, while there is less volume of music to discover with Pandora, I’d argue (completely anecdotally) that the volum that the volume of music explored by each user is greater with Pandora’s modele of music explored by each user is greater with Pandora’s model.

Other features

Artist Audio Messages (toggle-able)

Another underrated feature of Pandora is messages from Artists. Every now and again you will get a small 10–15 second message from an artist you just listened to announcing a new album release/preorder or that they’re touring in your area. Simply clicking the screen takes you to a purchase page for tickets, super slick.

Skip Limits

This seems extremely restrictive to prospective users when compared to the other services, however the simple solution for those who find it a problem is to have multiple radio stations with a similar sound/vibe and change when a limit is reached. 6 skips per hour per station is easily circumvented and a great trade-off for half the cost of other competing services.

There is a maximum daily skip limit for your account, but I’ve honestly only ever reached that once or twice in the years using the platform.

No problem, I have plenty of radio stations that I created and would love to listen to

The Remaining Options

So given Pandora Radio is no longer going to be available in Australia/New Zealand, what are our alternatives to achieve a similar experience to what we had?

All alternatives are on-demand, with some variety of curated playlists and the idea of a radio station (the execution differs from service to service).

As far as costs go, the monthly subscription costs are all more than Pandora Plus $4.99 USD/month (the more expensive Premium tier, which was Pandora Plus with on-demand, never made it to Australia).

Spotify — $11.99 AUD/month

Apple Music — $11.99 AUD/month

Google Play Music — $9.99 USD/month

Groove Music — $11.99 AUD/month

And finally the recommendation methods are implemented using user recommendation analytics or some form for AI analysis. Personally I’ve found the other services recommendations to be okay, but I’ve never discovered anything special from them. Again, this is completely anecdotal.

Conserve your musical Eden

Can we download/export a list of the tracks from our stations to replicate them on another platform? YES!!!

  1. Go here http://pandorasongs.oliverzheng.com/
  2. Go here https://www.pandora.com/settings/info to ensure your profile is public.
  3. Go to this URL https://www.pandora.com/profile when logged in and your username will appear at the end of the URL.
  4. Put your username into the site on step one and wait for it to populate
  5. Ctrl+A to select everything, Crtl+C to copy, open a text editing app and Ctrl+P.
  6. Go through the tedious process of creating playlists in the alternative service, or Google for text importers.

Thanks to Oliver Zheng, you f**king LEGEND!!!

Pandora’s Future

I obviously enjoy using Pandora and think it’s approach to set and forget radios and music discoverability is the best. But I have some reservations about the future:

  • Adding on-demand streaming muddies the message of the service. It takes the focus off of discoverability with the Music Genome Project (your main selling point) and attempts to cater to the audience who want to listen to the same new album 20 times on release. They can, and already do, listen to this elsewhere. They’re entrenched in those services.
  • It just doesn’t seem like a good move to offer on-demand streaming of a subset of the music library of your competitors (1.5 mil vs 30–40 mil tracks), to a subset of the market (US only vs most of the globe).

Cheers

Thanks to the people who worked hard to produce such an amazing experience. Because of you I’ve found a whole new world of music!

Below are some of my favourite discoveries through Pandora. There’s an abundance of instrumental music here because good instrumental music is hard to discover:

There are plenty of more popular artists/bands I discovered (or rediscovered from my childhood) through Pandora that I would not have heard if not for the radio experience:

Ratatat, The Glitch Mob, Olafur Arnalds, The Whitest Boy Alive, Genesis, America, Tycho, RJD2, Rob Dougan etc.

It was a good run Pandora.

Please share your hidden gem discoveries in the comments below.