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Pandora page.png
User's homepage [ ]
Type Online Radio
Launch Date January, 2009 [1]
Status Active
Product Line Pandora
Platform Cloud Service
iOS App

Pandora Radio is a free, personalized internet radio service in which users can listen to music with similar musical attributes (rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies, etc). Pandora's mission is to "play music that the user loves".[2] The site began in 2000 and, since then, music analysts have continued to develop methods of playing songs that have similar qualities. Pandora has restrictions in place to keep the costs of the site down and offers a subscription method where users can pay for unique features of the site. Pandora has a popular mobile app available on many platforms. Current issues surrounding Pandora include copyright issues dealing with the creators and owners of the music on the site, privacy about the type of music users listen to, and explicit content featured on the site.


Music Genome Project

In 1999, Tim Westergren formed a company called Savage Beast Industries with his friends Jon Kraft and Will Glaser.[3] Westergren worked with his friends to build a company around categorizing and recommending music through a system he named the Music Genome Project.[3] Initially, he came up with roughly 600 qualities or "genes" describing music characteristics, but narrowed this pool down to around 400 qualities or "genes" after hiring a professional musicologist to assist him.[3]

By March of 2000, Westergren raised $1.5 million by marketing the Music Genome Project as venture capital project to create a music recommendation service.[3] In 2001, he had acquired $20,000 from Barnes & Noble as an investment. Westergren landed contracts with AOL Music and Best Buy by the end of 2002 to provide licensing and data services.[3] Despite facing a lawsuit over deferring employee that ended in bankruptcy, Westergren and a few others continued working on the project without funds until 2004 when the company received $8 million from Walden Venture Capital, allowing salaries to be paid again.[3] In 2005, Joe Kennedy was hired as CEO and contracts to provide services to large companies fell through, forcing a rethink of Pandora's business model.[3]

Pandora Radio

Pandora launched as a web radio service in September of 2005 using a yearly subscription model with a limited trial.[4] However, they faced problems with capacity and low subscription rates due to users signing up for additional free trials through new email addresses.[4] The company responded by switching to an advertisement-supported business model where users would be served new advertisements.[4] In May of 2007 the Company was forced to block radio access outside of the US, UK, and Canada, but still gave users with subscription accounts access to a form of the music recommendation service.[5]

By 2008, Pandora had become of the top 10 mobile applications on Apple's iPhone and had upwards of 1 million users a day.[6] In the same year Westergren acknowledged that the company faced possible collapse due to an increase in royalty fees for web radio services, which did not affect traditional radio stations.[7]

International Use

On December 10, 2012, Pandora went fully live in Australia and New Zealand. It can be accessed via smartphone apps for iOS and Android devices, in addition to the Web-based player. Pandora has curated genre stations of Australian- and New Zealand-specific music across a variety of genres including today's hits, singer-songwriter, roots and reggae dub, indigenous, classic pub rock and more. Pandora has hired a local Managing Director for the Australia and New Zealand markets.[8] In previous years, Pandora had discussions to bring its services to Europe, but costs remain a concern because of high European royalty standards and a low demand for paid music services. Today, Pandora is only available in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.[9]

How Pandora Works

Screenshot of Pandora on the iPhone

User Experience

Pandora allows users to create stations from one or more songs a user chooses as "seeds".[10] A station can be further tailored by giving individual songs queued a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" via buttons on individual songs.[10] When a song is rated as liked or disliked by a user, the station it was played on is updated by adding songs the music database rates as similar to liked songs and by preventing songs similar to the disliked songs from being queued[11] Pandora also allows users to add artists or add songs to existing stations in order to give stations more diversity in music.[11] In order to avoid wasting money by playing music to an empty room, Pandora is able to detect when an interaction between the user and Pandora has not occurred recently. When this detection is made, the music stops and a message pops up reading, "Are you still listening?" If the user is still using Pandora, they can simply click "Yes," and if not, Pandora is saving money and allowing the internet radio to remain free to all users.[12]

Song Recommendation

Human Analysts enter songs into the Music Genome Project database by rating each on a scale from 1 to 10 for each of 450 criteria[13] which include genre, structure, mood, style, and lyrical content.[14] Human analysts are used because computers may miss subtleties in lyrical and emotional aspects songs.[14] The characteristics in the database are used in combination with user history by a recommender system to suggest music that users might like.[14]

Analysts for the Music Genome Project aren't just ordinary musicians; they are required to have certain training and certain understandings about how to identify the characteristics of a song. The Music Genome Project's database uses "precisely defined terminology, a consistent frame of reference, redundant analysis, and ongoing quality control".[13]


Users of the free version of Pandora must deal with some restrictions set by the application. Pandora limits the amount of music a user can stream per month to 40 hours for each account. Users can make this time last its longest by closing Pandora each time they leave their devices or pausing the application when leaving. In addition, music can only be played for one hour at a time without interruption before being stopped. Pandora must pay royalties per song, and this mechanism helps costs from building up. Pandora also breaks up playing time with advertising breaks, both audible and visible. These ads cannot be skipped in order to get to the next song. In terms of skipping a track, if a user is not fond of the song being played, the user can "thumbs down" a song to ensure it is never played again on his or her account but is limited to only six song skips per hour and 12 skips per day. After their skips are used up, users must listen to all songs until their next session begins. Lastly, Pandora restricts users to 100 personal station creations per account. [15]


In 2012 a Developer by the pseudonym of semaphore released an application for iOS called Pandy. Pandy can only be run on jailbroken iOS devices. It allows all songs played through Pandora to be saved and stored on the users iPhone. The songs can then be transferred back to the users computer at their convenience. In 2013, semaphore discontinued the product publicly. He released a statement on his website, "Due to drama and the fact that I don’t want to cause any and cannot stand getting involved in. Pandy has ceased public release. My repo is no longer active. I will not be updating pandy publicly anymore."[16] The application is still available to users of his private software repository. Access to the private repository requires payment.[17]

Pandora One

Users can also purchase a premium monthly subscription called Pandora One.[18] There are two subscriptions options: $36 annually or $3.99 monthly. The advertisements in between songs are removed when subscribed to Pandora One. Among other options such as custom skins for the web player, Pandora One subscribers are given the option to stream the music at a higher bitrate. Additionally, the daily skip limit is removed, but the six skips per hour per station limit remains in place. [19]

Traditional vs. Web Radio Services

Traditional radio plays the same songs for all users listening at any given time, which might lead to a lack of the uniqueness and individuality that music listeners are seeking. Pandora can offer these opportunities but at a monetary consequence such as royalty fees. In contrast, traditional radio stations do not have to pay a fee each time they play a song.[20]

Pandora, on the other hand, allows for individuality and creativity by allowing users to have greater control over what songs they hear. While there may be many people using Pandora at once, each one may be listening to a different song. Pandora simultaneously streams separate songs for multiple individual users at once, something that traditional radios do not have the capacity to do. Pandora has a much greater variety of genres, artists, and types of music than traditional radio play. It has specialized playlists for certain artists, as well as playlists catered towards specific genres, locations, etc. Examples are Wiz Khalifa Radio, and East Coast Hip-Hop Radio.

Mobile App

Pandora has an application for Blackberry, Android, an iOS platforms. It was recently updated at the end of October 2012. Officially called Pandora 4.0, the updated app finally brings features that have been available with the web version of Pandora to mobile phones.

Currently, it is one of the most downloaded apps in the United States: 1 in every 3 smartphone owners have accessed Pandora on their smartphone. The app is the second most-downloaded free iPhone app of all time, according to Apple.[21]


The Pandora Radio app has a social media aspect as it offers a more personalized experience. The app gives each Pandora listener his or her own profile page. This functions much like a Facebook profile, as it shows what an individual has done on the social network. Pandora profile will also show what the individual's created stations, bookmarked tracks, and tracks given a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Also, an activity feed works similarly to a Facebook News Feed- it allows one to follow friends on this service as well as see what tunes other Pandora listeners with similar interests are listening to.

Recently, Microsoft also announced that Pandora would be coming to Windows Phone 8 in 2013. When the app launches, they have said that it will give Windows Phone users ad-free radio for 1 year.[22]

Ethical Concerns with Pandora

Copyright Issues

An ethical issue Pandora is currently struggling with is their license deals with the RIAA and various other groups. Pandora currently pays out millions of dollars to "big-name" artists like Adele and Coldplay, but needs to pay even more to the recording companies because of various rules and regulations put in place for over-the-air radio, which Pandora radio is considered as.[23]

Pandora wrote a blog post after the Copyright Royalty Board released new rules for fees for internet radio, saying that the RIAA could negatively affect Pandora with their lobbying for higher fees. Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora said: "The RIAA has effectively convinced this federal committee to establish rates that make online radio a non-viable business."[24]

Recommender System

Pandora's recommendation algorithm takes a song or musical artist and creates a radio station based on a different number of keywords, in addition to taking user feedback into account. Once an account is created, the user allows Pandora to collect the data from all stations the user created and combines that with the general system in order to create the playlist they believe is best for the user. This poses as a potential breach in online privacy for users in that Pandora has all user information including likes/dislikes collected in their database. This whole concept is known as "behavioral targeting". [25] A person's music choices can implicitly give Pandora data about his/her likes and dislikes, interests, political views, religious views, etc. [25]However, Pandora needs that information in order to offer the best recommendation algorithm possible. It brings to light the question what do users value more their privacy or the quality of service? However, the recommender system ultimately raises ethical concerns because user's personal data can be harvested without their knowledge of it.

Many positive things come from the recommender system, such as, listeners find new artists every day on Pandora and which is helpful for artists. The recommender gives listeners the opportunity to listen to new music they may have never heard but probably will love. In addition to that, the artists benefit because they are grabbing new listeners who most likely will like their music too based on the music they generally listen to. It is one thing to hear a song on the radio, but when you hear a song on Pandora radio you are hearing music you that fits your taste. This is a very valuable tool for artists to have and benefits all Pandora users as well. It boils down to if the recommender feature enhances the user and artist experience enough to be worth the collection of user information and privacy.

Explicit Content

There are ethical issues with explicit content and music on Pandora, specifically relating to profane language and sexual references in lyrics. An individual may opt to block Pandora completely. However, one can also opt for a set list they have approved for their child/children on Playlist or Grooveshark. Additionally, users have the ability to adjust Pandora's filtered setting for what music they want to be blocked on the app.[26] Pandora has implemented parental controls to aid parents in excluding explicit lyrics and questionable content. Parental settings are specific to each account and apply to PC, Android, and iPhone. Pandora even allows you to set up a PIN to use as a password to guard this setting against being changed. Users claim that it is easy to set up a Pandora account to block explicit content, which means that this should not be a major concern for parents regarding parental controls.[27] There are also issues with users who wish to hear the explicit, uncensored versions of songs, but cannot opt-out of censored songs. These users are forced to either use a skip or thumbs down on censored songs or suffer through them. Furthermore, if a user gives a song the thumbs down only because it is censored, they run the risk of similar music that is uncensored being filtered off their station. This is ultimately unfair for artists who have popular songs and music but get penalized for the explicit content they use in their songs simply based on Pandora's system.

Price Increases

Pandora Music has been required to pay for its music as of 2016 [28]. This could negatively affect consumers paying for the premium rate service. In 2014, Pandora raised its price from $3.99 to $4.99.[29], in order to pay for music to provide for their listeners. With this increase of price in songs in 2016, the rate may rise again looking to continue their ad-free listening. This would force users to pay the higher rate, or consider a different music streaming service.


There a several music radio services that compete with Pandora. Some include:

Although each has their own separate method of providing music in a free manner, they all stem off of Pandora's initial advertising in between songs strategy, which means that they all share similar ethical concerns and issues. Spotify has recently become the more popular free radio/music streaming service as it has higher ratings (4 to 3.5 stars, lower membership costs on average, a wider selection of music, and allows for customizable playlists).[30]

See Also


  1. "Pandora Radio." Wikipedia.
  2. "About." Pandora.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Clifford, Stephanie. “Pandora's Long Strange Trip.”, Inc.,
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Clifford, Stephanie. "Pandora's Long Strange Trip." Inc.
  5. "Breaking Pandora's Heart..." Pandora.
  6. Whoriskey, Peter. "Giant of Internet Radio Nears Its 'Last Stand.'" The Washington Post.
  7. Whoriskey, Peter. "Giant of Internet Radio Nears Its 'Last Stand.'" The Washington Post.
  8. "Pandora Internet Radio Launches in Australia and New Zealand." Herald Online.
  9. "Breaking Pandora's Heart..." Pandora.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Whoriskey, Peter. "Giant of Internet Radio Nears Its 'Last Stand.'" The Washington Post.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "How to Ban an Artist From One of Your Stations on" eHow.
  12. "Are you still listening?" Pandora.
  13. 13.0 13.1
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Clifford, Stephanie. “Pandora's Long Strange Trip.”, Inc.,
  15. "Pandora Restrictions." eHow. Pandora User Restrictions
  16. S. (2013, March 3). Pandy [Web log post]. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from
  17. S. (n.d.). Private Repo FAQ. Retrieved April 19, 2018, from
  18. "Pandora One." Pandora.
  19. "Skip Limit." Pandora.
  20. Whoriskey, Peter. "Giant of Internet Radio Nears Its 'Last Stand.'" The Washington Post.
  21. Viticci, Federico. "Apple Reveals New “All-Time Top Apps” Following 25 Billion Downloads." Macstories. <ttp://
  22. Price, Emily. "Pandora's New Mobile App Will Rock Your World." Mashable.
  23. "Pandora and Artist Payments." Pandora.
  24. "RIAA's new royalty rates will kill online radio!!" Pandora.
  25. 25.0 25.1 Singer, N. (2014). Listen to Pandora, and It Listens Back. Retrieved 24 April 2018, from
  26. "How to Filter Explicit Songs from Pandora." Internet Safety Project.
  27. Vazquez, Christopher. "How To: Pandora Parental Controls." Growing Up Wired.
  28. Kafka, Peter. "Pandora Will Need To Pay More for Its Songs, but It Could Have Been Worse." N.p., 16 Dec. 2015. Web.
  29. Henry, Alan. "Pandora One Is Raising Price to $4.99 a Month, Ditching Annual Option." Lifehacker., 19 Mar. 2014.
  30. "Spotify vs Pandora." Spotify vs Pandora - Difference and Comparison | Diffen. N.p., n.d.
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