Pandora's AAM helps artists boost station creation

How can artists rise above the chatter and increase their streams on Pandora? Just ask.

[This article was written by Glenn Peoples, Music Insights and Analytics at Pandora. It originally appeared on Medium.]

In the streaming age, everybody is trying to get heard. Here’s how Prophets of Rage and WALK THE MOON did it at Pandora.

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 spentPhoenix 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.

Pandora AAM tool helps Prohets of Rage boost streams

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 CTR24x 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.

WALK THE MOON's Pandora station campaign with AAM

WALK THE MOON used AAMs to help build momentum before the release of its upcoming album, What If Nothing, on November 10th. In its message, the band encouraged listeners to “tap the screen to launch the new WALK THE MOON station.” After the campaign launched, station creates spiked 189 percent in the three days following the beginning of the campaign. The long-term trend was also positive: in the following three weeks, the average number of daily station creates was 70 percent higher than the previous six weeks.

To be sure, WALK THE MOON’s numbers show the campaign worked. But how does it compare to a different event that might raise awareness? In terms of encouraging station creates, the AAM far outperformed the September 21st release of a new single, “One Foot.” Clearly some “One Foot” listeners created a station without being prompted. But simply coming out and asking listeners to create a station was a far more effective tactic. As the saying goes, it never hurts to ask. And since WALK THE MOON has more than twice as many Pandora stations as Facebook likes, it almost hurts not to ask.

Is the artist voice the AAM’s appeal? Mick Management, WALK THE MOON’s management company, thinks so.

“The AAM campaigns we run give our artists a voice on Pandora that can create intimacy in the listening experience. Fans want to be a part of what is important to the artist, and if the artist is personally telling them their station is worth adding it increases the legitimacy of the message,” said Jesse Jacobsen of Mick Management.

In marketing jargon, a newly created station conjures top-of-mind awarenessand helps bring to mind a particular artist when choosing listening options. In simpler terms, initiating a station is like giving the brain a helpful nudge. “We process an incredible amount of information every day,” John Hall, chief executive of marketing agency Influence & Co., writes in the book Top of Mind: Use Content to Unleash Your Influence. “So many of our judgments and decisions, from the strategic to the mundane, come down to the information we can call to our conscious minds in an instant.”

For most artists, the challenge is creating awareness, building interest, and gathering fans. As a recent Billboard op-ed titled “The Economics of Getting Heard” put it, consumers are “the most powerful broadcaster,” their attention is a scarce resource, and traditional media channels might not get an artist’s message heard. The economics of AAMs are simple: pay nothing and get value in return.

Thank you for reading. You can look at my other Medium articles here. Click here for Measured, a collection of data-driven articles from Pandora and Next Big Sound. My Twitter handle is @theglennpeoples