A white-shirted dude hugs his own torso in ecstasy then busts out a truly inspired range of air instruments (guitar, drums, even keyboards), finishing his one-man band act by taking the role of the lead singer, turning toward the rest of the crowd, biting his lip and nodding his head with barely contained pride. A tiny, dance-sweat-drenched girl accepts a bottle of water from the bassist (a discarded pick already in her pocket) and claps her hands under her chin with rapture. She turns to her skinny, tattooed friend, who sighs, “Man, I just want to hug that Tim guy.” Nope, they’re not talking about any member of the band before them, but Timothy Westergren, co-founder of Pandora.
Tuesday night, Pandora Radio held the second in its series of Pandora Presents live shows, an intimate concert at New York’s Bowery Ballroom featuring Portland, Oregon (by way of Alaska), band Portugal. The Man. The show — packed wall-to-wall with fans like those described above — was indicative of the potential Pandora has to both help fans connect with their favorite acts (and discover new favorites), as well as furnish enthusiastic concert-goers for up-and-coming and established musicians alike.
Pandora launched Pandora Presents back in December in Portland, Oregon, with the band Dawes — a favorite in that city. Pandora uses its listener data (likes, channels created, etc) to decide which bands fans in a certain geographical location are into, then invites those bands to play in that city. Pandora then invites fans who have shown a dedication to that band (those who created the channels, etc) to a small show — free of charge. The whole thing is filmed and posted on a dedicated video hub.
“One of the founding missions of the company is making a difference for working musicians,” Pandora founder Tim Westergren told the O Music Blog minutes after getting off a plane and high-tailing it to the venue. “We have a really valuable asset, which is a huge audience, an understanding of the kind of music that they like, their general geographic location and the ability to communicate with them.”
The success of Pandora’s formula for choosing bands was extremely evident at last night’s show. The majority of the audience — from the rafters to the walls — was engaged in the event (even those dudes who showed their intense ardor by repeatedly screaming, “That’s a bitching sweater, John!” at leader singer John Gourley were committed to their sartorial cause).
Granted, every band’s core audience is a little different — some fans wear face paint and mosh, some fans show their appreciation by standing stoically, arms crossed — but the uniform enjoyment was evident in a way not often seen at your average show. Absent was the girl/boyfriend who was dragged to the concert, fiddling with his/her phone, as well as other bored archetypes. Why? Because Pandora made sure — using its data — that the band in question had a sufficient New York fanbase.
According to Westergren, the concert series is anything but mini. They have the next few months blocked out already, and they don’t intend to only book bands at the level of Portugal. The Man, who are signed to Atlantic Records. In fact, he admits that the idea is only in an experimental phase at the moment.
Pandora hopes to turn this series into a much broader deal, helping smaller bands find their way as well. He didn’t wholly sketch out how such a undertaking would work, but we can see a program that provides artists with data detailing where their music is most popular being extremely useful.
Imagine being able to plan a tour not based on where you can find couches to surf, but based on how many people are actually listening to your music and in which towns. That seems a much more efficient way to further one’s career — without losing a ton of cash touring in towns where only the bartender stays to watch you play.
“It’s a poor analogy, but in golf there’s something called a Nike Tour, which is like a farm system for golfers trying to become professional golfers,” Westergren told us as the crowd below began to filter into the venue. “There’s no similar thing for musicians. And I would love to think we could be the kind of farm system for artists to make that jump.”
In remains to be seen in what ways Pandora Live will manifest in the future, but there is promise in the idea — even if that promise is just providing that air instrument dude with another venue for his next performance.
By Brenna Ehrlich