100 Brains: Pandora's Tim Westergren gives music lovers a voice

No music fan is more passionate than Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora. In this latest installment of 100 Brains, he talks about what's next for internet radio and the power of social networking overall.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

Music fans are a unique breed. Whether they are followers of Justin Bieber or the more complex musicianship of TOOL, they are incredibly passionate about their likes, their dislikes, and their ability to access their tunes. Not many, however, are as passionate about music and the progress of making it accessible on the Internet as Tim Westergren. Westergren, founder of internet radio service Pandora Radio and its backbone, The Music Genome Project, is as much of an icon in the music industry as some of the artists he promotes. An award-winning composer, accomplished musician and record producer, he has spent the last decade focused on helping talented emerging artists connect with the music fans most likely to appreciate their music. He was also more recently named to the TIME 100 and is listed among influencers such as Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, artist Lady Gaga, and even Steve Jobs.

Westergren's battle to connect artists with fans has not been an easy one -- he's been steadfast in fighting against bureaucracies that at one point threatened his company's very existence. Now, Pandora is everywhere -- iPhone, BlackBerry, BluRay, and even car stereos. So what is next? And what is one of Westergren's biggest lessons learned? He tells us in the latest installment of 100 Brains.

Q. [Jennifer] There's been an online music revolution, much of it being led by your efforts with Pandora. What is next? And what challenges are still left to address?

A. [Tim] I would say the next big thing is not a particular technology or application, but the prospect of one of the effective online music services reaching scale. There have been some great ideas holding all sorts of promise for musicians, but they've failed to achieve scale. In particular, I'm speaking of services that solve the promotions problem, i.e. services that effectively introduce a deep catalogue of music to their audience.  When you combine effective discovery with scale, you get a game-changer. In spite of all the innovation online, we've yet to see a service the really moves the needle for the average working musician.  That to me remains both the biggest challenge, as well as the most exciting possibility to contemplate.

Q. How has Apple's Ping social network impacted Pandora's business perspective? Do you think there will be an impact?

A. That has not impacted us yet.  Done right, there's no doubt that Apple could deliver an impact commensurate with their reach and market share, which is enormous.

Q. Do you believe that Pandora could benefit from being more social?

A. Most definitely.  It's something we've been working on forever.

Q. Please share with me an important lesson that you have learned while using or promoting a service using social media.

A. From the very beginning -- give people a clear and easy way to understand and control their privacy settings.

Q. Do you believe that in some ways, this social media 'phenomenon' has been overhyped?

A. I think Facebook is standalone proof of its power.  It seems to me that we're moving towards a time when a social network will underlie virtually all activity. It will become a medium for injecting efficiency into everything from communication, to search, to commerce...

Q. What was your first online 'social' experience? It could be an old-school BBS, a legacy social network, or even a chat room. Compared to that, did you ever believe that social would come as far as it has now?

A. The first thing I did was an interview accompanied by a live online chat.  So I was talking, while also seeing questions pop up on the screen in realtime from listeners that were tuned into the webcast. As a relatively modest user of social applications, the whole industry remains a marvel to me.

Q. If there's one thought about Pandora or social or the web in general that you'd like to leave for CBS Interactive readers, what would it be?

A.I do believe that the web will eventually deliver on the promise of the long tail. Keep the faith!

Social Business "100 Brains" is a series of 100 interviews with some of social media's most compelling "thinkers" and "tinkerers." Each interview aims to showcase each subject's most unique perspectives and talents. Interviews will run until December 31, 2010. Know a top "thinker" or "tinkerer"? Send an email using the form below.

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