“Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
Groucho Chico Marx, Duck Soup, 1933.
Is Pandora really trying to pay musicians more? Here are some choice snippets from an email exchange between Pandora founder Tim Westergren and musician Blake Morgan, who recently got a check for $1.62 on 27,900 plays on Pandora. The full, rather lengthy exchange was published in its entirety by the Huffington Post, part of a growing level of scrutiny from more mainstream media outlets.
: Tim Westegren, founder, Pandora
To: All Musicians on Pandora
Over this past month we’ve had over a 1,000 conversations with independent musicians on Pandora. It’s been a very productive, and encouraging dialogue. One thing is crystal clear, there are large numbers of musicians who have not been part of the mainstream that have the talent and commitment to break through. And internet radio could be the difference.
Our goal is to make something truly useful — not just interesting or cosmetic. Something that can materially impact the ability of artists to make a living. So stay tuned for that.
We really think there’s an opportunity here to change the course of the industry in a direction that will be far more inclusive and empowering for independent musicians.”
From: Blake Morgan
To: Tim Westergren
“I have to be blunt and honest in my reply.
I like Pandora, and have supported it. However, this approach and idea that Pandora is intimately interested in the success of independent artists rings quite hollow –– especially from a policy standpoint –– when it’s put next to the reality of the so-called Internet Radio Fairness Act.
Representatives [Mel] Watt and [John] Conyers have gone so far as to re-name this bill humorously as the Paycheck Reduction Act. The AFL-CIO, NAACP, Americans for Tax Reform, the American Conservative Union, SoundExchange, and others all oppose this bill, and the supposition that Pandora should pay less to artists and songwriters in order to accomplish higher profitability.
So again, Tim, I support Pandora and would like to believe that you and your company have artists’ best interests at heart. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to stomach this supposition based on policy, and reality.”
From: Tim Westergren
To: Blake Morgan
Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of misinformation put out about our intentions. We have no desire to lower royalties dramatically. In fact, we’ve already expressed a willingness to consider a structure that would have our payments never go down from their existing levels.
We’re seeking a balanced structure that allows musicians to generously participate in the business, while also accelerating its growth. Every hour that moves from AM/FM to the web is good news for musicians, as AM/FM pays zero royalties to performers. There’s definitely a win-win to be had.”
From: Blake Morgan
To: Tim Westergren
Without us, you don’t have a business.
The idea of “allowing” us to “participate” in a business that is built solely on distributing and circulating our copyrighted work is like a grocery store saying it has an idea to “allow” the manufacturers of the goods it carries to get paid. The store isn’t “allowing” Del Monte to get paid for their cans of green beans, right? Of course not.
So part of the argument Pandora has made in support of the so-called Internet Radio Fairness Act is that internet radio is a burgeoning and fragile medium that is, in fact, in danger of closing. That it’s an industry that needs a little boost right now, at its beginning, just to get going –– or it will collapse. Consequently, the Act proposes to reduce musicians’ royalties by up to 85% from the tiny amount they’re even paid now (although you say that you have “no desire to lower royalties dramatically,” it’s clearly stated in the bill).
But there’s a problem with this argument. I couldn’t help notice –– because it’s been so widely reported –– that you yourself earned a reported $13.9 million last year from cashing in stock options in your very own company, Pandora. Being wealthy and successful is certainly no crime, but I’m sure you can understand how to the objective and rational observer, it’s difficult to see you making a fortune on the one hand, while you and your company are pleading economic and industry hardship on the other.”