Why Boycotting Pandora Is a Practical Impossibility

And the number one question artists have been asking Digital Music News, in emails and comments?  That would be,


“How can I forcibly remove my content from Pandora?”


Which is why several months ago, DMN looked into the matter (with the assistance of an unnamed executive) and even started working on a very complicated instruction guide for boycotting Pandora.

The answer — way back then — was that a removal could probably be accomplished, but only with considerable difficulty.  Two months into the draft, we realized that lawyers were needed to double-check the language, but there was also disagreement over exactly what that letter would state and whether it would hold water.

The danger was that publishing an instruction guide with a form letter could be damaging, especially if any errors or revisions were required.


Fast-forward to this week, and it now seems nearly impossible, at least without also removing your content entirely from ASCAP or any other collecting society.  And the reason is contained in the court decision you probably just read, which determined that publishers and songwriters are not permitted to carve out separate deals while also maintaining a membership of a collecting society.  All of the content must be licensed, by law, not pieces of it, which means that artists are similarly unable to branch out, or carve out, their own deals.


All of which means, at least over the short- and mid-terms, any attempt to extricate content from Pandora comes with serious collateral damage: ie, removal from a collective licensing group, and the performance royalties contained therein.


Longer-term, however, and more solutions are possible: every day, technology continues to make direct licensing a reality.  Superstar-level artists, labels, and even services like Sirius XM Radio (with the help of MRI) are pursuing these options.  Which means, after a few years (ie, the end of 2015), Pandora may be dealing with a very spotty catalog choice and lots of selective removals.

If it makes you feel better, you can sign this petition drafted by ASCAP this morning.  It demands that Pandora’s new CEO, Brian McAndrews, stop screwing songwriters and unscrew Pandora’s horrific artist relations problem.  You can also lend your support to #StandWithSongwriters, tell your story to ASCAP (email pandorapayfair@pandora.com) and even make a presence on Capitol Hill (there will probably be more hearings ahead).

Again, if it makes you feel better: in reality, McAndrews doesn’t give a f*&k, and Wall Street pushed the stock upward on the court decision.


In all reality, you have a better chance of keeping the US out of Syria than keeping your music off of Pandora.


But here’s the petition, if you’re interested.  Thanks.


(timeline supplied by ASCAP)

18 Responses

  1. Visitor

    Not what I — or anybody else, I’m sure — was hoping.

    But thank you very much for looking into this!

    And 2016 is not that far away…

  2. GGG

    Serious question for folks on here: How much do you think you should be paid for 1 stream of your song on Pandora?

    • Yves Villeneuve

      Market rate. That’s the basis and goal of calculation by the CRB.

      If major labels and publishers fear the demise of Pandora they will negotiate lower rates. Supply and Demand.

      • GGG

        Which is what? You can argue both for or against that Pandora was paying market share, or below, when comparing audience.

        So if I have the pleasure of hearing a Yves Villenueve masterpiece on Pandora one day, how much should you get from that?

        • Yves Villeneuve

          Roughly 0.25 cents per stream plus PRO rate. I pretty much quoted the market rate as per CRB.

          • Radio & Records Vet

            he Board set the following per performance royalty rates as the default rates for webcasters who are not terrestrial broadcasters:

            2011 – $.0019 per performance
            2012 – $.0021 per performance
            2013 – $.0021 per performance
            2014 – $.0023 per performance
            2015 – $.0023 per performance

      • Visitor

        “Serious question for folks on here: How much do you think you should be paid for 1 stream of your song on Pandora?”

        Better question:

        How do I stop Pandora & the Pirate Bay from stealing my music?

        • GGG

          No, seems like you are avoiding that question with something unrelated. Someone in control of your music puts it on Pandora; what should you get per stream? Pretty simple and straightforward.

  3. Yves Villeneuve

    I recently read Pandora has 2 audio ads per hour. iTunes will have 4. I assume terrestrial radio has a minimum 4.

    Artists should not be subsidizing a radio company because it can’t be as competitive as iTunes or terrestrial radio in generating ad revenue.

    Pandora’s lack of profitability is not the fault of artists. Blame Pandora staff and executives for this deficiency.

  4. Toy Needle

    US terrestrial radio can have as much as sixteen minutes of ads per hour. Time your local Top 40 station’s morning drive tomorrow morning why don’t you?

  5. Roberto Lefsetz

    Las artistas dicen Boicot a Pandora! Pero nadie van a escuchar a Pandora porque ellos no tiene bastante Eagles! Este es el problemo mucho mas serio.

  6. Paul Resnikoff

    It’s going to be really interesting to see how the major publishers react to this, simply because they are now effectively forced into the extremely low rates that they have been fighting against for so long. For example, I haven’t heard from David Israelite, head of the NMPA, and I usually here from him within an hour of a decision this serious.

    Any one of these massive publishers have the power to severely cripple Pandora, after about a year if they really, really wanted to – and, in the case of someone like Marty Bandier, terminate the service through content starvation.

    I hope you don’t think I’m joking, because as long as the rule of law applies, it can be applied with very draconian effect (ie, harsh withdrawal).

    Just depends on the emotions and moods here. Clear-headed, profit-maximizing mentalities among the major pubs is the outcome Pandora better hope for, because an emotional response (after getting slapped in the face) could lead to very bad things for them.

    • jw

      Paul (or anyone), on what basis are Pandora’s rates extremely low? Trying to get to the bottom of that argument.

      • Paul Resnikoff

        Everything’s ultimately subjective, but publishers have noted that their per-stream payouts are a tiny fraction of what recording owners receive. The major reason for that is the heavy role that the government plays in setting publishing rates (as can be seen in this decision, which was heavily informed by the US Department of Justice and controls put into law initially back in the early 40s).

        I would note that direct licensing deals, which of course start to move towards actual market value (as determined by a buyer and seller) ended up being much higher than government-mandated rates. No surprise there. So Pandora’s lawsuit was another move to seek government protection for lower rates.

        Which, basically means that the US Government is helping to subsidize Pandora at the expense of publishers. After all, if they would have made different deals between themselves, why should Pandora get some break?

        If this all sounds ludicrous, then I agree with you. Not sure I need my US Government mandating different rates, when we have computers that can figure that out. ie, technology can handle direct licensing deals right now, between a theoretically infinite number of licensors and licensees.

        But would that kill Pandora? In this comment thread (and others on DMN), there’s been the complaint that publishers just gouged Pandora when they had the opportunity. But actually, that didn’t happen – Marty Bandier, for example, structured a mildly-aggressive increase for Sony/ATV that didn’t put Pandora out of business. Everyone survived, Westergren still made his millions, and Sony/ATV got a bit more money. Sounded like a nice win to me, unless you don’t have a business model that can’t survive without massive content subsidies.

        So again, we need 1941 statues to intervene and lower those rates because… ?

        • jw

          If sound recording owners are getting paid much more than publishers, that doesn’t stand on it’s own as unfair. That’s the way children think. “He has more than me, so I want more.” It’s a complicated issue–I’m sure every songwriter believes a song succeeds because of the song, every performer believes a song succeeds because of the performance, & every label believes a song succeeds because of the promotion. Are consumers buying into great songwriting or a great image? Is music more about melody or sex? And is there an established ratio of songwriter to recording owner payouts that is established somewhere outside the U.S.?

          It seems pretty clear that Pandora is paying out far more than U.S. terrestrial radio (which is a precedent set for what’s fair), even just to songwriters. So if this is really just about “sound recording owners are getting more than us,” could that not be because sound recording owners are simply holding more cards than the publishers? I don’t see equality as a baseline for what’s fair, I see previously established rates (i.e. terrestrial radio) as the baseline, & in that context Pandora’s songwriter payouts are generous. Wouldn’t you agree with that?

          That said, I have a big problem with how the publishing industry is framing these issues. This is about large publishing houses with the leverage to negotiate, isn’t it? What that means is that songwriters not protected by those publishing houses are probably going to end up having their rates “corrected” by the market. So the argument that’s being made by ASCAP could just as easily be applied against them, right? Aren’t many independent songwriters signing ASCAP’s little petition against their own interests? Aren’t they being led to believe that Pandora wants to pay them less, when in fact Pandora is arguing in favor of statutory rates that protect these independent songwriters?

          To that end, I do not have a problem with gov’t regulation of these rates, though I admittedly have no skin in the game. As a consumer, I’m more concerned with the protection of independent & developing artists & songwriters. Deregulation of the radio industry has been disasterous for culture, & I’d hate to see the even playing field of Pandora disrupted by this “more more more” mentality.

          Also, I think it’s misleading when you say things like “at the expense” or “subsidies.” It makes it sound like Pandora is paying or is wanting to pay less than what has previously been determined to be a fair rate, which is simply not true.

          And I think that your argument that Pandora should be able to pay whatever publishers demand or else their business model is flawed holds no water. Suggesting that the fair market value will be found through negotiation assumes that those in charge of the music industry have the longterm health of the industry in mind, or are at least equipped to lead the industry in a profitable direction, & that is clearly not the case. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that negotiations would be anything less than extortion. And maybe I’m biased in saying that, but the numbers don’t lie. Industry leaders simply have not shown any ability whatsoever to minimize disruption or take advantage of new revenue sources introduced by modern technology. In fact, they’ve shown utter contempt for technology at every turn.

          If publishers would get together & provide a legitimate lyrics database for licensing, I might give them the benefit of the doubt. But I’m not holding my breath for that.