HELP: My Pandora Payments Are Plummeting and I Don’t Know Why

Help: My Pandora Payments Are Plummeting and I Don't Know Why
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I am a composer, instrumentalist, and pianist.  While I am grateful that I have been able to supplement my income and make a living from Pandora royalties, I am disappointed to see my royalties on a collision course with a future payout of $0 per month.

What’s worse, this royalty payment decrease is not only affecting me.  It’s affecting dozens — if not hundreds — of other artists like me. I am in a few communities and Facebook groups of independent musicians, and almost all of us are reporting that our royalty payments are headed toward zero.

For most of us experiencing the issues, the drastic decrease began after May 2016.  Over the years, a ‘summer slowdown’ has been common, and then the number of spins increases again in September.  In 2016, however, the spins did not return — in fact they continue to drop.

On average, we are seeing a drop of 50% to 70% of our spins.

Families relying on this income are having to find other things to do.  Composers who had time to create more music are now looking for day jobs.

I am friends with composers who went from $3,000/month to under $1,000, and another from $1,600 a month to $700.

Even holiday spins, which are only good for one month a year, are down.  In 2015, I had 80,000 plays on December 20.  On December 20 in 2016, I had just over a quarter of that.  I can speak for most of us when I say that my past four or five royalty payouts have been the lowest, and lowest, and lower still…  each month sets a record for the smallest income I have received.  (FYI: Payments come via SoundExchange, are paid three months after the spins occur, and are almost entirely comprised of Pandora plays for most of us.)

When we ask Pandora Artist Support about this trend, we get vague or inaccurate answers.  They have said that they “cannot comment on other artists’ spins” or that these are “natural ebbs and flows” for spins on the platform.  We respectfully disagree: payments have been consistent for three or four years.  And it’s simply impossible that all of us are only 30% as popular on Pandora as we were in May.

There is nothing natural about the trend.

The lack of transparency from Pandora and the reasons given for the decline are quite frustrating.

Some artists are concerned that they have not entered the correct licensing agreements with Pandora. (Example: Who is Music Reports? Why have they contacted some artists and not others?  Does Pandora favor Music Reports artists over other artists?)

Others take the broader view that Pandora listenership is simply leaving the platform.  However it seems that while total spins per artist are going down, the total of number stations for each artist is actually going up(!).  There is simply no correlation.  We really have no idea.

The bottom line is this: Pandora created a middle-class existence for hundreds of artists for several years, but now the incomes are getting close to nothing with no end in sight.  And with no explanation whatsoever from Pandora.

I really thought Tim Westergren was proud to have created this artist middle class, but those artists are now going away to find other sources of income. Art will suffer, music will suffer, composer passions will suffer, and fans will suffer.

All we really want to know is: why?



12 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    This is just a working theory, but I believe Pandora either upped, or did away with, their song limit. In other words, they used to cap the number of songs playing at any given time. I think over the years that got higher and higher and maybe is unlimited at this point. So what happens is if your songs don’t get thumbs-uped a bunch, other songs that do will start to take it’s place.


    I can say this is happening to me as well. When I added a track at the beginning of this year, it was pushed hard and received a bunch of spins. There was even an automated email blast from Pandora (to my person account) notifying me that a new song was added.

    When submitting a new track around June 2017 and looking at the numbers a few months later, there were barely any spins.

    My only theory goes back to the old saying, “follow the money.” If you’re an indie artist and not on a major label, chances are your track will be overlooked in favor of a major label artist.

  3. simple answer

    There is a VERY simple reason for this. I’m surprised DMN even posted this article, but it proves they no little about what is actually going on in the industry.

    If you are using a distributor that is delivering to Pandora’s on-demand service, you are no longer receiving SoundExchange revenue for SUBSCRIPTION RADIO spins, however you still will receive revenue for AD-SUPPORTED radio spins via SoundExchange (obviously subscription spins pay more). This means that any SUBSCRIPTION RADIO spins are now being collected and paid out by your distributor and subject to whatever percentage you have with your distributor. If you want to revert to receiving both ad-supported AND subscription spins through SoundExchange, you have to opt out of the on demand service for Pandora.

    • Anonymous

      DMN has posted on this very topic before, so I agree, I don’t know why they wouldn’t mention this!

  4. Casey

    There is probably more than a few reasons.

    One their music catalog has exploded. Before they launched on-demand they had like ~2 million songs. Now they have ~ 40 million or more. How many of those songs made it radio service we will probably never know, but more songs = less plays per song.

    There is also the possibility that their algorithm could be starting to favor songs they have a direct licensing deal with versus those they don’t. It’s probably cheaper to play a major label licensed track than it is to pay Sound Exchange for an unlicensed track.

    Pandora is also dropping in popularity. We don’t really know how much thanks to fuzzy numbers, but on-demand from Apple and Spotify have definitely eaten into their listener base.

    • R

      Blame your label or distributor and Pandora for making direct deals with lawyer stocked ownership conglomerates.

  5. StevenCravis

    My Pandora income, when totaling Soundexchange + Distributor Pandora payments, went to less than half (per month) what it was consistently (per month) for 5 years. I agree with the article it was unfortunate, and causes new career related plans to be needed by many artists. Meanwhile, I hope Pandora isn’t just going away, because I really liked how slick they designed the new Pandora Premium mobile app, and I was looking forward to seeing Pandora make Premium mode available on desktop too.

  6. Steve

    Instead of looking at the total number of spins. How about looking at the payment per spin (i.e., stream). You may be getting fewer spins because of the larger catalog (more competition). But your spins might be migrating to the subscription side of things. The rates for that are much lower than the normal, stat rate for non-interactive services.

    I think that one of the biggest assumptions in the streaming world is that payments should always stay the same or go up. But as with the traditional music industry, payments and spins/plays have always had a downward slope. (Remember the hope of the Long Tail?)

    Regarding Holiday plays, that could simply be a case of a ton more holiday content to compete with. In the iTunes store, once you had success, you would likely always have it because you would rise to the top of the search results. It’s a cyclical effect. But in streaming scenarios, that’s not true.