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Pandora

Posted on August 30, 2005

I have been speaking with David Hornik of August Capital (and VentureBlog.com) lately via e-mail about various things relating to start-ups and venture capital. Something unique about David, compared to his other VC colleagues, is that he received his undergraduate degree in music. He found out that I am a drummer of about 12 years or so and that I do a fair amount of session work in the Boston area. This spurred a conversation on our musical backgrounds and, in talking about all things musical, David brought up a company called Savage Beast that was recently renamed to Pandora and which was started by a friend of his from the computer music program at Stanford.

The idea behind Pandora started with the beginning of the Music Genome Project (MGP) which was a project designed by a group of musicians and music-loving technologists with the goal of creating the most comprehensive analysis of music ever. They set out to capture the essence of music at it’s most fundamental level and assemble a “music genome.” The MGP spurred the creation of Pandora after friends kept asking if the founders of the MGP could help them find music they would like based on artists and songs they already loved. With their database in hand they set out to not only help their friends find music but to help the general public as well.

At the time David mentioned the company to me the program they had developed to choose music for a particular listener based on artists and songs they already loved was not in public release. This was about a week ago. David informed me today that the program was released to the public and that I should go check it out. Of course the first thing I did when I got home, being the music/tech geek I am, was to boot up my computer and give Pandora a test run. Well, that test run began over an hour ago and I can’t take my headphones off. The songs that keep coming out of Pandora are exactly what I want to listen to.

I used Joshua Redman as my first search, or “station” because I figured jazz would be a hard niche for Pandora to fill. Well, it is doing a beautiful job. It has found me artists and songs I have never heard of and probably would have never found if it wasn’t for Pandora. Essentially, Pandora becomes your personal radio station minus the commercials. How great is that?

Pandora also has some great features that allow you to further customize and enjoy your experience. Every song that Pandora picks for you is a link you can click on. When you click on the song’s image a little menu comes up that allows you to buy the CD at amazon.com or the song on iTunes. The menu also has a link that allows you to make a new “station” out of the song you are currently listening to and a link that explains why Pandora chose the song for you. Lastly, the menu allows you to tell Pandora “I like the song” or “I don’t like the song.” The responses given will further customize your “station” on the fly.

Pandora is currently offering 10 free hours as a trial and an annual subscription price of only $36. That is unbeatable as far as I am concerned. I just subscribed. Pandora is the best thing to hit music since the iPod and I commend the developers for their incredible work. I know this may seem like an ad but I can assure you that I have no stake in the company and am genuinely blown away with what Pandora can do.

It will be interesting to see if Pandora is able to work out licensing agreements where iPod and other mp3 player users can download their “stations” onto their devices in the same manner that you can with podcasts. Pandora would also be great to use as a party DJ. I will try out this Thursday at a cookout my girlfriend and I are throwing at our apartment and report back.

Pandora’s future will definitely be something to watch. I urge all of you to go check out Pandora for yourselves and post your thoughts and experiences with the program to my blog. I assure you that you will not be disappointed. Pandora is a truly a music breakthrough and a great piece of technology.

Funding FYI: Garage Technology Ventures (Guy Kawasaki’s firm) supplied Pandora’s $1.5mm series A financing in 2000 with Walden VC and Labrador Ventures supplying the series B round of $7.8mm in 2004.

My Pandora Stations:
1. Melodic Rock Radio
2. Coldplay Radio
3. The Killers Radio
4. Jazz Radio
5. Big Band Radio

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