Get the Facts: Pandora Buys FM Radio Station in Bid to Undercut Songwriters
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June 18, 2013

Get the Facts: Pandora Buys FM Radio Station in Bid to Undercut Songwriters

UPDATE 7/3/13: click here for our response to Pandora's misinformation campaign

Pandora recently purchased radio station KXMZ-FM in Rapid City, South Dakota, in a bid to lower the licensing fees it pays songwriters and composers for public performances of their work. Pandora says this will help music creators and listeners, but the facts tell a much different story.

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  • Pandora, a Wall Street-traded company, reported revenue of $126 million in May 2013 for its first quarter alone.
  • ASCAP is a nonprofit membership organization that collects and distributes royalties to the more than 460,000 independent songwriters, composers and music publishers it represents.
  • Every 1,000 plays of a song on Pandora is worth about 8 cents in performance rights ($0.00008 per stream).
  • To put that in context, Miranda Lambert’s hit song “The House that Built Me” was streamed on Pandora nearly 22 million times, earning its songwriters and publishers roughly $1,788.48. Co-writer Allen Shamblin received only $894.14. Lady Antebellum’s 2011 Grammy-winning Song of the Year “Need You Now” was streamed nearly 72 million times on Pandora, earning its four songwriters and publishers $5,918.28. Co-writer Josh Kear received only $1,479.57.
  • In 2012, Pandora founder Tim Westergren cashed out $9.9 million in stock options – more than the $7.6 million the company paid in total licensing fees split among all ASCAP members that same year.


  • Internet radio and traditional AM/FM radio use music and generate revenue in very different ways.
  • Over 70 million people listen to Pandora every month. In contrast, KXMZ has an average listenership of 18,000.
  • The Radio Music Licensing Committee (RMLC) license was designed for businesses that earn more than 95% of revenue from traditional AM/FM radio. That’s a far cry from Pandora’s business model, which is wall-to-wall, user-influenced online music.
  • By 10am every morning, Pandora has already performed 200 million songs, as compared to the hundreds of songs played by the average radio station in an entire day.
  • Even with the purchase of KXMZ, Pandora will earn virtually all its revenue from the Internet, so the Internet licensing rate should apply.


It’s telling that the deal was announced in an editorial written by Christopher Harrison, Pandora’s assistant general counsel, in the Hill, a Washington newspaper covering legislative minutiae. Pandora’s future relies more on laws and courts than on its ability to successfully run KXMZ, Hits 102.7.
Businessweek: Pandora Buys a Radio Station, Just to Make a Point About Royalties, June 12, 2013

Just in case you didn’t quite get it before, Pandora has now demonstrated unequivocally that they loathe songwriters so much that they’d literally do anything to screw them. Including antics like buying an FM radio station.
Music Tech Policy by Chris Castle:Tim Westergren’s Mask Is Slipping: Pandora’s Scorched Earth Attack on Songwriters, June 11, 2013

There may be plenty of music-lovers in the nation’s 46th largest state, but Pandora’s purchase of a South Dakota top 40 music station last week certainly wasn’t about them.
Upstart Business Journal: Pandora’s bold plunge into mainstream radio, and a lesson for startups, June 12, 2013

The company is also trying to convince everyone that this about “the community” and not just pleasing their money-hungry investors… Despite its stated intentions to make its service better and please “the community,” it also seems like Pandora bought a radio station in South Dakota as a big publicity stunt in an attempt to highlight its plight with the record industry which is still stubbornly trying to make money for its artists.
Gizmodo: Why Pandora Just Bought an FM Radio Station in South Dakota, June 12, 2013


Its first foray into traditional radio broadcasting, the move has little to do with strategic shift and everything to do with royalty costs… Pandora’s costs savings will be small. The preferential royalty rates are expected to snag savings worth less than 1 percent of its revenue versus the rates it is currently paying.
CNET: Pandora to buy radio station to piggyback onto cheaper costs, June 11, 2013

Members like me depend on ASCAP to negotiate fair deals on our behalf, so we can earn a living as more listeners discover and enjoy our music across a wide variety of platforms, including Internet radio… I like streaming music online as much as the next guy. And I certainly appreciate the opportunities it creates for me as an artist to reach new listeners. But Pandora is misleading readers by claiming to be on the side of artists, when its recent actions firmly prove otherwise. Shame on us if we let them continue the charade.
The Hill: Pandora is stiffing artists by songwriter Josh Kear, June 13, 2013

“This is yet another sad step in Pandora’s war against songwriters,” National Music Publishers Association president David Israelite told Digital Music News. “While other digital music partners choose to enter into voluntary licensing deals, Pandora chooses to try to enrich itself through a strategy of suing creators and gimmicks. The only positive development from this is that Pandora has removed any shred of credibility it had with creators and now can be seen for what it is — a company with no interest in treating songwriters fairly.” Digital Music News: Songwriters Respond: “This Is Another Sad Step in Pandora’s War Against Us...”, June 12, 2013

In the digital age, hard work still deserves fair pay. As new technologies create new opportunities for musicians to reach new audiences, ASCAP is committed to making sure the hundreds of thousands of small and independent songwriters, composers and music publishers we represent are fairly compensated for public performances of their work.