Tim Westergren

As a musician who spent years touring with various rock groups, Tim Westergren knows just how hard it is for bands to get noticed. But after founding his groundbreaking music program Pandora, Westergren has taken to strides to bring artists and audiences together.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Westergren always had a keen interest in those areas in which music and technology intersect. He pursued this passion during his time at Stanford University where he received a B.A in Computer Acoustics and Recording Technology. He then spent the next twenty years painstakingly building a career in the music industry – and forever transforming the way we listen to music.

Playing keyboards in a number of musical groups, Westergren came face to face with the problem of trying to gain recognition as a small independent band. As he says, “I became very interested in how to solve the problem, from a musician’s standpoint, of how to find an audience.” And from the demand side, Westergren was interested in bringing the bands and the audience that would enjoy them together.

Along with his creative output, Westergren tried his hand at behind-the-scenes work within the music industry. His touring days behind him, he gained experience managing other artists or producing their work at his own commercial digital recording studio. In each case Westergren maintained a focus on independent artists and discovering emerging talent.

Pandora Media

In January of 2000, Westergren founded Pandora Media with his partners Will Glaser and Jon Kraft. One of the first projects they undertook was an effort to create individualized online radio stations, which would only play the music the listener would like. Only the “good” stuff. But how can a company map out, categorize and predict something as evanescent as one’s musical tastes? To achieve this herculean task Westergren helped develop what would come to be known as The Human Genome Project.

Essentially, the Human Genome Project endeavored to break down the “genetic” code of music in order to better predict what music a listener might be predisposed to enjoy. To achieve this Westergren and his coworkers created 400 “genes” with which to analyze songs. Genes including elements such as vocals, instrumentation, melodies, harmonies who are then examined in order to dissect the song and properly catalogue it in the Pandora database.

Westergren‘s background in music was a key part in figuring out this intensive decoding process. As Westergren says, “there’s an accepted set of descriptive musical criteria that go into giving a song its sound. We just codified that and turned it into a working genome.”

To help with this work Pandora employs a crew of 40 analysts, all professional musicians with an additional 100 hours of Pandora training under their belt. Each member of this team can decode a song in 15 minutes, before cataloguing and uploading it to Pandora’s database. With over half-a-million songs already in the Pandora treasure trove, the team is still never short of work, especially as music is released at increasingly faster rates and in greater quantity. But while it is a daunting effort, it also means limitless potential room to grow for Pandora.

The Future

Pandora currently has over 2 million subscribers, and while Pandora Media has brokered commercial deals with companies like AOL, Barnes & Noble, Tower, Best Buy and Borders, Westergren’s passion lies with the online radio service.

And so far that passion has paid off. According to both users’ and commercial feedback, (such as record or ticket sales), Westergren’s dream of bringing bands and audiences together is coming true. With Pandora he has crafted a new way of guiding the consumer through the sometimes confusing and increasingly cluttered music industry. And Pandora does more than simply navigate the industry, it is also actively changing the industry.

As Westergren says, “if we keep going as we are, I think the music industry is going to look very different down the road, and I think we’ll be able to say that we were a significant part of it.”

Tim Westergren still serves as the Chief Strategy Officer, front man and evangelist for Pandora Media. He spends most of his time travelling America coast to coast to gather customer feedback, discover new independent music and spread the word about the Music Genome Project.


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