Pandora receives two thumbs up from Media Academy

Sophomores and juniors spend day in Internet Radio’s boot camp

Pandora receives two thumbs up from Media Academy

Tim Westergren, creator of Pandora Radio, told Media Academy students that he rides public transit.

“I own a Toyota Highlander, but only my wife drives it,” said Westergren, who started company, which is now worth $4.5 billion, in 2000. “Cars are just a way to get to one place to another.”

Students were surprised that Westergren, 48, does not wear suits and ties, but rather jeans and hiking shoes.
Westergren shared some of the interesting story of the beginnings of Pandora during a visit by Media Academy students Oct. 1.

The students met a variety of Pandora’s workers from different departments during an all-day “Pandora Boot Camp” organized by the school district’s Linked Learning Office.

“It was a very exciting experience to learn new things,” said sophomore Tyisha Clark.

Believe it or not, the company’s international headquarters are in downtown Oakland. The company started in a studio apartment in San Francisco but moved across the bay because Westergren said Oakland is a very “human city.”

Before meeting Westergren, students had a chance to analyze the song “Down” by TheBreax to decide if it should be accepted by Pandora or not. Overall, the students gave it a positive review, and it was accepted.

They learned from several Pandora employees that any music artist can submit a song for possible inclusion on the popular Internet-based radio station.

To determine what kind of music should be played on each user’s personal radio station, the company has professional listeners called “music curators” who review each accepted song. They also have “music analysts” who identify which of 400 traits each accepted song contains so that listeners can hear music similar to their chosen artists. Some traits are vocals, tempo and instruments in the background. Students listened to Tupac’s “Dear Mama” to determine what some of its 400 traits are.

Students learned that Pandora receives and reviews about 100 songs each week. All of them are listened to, and 40 percent of the submissions are accepted, employees explained.

They also received Pandora T-shirts, baseball caps, posters, backpacks and notebooks. And had a chance to have their photo taken with a handful of Raiders players who also were visiting.

Students also got to record a radio commercial in Pandora’s recording studio. Sophomores Chris Blandon and Nelis Munguia read a script to promote Zachary’s Pizza. They learned that it takes multiple recordings to get everything right for the advertisement.

The ad was being mixed and edited by members of Pandora’s audio production department and was to be sent to the class after it was finished.

Near the end of the four-hour visit, students met founder Westergren.

“We got to meet somebody that is famous,” said sophomore Armando Gutierrez, who had his photo taken while shaking Westergren’s hand.

Westergren explained to students that it was very hard to manage the company in the beginning. At one point, he maxed out 11 credit cards and the company had to borrow $1.5 million from investors.

Employees went two years without pay, he said, but they received 3-5 stock options for every dollar of compensation they deferred. Now each piece of Pandora stock is worth about $25.

After hearing that background, one student asked Westergren, “What kept you going? Did you ever feel like giving up?”
Westergren replied that he could not give up.

“I felt responsible for the people working for me,” he said. “The captain of the ship has to be the last one off.”