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Pandora to musicians: Dive on into our audience data

Pandora's free AMP service pulls back the curtain on data culled from tens of billions of hours of listening to help musicians market themselves smarter.

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With more than 50 billion hours of music streamed in nine years, Pandora is letting all artists played on its Internet radio service spy into their audience data. Joan E. Solsman/CNET

Pandora launched a program Wednesday opening up its data heap to artists, with the goal that no decent band must play to a crowd of 15 yawning people again.

Pandora, by far the Web's top streaming-music service by listeners, is the latest in a string of online music companies ramping up ways for artists to access either more data or more sales opportunities through their platforms. With streaming sales rising and digital downloads on the decline, the moves are an important foundation for how the business of selling music will take shape in the coming years, especially while the services fight back against an early reputation that the royalties they paid to artists are a rip-off.

"Our goal is to connect artists with fans who will love their music," Pandora founder Tim Westergren said in a blog post. "Almost 10 years in, we are at a scale where we can begin to really make a difference." US-based Pandora -- the Internet's biggest online radio service -- has more than 76 million active listeners and more than 250 million registered users.

AMP, or artist marketing platform, is meant to help artists understand where they have dedicated followings to book gigs and better understand how to sell their music. Starting Wednesday, any artists played on Pandora can sign up for the service at http://amp.pandora.com/. Pandora already shared this kind of data with artists and their managers but not in such a open-access way.

Spotify -- the biggest service in the subscription-streaming market -- has operated a similar program since December 2013 called Spotify for Artists, which provides musicians with analytics on listening and audience demographics.

Westergren rattled off other Pandora's stats to support how the AMP program is backed by rich information: users' average listen-in duration is more than 20 hours per month; 11,900 artists of the 125,000 on the site have over 100,000 unique listeners that have "thumbed up" their music. More than 50 billion hours of music have been listened to in the past 9 years on Pandora, 45 billion "thumb" inputs have been shared, and 7 billion stations have been created.

Pandora and other streaming services have been warming their overtures to the music industry lately. In August, Pandora itself introduced its first-ever direct deals with independent labels, and Smule, a music gaming company, created a dedicated program to develop promotional campaigns with artists, such as arranging a duet between fans and artist through its Sing! Karaoke app. Spotify and Bandpage joined forces to let musicians sell "experiences" to fans on the streaming service, such as private concerts, duets, and pre-show parties. And Soundcloud began a process to share new-added ad revenue with musicians.

Streaming music has grown to become the music industry's biggest area of sales growth in just a few years, but it has been plagued by questions -- sometimes outright accusations by high-profile musicians -- about whether royalty and payment structures rip off artists.