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Pandora widens personalized playlist 'soundtracks' to Premium members

Think Discover Weekly with themes.

Lighted sign spelling out "radio."

Pandora, best known for its digital radio, has a $10-a-month, all-you-can-eat subscription tier like Spotify and Apple Music. 

Joan E. Solsman

Pandora is taking on Spotify's popular Discover Weekly personalized playlists with its own individualized mixes it calls Soundtracks, which center on themes like high-energy music or tunes to help you focus.

Pandora, a streaming-music provider best known for its free digital radio, is widening these personalized playlists Wednesday to all subscribers of its Premium service, which is a $10-a-month membership that competes with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. In March, the company announced it was testing them with a small number of Pandora Premium listeners. 

Chris Phillips,  Pandora's chief product officer, said in an interview ahead of the announcement that the soundtracks are generated for each Premium member based on what Pandora know about you as an individual, its knowledge of music itself via its Music Genome Project (the DNA to all its machine-based recommendations), 75 algorithms built with machine learning, and the expertise of the company's curatorial team. These soundtracks are released and updated for you weekly.

"We're watching your listening patterns and send to you that list when you need a chill list or a party playlist," he said. "We use humans for quality and machines for scale."

Pandora's personalized "soundtracks" have themes, like Focus and Rainy Day.


Pandora was an early leader in music streaming, but its digital version of radio locked it into rigid licensing rules while new competitors like Spotify and Apple Music struck more-flexible deals, freeing listeners to pick specific tracks on demand. But last year, Pandora launched the $10-a-month Premium membership to compete directly with those growing on-demand players. 

Pandora's personalized soundtracks is also a similar tack to YouTube Music, another paid streaming-music service that Google relaunched Tuesday. One of Google's key selling points for the refreshed YouTube Music is that it will suggest personalized playlists to suit your tastes, the time of day or where you live, drawing from Google's understanding of you from search and YouTube viewing history. 

The Pandora soundtracks differ from the service's popular Thumbprint Radio personalized station. Fundamentally, these playlists allow you to skip around and control what you hear among the 25 or so songs in each mix, while Thumbprint Radio has the traditional formatting of a digital radio station, where one song moves in linear fashion into the next and you can control your listening mostly just by skipping.

In addition, the soundtracks are "very themed," Phillips said, whether it's a mood like focus, an activity like partying or a genre like hip-hop. Thumbprint is more generalized songs tuned to your tastes, aimed at letting a listener sit back and not need to think about it. 

Pandora has 60 of these soundtracks available, but no subscriber will be offered all 60. "We're picking the ones that make sense for you to make it easy and make it relevant," Phillips said. 

To find Pandora's personalized soundtracks, go to the "Featured Playlists" section of "Browse" in your mobile app. You can share the playlists via a link to friends, who -- if they aren't Pandora subscribers -- can watch an extended ad that will temporarily unlock Premium benefits so they can listen to the playlist.

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