Tim Westergren is a freaking genius. The founder of Pandora (pandora.com), he is the man responsible for the single greatest thing to happen to music on the internet. In a nutshell, Pandora is the fabulous collision of music nerds and technology geeks, thus creating a website where you, the listener, can stream radio based on exactly what you want to hear at any given moment. Pandora (which is free to use with ads, or pretty cheap with an ad-free subscription) has painstakingly filed and categorized thousands upon thousands of songs from every imaginable genre, and made them all accessible at any given time. All you do is enter the band you feel like listening to (Bright Eyes, Cannibal Corpse, DC Talk, and even local Portland bands—they're all there) or a song you like ("Born to Run," etc.), and Pandora streams radio that fits that style. You don't like something, you skip it. If you fall in love with a band, then you can hear more—it's pretty addicting. Westergren takes some time to talk about the work involved in creating Pandora and how they are okay with you listening to Evan and Jaron.
When starting all of this did you have any idea the amount of work that it would take?
Not in my wildest dreams! I knew it was something of a crazy idea, but if you had asked me in January of 2000 whether we would just be launching our service six years later, I would've said, "no way." I think every entrepreneur benefits from being a little naive! We've had a team of over 30 musicians working on this for six years.
How much time is devoted to each song before it's categorized?
Songs usually take 20 to 30 minutes to analyze.
Are there any artists whose music you are not allowed to play?
No, we play everything. Though we particularly pride ourselves on the amount of very obscure music that is included in Pandora.
Is there a time when you might do "celebrity playlists," à la the iTunes store?
I don't really anticipate celebrity playlists for us. In a sense, Pandora is really the opposite of that. It's about lots of everyday music lovers discovering music on their own, and sharing the experience with friends.
Do you ever feel that Pandora helps improve a listener's taste in music? I've noticed that songs from certain mainstream artists of questionable quality (e.g., Evan and Jaron) lead directly to songs from some great indie artists (e.g., Pernice Brothers, the New Pornographers). Is there an intentional method to the programming of the station playlists?
I don't think I would use the word "improve"; I would use the word "expand." I don't think there is any such thing as good or bad taste. People are just different. And I think we all face the same problem, which is how much time and energy it takes to find something new.