Pandora Music Service Goes Premium, Picking Tough Fight

Pandora is going public with an on-demand streaming music service to rival the likes of Apple, Spotify and Google Play. But in doing so it’s effectively throwing out its “killer feature” leaving it with little to differentiate it.

Pandora Premium costs $10 a month, putting it right at the going market rate. It’s an addition to the existing $5 a month service that removes ads and allows offline listening. The main benefit of Pandora Premium is that it’s on demand, meaning you can choose which songs to play and in which order.

It’s going to be a tough sell as not choosing songs has always been a feature rather than a drawback of Pandora, which was previously marketed as working more like a personalised radio station. As with Google Play, it creates playlists based around a particular artist or song, with the user able to refine the playlist by giving a thumbs up or down (or skipping) a track, or start over with a new song as a setting-off point.

The difference is that most services that create playlists appear to do so through a combination of formal genre classifications and patterns in the music that people stream or buy, Pandora is based around the Music Genome Project that is said to use up to 450 different characteristics (or “genes”) as diverse as the vocalist’s gender and the level of distortion on an electric guitar. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it can create some impressive connections between songs that suit a similar mood or feel despite seemingly being far apart in the music world.

Smartly Pandora is offering free trials of between 30 and 60 days depending on your previous use of the service. The big problem is that it’s effectively asking people to pay extra to not have to use the one feature that made it different. Without the playlist creation, it’s hard to see what gives it a selling point to compete for both customers and music licensing with a well-established specialist rival in Spotify and two giants with the ecosystems of Apple and Google.