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Pandora recruits industry veterans to its board ahead of latest battles with music community

By | Published on Tuesday 21 April 2015


While Spotify has often taken the heat whenever artists or labels have had a little anti-streaming rant here in Europe – and Taylor Swift’s anti-freemium protest last year was mainly spun as being an attack against the Swedish streaming service – in the US it’s fair to say that a lot more hate has been thrown by the music community at big bad Pandora.

By far the biggest streaming service Stateside, and with the majority of its users on the freemium level, Pandora has faced criticism from all sides in the music community, despite regular protestations from the digital firm that most of its staff are music makers and music fans, and it’s in the business of helping the music industry generate new digital revenue.

Because it is a personalised radio service rather than a fully on-demand platform, Pandora mainly gets permission to play sound recordings via the SoundExchange compulsory licence. Meanwhile publishing rights are covered by the collective licensing system – with deals at the mercy of the American copyright courts – and publishers have been told that they have to license Pandora this way unless they are willing to pull from collectively licensing all services entirely, including radio and public performance.

All of which has helped Pandora to date, but it means the company doesn’t have direct relationships with labels and publishers in the way Spotify does, which has led to rights owners as well as artists and songwriters becoming vocal critics of the royalties the service pays, and even more so the fact it wants to cut those royalty payments even further.

Which made yesterday’s board announcement all the more interesting. Because, with various battles ahead on both the compulsory and collective licensing front, Pandora confirmed that it is appointing two very well connected music industry veterans to its board.

First up Tim Leiweke, former CEO of live music giant AEG and now chief at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, has already been elected to the streaming firm’s board of directors. And secondly, and more interestingly given Pandora’s battle is with the rights owners, also nominated for a board seat is Roger Faxon, former boss of EMI Music Publishing and, in its final chapter as a standalone music company, the entire EMI Group.

Faxon’s appointment is particularly interesting in that it’s his former colleague at EMI (and, some gossipers would have it, executive rival) Marty Bandier who is leading the charge to have collective licensing rules in the US changed so that he can force Pandora to do a direct deal with his company – the combined Sony/ATV/EMI – rather than relying on licences from BMI and ASCAP. And it’s Bandier who has gone as far as to threaten withdrawing from the collecting societies in their entirety if he doesn’t get his way.

Given their CVs, presumably Pandora hopes Leiweke and Faxon – once in the board room – can offer insider insights aplenty while calling in some favours on behalf of the streaming service as it continues in its bid to placate the tetchy and often vocal content providers.

Confirming the appointments, Pandora boss Brian McAndrews told reporters: “I could not be more excited for Roger and Tim to join the board. Both are forward-thinking and bring invaluable expertise to help Pandora play a leading role in the evolution of the music industry”.