"The next version of radio" ... Pandora founder Tim Westergren.
Video didn't kill the radio star but a free online music-streaming service called Pandora just might.
With 175 million listeners around the world, the web- and app-based service's success to date is all the more remarkable because unlike services such as Spotify and Rdio, users have no control over which songs are played.
Give someone an easy way to discover bands and new music and they're all over it.Tim Westergren, Pandora founder
Users create a playlist by entering one song and Pandora then starts playing similar songs, with users able to press thumbs up or down to show their preferences. The algorithm quickly gets to know what they like.
Musical DNA ... the Pandora app for iPhone and Android.
"It's like musical DNA," said founder Tim Westergren, 46, a former musician who believes most people don't want control over their music; they just want to sit back and let the tunes come to them.
Rather than a single playlist for every listener that constantly repeats the same tired old hits, as is the case with many FM radio stations, Pandora tailors its "music genome" to each individual listener.
"It's basically an enormous musical taxonomy of over a million songs that have each been analysed for as many as 450 attributes per song by a team of trained musicians," Westergren said. "It's going to compete directly with radio and in our opinion be the next version of radio."
Most people were sick and tired of their music collections and spent 80 per cent of their listening time on radio, but "radio has never had the ability to personalise", he said.
Furthermore, more than two thirds of the 1 million-plus tracks on Pandora are independently produced, meaning users are more likely to discover songs they haven't heard.
"There's this notion that people, all they really want is top 10 hits and that's good enough, or after you turn 18 your music tastes are fixed and you don't want new stuff," Westergren said.
"That's bullshit. Give someone an easy way to discover bands and new music and they're all over it."
Pandora officially relaunched in Australia this week after it was forced to shut down here several years ago due to licensing issues. It now streams more hours of music a month than YouTube streams video, said Westergren.
But it isn't without its critics, including R&B songwriter and producer Jimmy Jam, who told a US congressional committee last month that for every spin of a song on Pandora, the copyright holders and musicians get just one-tenth of one cent.
"Or, put another way, the listener would have to hear that song on Pandora for every single day for nearly two years to equal the payments earned from that one [Amazon] download," said Jam, chairman emeritus of the US music trade association the Recording Academy.
Pandora, despite being on track to make $400 million in revenue this year, is backing a US bill that would lower even further the royalties it pays to performers and songwriters.
But Westergren says that in addition to paying royalties, Pandora is the number one referrer to the US iTunes store because users discover music on the service that they don't own. He believes Pandora provides a marketing platform that helps "independent self-managed, self-produced, self-distributed" artists thrive.
"There's a cello rock band who say they are making a living now because of Pandora," he said.
Most artists, by chasing record labels, were "taking their careers into the wrong hands" because only a few mainstream top pop artists made it through the door, he said.
With Pandora he wanted to create a "musicians middle class", where people "can make a living out of music that are not Rihanna".
"We're going from a radio that plays a couple hundred artists at any given time to one that plays tens of thousands and plays them increasingly to lots of people at the same time."
But Zan Rowe, the host of Triple J Mornings, believes algorithms are no match for good radio DJs because "you can't really define or explain taste; it's a very primal thing and sometimes it can even surprise a listener as to what they're into".
"The iPod has been around for years, and in terms of Triple J's ratings, we're rating higher than we ever have before," Rowe said.
"We've got a 1.7 million listenership, on average, in the face of more and more technology and streaming services."