Helping Creators to Promote Their Music & Manage Careers
#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Andee Connors took place on Tuesday, June 27th, live from rural Oregon.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
In part one, Andee discusses how a Black Metal drummer with DIY coursing through his veins ended up working with Pandora at a job that no one wanted. He also explains what makes Pandora different from other streaming services, one thing is AMP, which stands for Artist Marketing Platform.
Marc Brown: Hi Andee and welcome to #HowWeListen Live: In Conversation. Where are you calling in from?
Andee Connors: I’m in the mountains of rural Oregon. I lived in San Francisco for 30 years and I just recently moved to a house in the woods.
Marc: Where did you grow up?
Andee: I was born in Illinois but I mostly grew up in San Diego. I moved to San Francisco when I got older.
Marc: Why did you move there?
Andee: At the time, in the 1990s, it was the promised land for artists and bands so I went there to play music and do art. Everyone has one of those dream places, and for me, it was San Francisco. It was also really cheap to live there at that time.
Marc: So you were there for over 30 years! Tell me how did you start working in and around music?
Andee: I started playing drums when I was a kid and then when I was in high school I started taking music more seriously and joined my first proper band when I was 18 or 19. From there until 40, I spent most of my life touring, recording and making music in addition to other jobs I was doing.
Marc: The other stuff you were doing – was that because you needed something to pay the bills or was it more of a DIY thing?
Andee: When you’re in a band, you have very limited options on what kind of job you can have. I worked at this bagel store across the street from Aquarius Records, so I’d walk to that record shop every day after work and spend hours there. After a few years, the woman who ran the record store hired me, since I was already there so much. It was great because I could still take 6 months off every year to tour. I worked there for years and years. My partner Allan and I eventually ended up buying the record store, so that was a big shift for me to go from touring to running a record store.
Marc: Back then that was a classic way to get into music, right?
Andee: Yeah, there was that path where you played in a band, worked at a record store and then you’d work for a label as an A&R person. That’s shifted a lot because now that path culminates in places like Pandora, Amazon, Apple, Deezer… – those places.
Marc: I believe you also ran a label. Is that right?
Andee: Yeah, I ran a label for about 20 years. We were a big part of the black metal movement on the West Coast at the time. Initially, I started my label, tUMULt Records because I was obsessed with this band from Chicago (Souled American) and I ended up re-releasing one of their records. In a weird, full-circle moment I’m now working on a documentary about that band.
Marc: How does someone who’s into that kind of music end up working at Pandora?
Andee: We ran Aquarius Records, the shop, until 2016. We started it because we loved music, not because we were any good at or enjoyed business. We got lucky when we first bought it and we survived the 2008 crash but in the end, we were working for free and not paying ourselves which wasn’t sustainable. Part of me was hankering for something new, even though I do love and miss the store. One of my friends got a job at Pandora and this job opened up that he thought I’d love so I applied and got it. The job was essentially listening to demos all day, every day.
Marc: Can you explain why you listen to demos? I think it’s hard for artists or labels to understand the job of the person who listens to them.
Andee: First off, for people who don’t know, Pandora is the largest streaming service in the US. At the time, we decided that we needed to develop a way for artists, who weren’t affiliated with a label or a distributor, to get their music heard. They had to come up with some rules. At one point it was decided that to be on Pandora you had to have a physical release available. Once they changed that one, and digital was OK too, the number of submissions went from 100 a week to 1 to 2 thousand per week. There was no way to keep up with that, so they had to hire someone new. That is where I came in! For 3 or 4 years, I listened to demos all day and I’d curate playlists based on that.
Marc: So you’re running the record store and everything is physical, and then suddenly everything goes digital and the number of submissions goes through the roof. How do you think things have changed since the shift from physical to digital?
Andee: Everything going digital had a huge effect on why the store ended. We had a mailing list at the time where we curated music for our visitors and that was seen as new and special at the time. Nowadays, everything is very curated, so that changed the dynamic of how people discover and purchase music. We started to have the issue where people would come to the store, find something they liked and then go home and buy it on Amazon.
Marc: The way people create music has also changed radically.
Andee: Of course. I come from this very punk rock world where you have a network that supports what you do. A community. Friends who are recording engineers, front-of-house engineers etc., people that knew about recording music. It’s changed now because you can make an awesome record without having to book any studio time – you can use all the amazing mixing programs that are available.
Marc: Big changes. Can you explain to any non-Americans how Pandora is different from other streaming platforms since it is only available in the US?
Andee: It’s not that different from Spotify or Apple Music. It’s one of the original streaming services and originally it was meant to be an in-store kiosk at record stores that would act as a music recommendation service where you could input what band you liked and it would tell you what else you should listen to. It morphed into a digital streaming service. What makes it stick out are the analysts. We break down every song so that the recommendations to our listeners are extremely spot-on and advanced. What’s great is that you can start a station on Pandora with any artist and the playlist will then start to use the Pandora algorithm to keep recommending stuff. We also have an artist marketing platform called AMP, which stands for Artist Marketing Platform. My main job at Pandora is to do artist outreach to labels, managers and those types of people to help them learn how to use our tools to reach new fans and strengthen those relationships. Over time I have turned that into something more holistic so they understand the different features and can access our entire toolkit. I talk to them about things like Bandcamp and Spotify too so they understand how they can market themselves fully. I want to help artists be artists and succeed. In addition to that, I program metal, punk and experimental new-age music. So I have two very different jobs but they tie together in a way!
Marc: Your days are diverse! I want to get back to AMP even if you’re an international band can you still sign up?
Andee: Yes, and that’s critical. Pandora is US only but AMP is available to everyone. So if you’re an artist and you want to promote yourself in the US, you should sign up for AMP. Artists can email me anytime, I want to help them do better on Pandora. You can also listen to Pandora to see what it’s like if you use a VPN.
Marc: What does AMP stand for?
Andee: AMP is a set of tools that allows you to do things on Pandora like boost spins or record messages in your voice and post them on your station. It can be your music or music you love but it facilitates the relationship between listener and artist.
Andee: That book is an awesome resource. I wanted to write about my perspective on artist marketing. I said that as an artist, you should take your art and reach out to all of the creators that you love. Send them your art with no strings attached. Fight the urge to ask for something in return and you’ll be amazed at how often it will create meaningful connections and sometimes that thing you didn’t ask for ends up happening anyway.
Marc: That’s one of the big things that I explain to people when I do my talks. You just need to reach out to people without expectations – that’s something that has disappeared in the digital world. When you write to people, you have to write like you know who they are and you’re interested in them. Do you think that’s lost now?
Andee: Absolutely. I’ve been on the receiving end of it and it’s true. Things have changed but I love how music exists in this day and age. It’s never been a better time to hear new music.
Marc: It’s much more inclusive and accessible. Before, there were no other options than to write to bloggers and actual labels. Now, discovery is unlimited.
Andee: You relied more heavily on your community and people you knew back in the day. Touring was so big back then because it was way easier to book shows than it was to sign to a label. Nowadays I think there tend to be some unrealistic expectations on streaming numbers and revenue.