Finding new and innovative ways to connect creators, artists, and fans has always been a part of our DNA. That effort took on a new and critical resonance in the face of Covid-19. While the global pandemic disrupted our lives, families, and large swaths of the economy, performers and creators faced a unique challenge to both their livelihoods and ability to stay connected with their fans. Instantly gone were in-person concerts, festivals, podcast tapings, and stand-up sets, including our own live-audience shows and events. And that bond with old fans, and the ability to attract new ears, faced an existential challenge.
With that challenge came the opportunity and responsibility to come together as a community to support those facing the worst economic effects of the pandemic downturn. Programs such as MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund have been critical to helping artists, technicians and other members of the live entertainment industry family weather the complete cessation of live programs. SiriusXM has been proud to support these efforts; it was the right thing to do and so important for members of the music community experiencing the unique challenges wrought by this pandemic.
But we also decided early on that there was more that we could do to fill that void in the face of this reality. While we couldn’t replace all opportunities, rethinking how we bring artists and fans together –while apart – would not only help artists replace some lost revenues and give fans unique experiences at a time when the need for human connection was increasingly a premium.
So we acted rapidly to reorient our platforms and create exciting new opportunities for creators to continue to develop their art, build their fan base and further their careers. Early in the pandemic, Pandora pivoted from regularly hosting live events showcasing a range of creators to standing up a virtual events series that empowered artists to reestablish their fan connections in a way that reflected our distanced reality. Beginning with country super-star Kane Brown, this virtual event series not only gave artists a chance to get back to work but also created opportunities for local crews to get back to doing what they love, too. These events were designed to recreate the concert experience as close as we could, with virtual artist Meet & Greets for their most dedicated Pandora fans, exclusive merchandise, and interviews and content.
From there Pandora LIVE never looked back – or looked the same. Dua Lipa, Dolly Parton & Friends, The Killers, Sech, Gwen Stefani, Haim, Brittany Howard, Chika, Jazmine Sullivan, Ed Sheeran and more all brought their best to fans. And the fans showed UP – gathering and chatting on the interactive virtual platform, answering artist trivia, and tuning in to artist stations beyond the show.
Similarly, one of the most glaring musical absences of the last year was the loss of the summer music festival scene. But just a month into lockdown, SiriusXM announced Stagecouch Weekend, a special three-day broadcast event to fill the void left for fans of the annual Stagecoach Festival. Featuring performances by Eric Church, Carrie Underwood and Thomas Rhett, among others, Stagecouch created a successful blueprint utilized throughout the pandemic to keep creators and artists engaged and connected. In July, the Highway Finds Fest hit the “virtual” dirt road with an all-star lineup of exclusive sets from artists’ homes. Many of these virtual festivals also did double-duty and supported a larger community effort, with May’s first-ever Virtual DisDance Festival with the biggest names in EDM delivering live sets from their homes and October’s Octane Home Invasion Festival also benefitting the MusiCares Covid-19 Relief Fund.
The artist-fan connection goes beyond concerts and live events. One of the meaningful steps we took beyond events and programming was to rapidly expand Pandora Stories, which for the first time in streaming gave songwriters a presence and ability to tell the story behind their songs directly to fans – their motivations, the backstories, and rich context that helps define the music. These have become extremely popular among creators, who appreciate the ability to weave new stories for their fans and engage with them on a deeper level.
That ability to chart new pathways for creators to meet listeners where they are has been at the core of our pandemic initiatives. These include Pandora’s “Endless Playlist,” where artists can share their favorite songs from other artists, leave fans a personal message, and then pass the mic to another artist to make their picks. Artist Takeovers also allow creators to assume control of Pandora’s most popular top stations, featuring music handpicked by the artist and special audio commentary describing to fans what the selections mean to them.
Outreach and education have also been critical parts of our attempt to help creators in this moment. Launched in 2014, Pandora’s Artist Marketing Platform known as AMP, pioneered self-serve artist marketing for the streaming era, empowering creators with the data and information that can help them to engage with listeners, increase their exposure and find new fans. This critical information took on a new level of importance during the pandemic. To make sure that creators of all levels were able to make the most of these tools, in May we began a free webinar series focused on what could do in the pandemic to reach fans and strengthen their connection to audiences. There’s also a dedicated support team specifically focused on creators and AMP.
Like all creators during the pandemic, indie musician Drew Young was forced to make a radical shift when all live performances were canceled.
“Prior to the Pandemic, candidly, I had not really paid attention to Pandora. However, I had seen some information about AMP and decided to reach out. When I did, I was blown away by the customer service,” said Young. “With no gigs, I ramped up my release schedule, releasing 4 songs over 12 months, including remixing a song I recorded in the very beginning of my career called ‘I’m Worried About This World.’ Even though the song had a post 90’s kind of vibe it surprised the heck out of me and has done well on Pandora!”
Drew used AMP to create multiple campaigns, including many featured tracks and artist audio messages, which led to a big increase in plays.
Young said, “I am up to 238,000 streams on Pandora and am averaging 1k streams a day across my catalog. It has been super encouraging and I am constantly looking for new ways to engage with Pandora and I hope to continue to grow my listenership. While I use other platforms for my international audience, those platforms are a distant second in terms of engagement and excitement, and data. I was, and remain, super impressed with the commitment to our INDIE community.”
The goal of all these efforts has been simple but important: facilitating the ability of creators to reach listeners, and for listeners to be able to engage and enjoy the music, comedy, talk radio, and podcasts that they want. While the pandemic forced us to change what that connection between fans and creators may look like, by engaging with our creator partners and blazing new trails to deliver content, we’ve been able to ensure those relationships stayed strong and changed the landscape for what “being at the show” could look like in the future.