Pandora has created a new audio format that it calls Pandora Stories. It’s effectively a playlist, but one that is curated by the artist, and is interspersed with voice recordings. It’s the equivalent of having your favorite artists play the part of radio DJ on a station that they control. All Pandora listeners will have access to Pandora Stories, though free members will have to watch an ad before their chosen story begins.
Stories is an intriguing concept for both the artist and the music listener. For an artist, it’s a way to connect to fans on a personal level that goes beyond the music, something that has become much harder since streaming music services became the dominant way for people to listen to music. Unlike dedicated artist pages, or even the classic liner notes in a vinyl album, Stories don’t require a listener to do anything other than listen, which is likely to have a huge impact on engagement.
For the moment, artists who want to create Stories will need to submit a form to access the platform. Once approved, they can use a curation tool to upload voice tracks, and mingle them with their existing Pandora song tracks. Unlike Pandora’s Artist Audio Messages (AAM), which are intended to be very short, personalized messages that are broadcast before or after an artist’s songs, Stories voice tracks can be a lot longer — some of the samples that Pandora has chosen to highlight, like John Legend, have voice tracks that are up to a minute in length.
Voice tracks can even be somewhat interactive if the artist chooses. They can include a custom image and title, and there’s an option to include a call-to-action button that links listeners to another destination on or off Pandora’s platform, which could be used to drive traffic to a charity an artist is trying to draw attention to, or, perhaps to something as mundane as artist-branded apparel.
Pandora’s staff will be reviewing the content of all Stories before they go live, presumably to ensure it complies with the service’s policies. However, there doesn’t appear to be any limitation to which music or comedy tracks appear in a Story. In other words, the format could become an ideal tool for music or comedy criticism as well as promotion.
Stories can take the form of playlists, or mixtapes, the big difference being that mixtapes are always shuffled, whereas playlists move sequentially unless the listener chooses otherwise. At the moment, the format isn’t completely compatible with all Pandora listening options. Voice tracks won’t be heard in shuffle mode, offline mode, or on devices like smart speakers, or in-car systems, though Pandora notes it’s working on adding them.