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Lifestyle

April 4, 2013

Pandora, Co-Founder Tim Westergren Take On Music Industry's Elite in Royalty Fight

MIAMI — The fast-talker in the plaid shirt flashes with inspiration.

"I know what mood I'm in. So, so, you could have a color dial! So, you have red, blue. So, I'm in an angry mood — red. Blue? I'm just chillin' out with a glass of wine."

Tim Westergren nods. He smiles. A hmmm-lemme-think-about-that-one sort of smile. Now here comes a matronly sort with a stack of CDs. Easily twice the age of the fast-talker. Medicare-eligible, she says. She can't sleep. The CDs help. She shuffles them into Westergren's hands. Play them, she pleads.

And they keep coming. A dozen, two dozen. More. A willowy, 20-something hipster who says his profession is "socialite." A retired nurse with a thing for Eric Clapton. That kid with the skateboard.

They've all filed into a downtown blues club for a town-hall-style meeting with Westergren about Pandora, the phenomenally popular Internet radio service he founded and has willed through more than a decade of creative sparks and fizzles, serial business crises and serial bouncebacks. Friends remark about Westergren's evangelical love-embrace of his creation, and on this night he has talked until a fine film of sweat dampens his hair and forehead.

He's still talking half-an-hour after the meeting ends, encircled by listeners snapping smartphone pics. Still talking as the band playing the club that night starts its set. He's communing directly with Pandora's fans, but he's directing his message as much at Washington, where he's enmeshed in a pendulous fight over royalties that could reconfigure the way we listen to music online.

Lately, he's prone to show up with some frequency on Capitol Hill in Washington, slipping into a blue blazer that doesn't fit quite right and that he sometimes leaves with an in-law in Northern Virginia because he's got no use for it back home in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jeans and baggy, long-sleeve T-shirts are more his style.

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