- Cullman, Alabama


April 4, 2013

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



He was the transplant in a state archetypally filled with them — a Minnesota executive's son, the product of an elite prep school. He had a degree that made little sense for him, and a vague idea that playing music for a living would be better than anything else.

After five years of that, he formed a band called Yellowwood Junction and wrote earnest, melodic pop tunes with titles such as "Mom and Dad." Sometimes there was no money for hotels, so they slept in the van or crashed on sofas in clubs.

Stardom didn't happen, and Westergren veered into composing soundtracks for middling films. The directors lacked the vocabulary or frame of reference to articulate what they needed.

A singular, original notion came to him while he was tripping on psychedelic mushrooms: He could identify the genetic makeup of songs and use that information to make matches with other works.

In Northern California during those days, tech was booming, and "everyone was an entrepreneur," Westergren recalls over breakfast one morning at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Southwest Washington. He formed a company with two friends and brought on a musicologist, Nolan Gasser, who didn't exactly fit the profile of a rock-and-roll tastemaker. Gasser was studying Medieval-Renaissance music and working toward a dissertation about the Marian Motet Cycles of the Gaffurius Codices.

Westergren entranced Gasser with a vision of "this moral component of what this sort of endeavor could entail . . . from artist to fans more directly." Gasser took the idea with him on an academic research trip to Milan. By day, he pored over materials at the Fabbrica del Duomo in Milan; in the evenings, he dissected Led Zeppelin, Blue Oyster Cult and Buffalo Springfield.

When Gasser returned, he and Westergren typed their analyses into a clunky Microsoft spreadsheet they called a "matching engine." They picked a Beatles song, either "Eleanor Rigby" or "Norwegian Wood" (they can't remember which) to test it. Slowly, it sputtered an answer: a song called "New York Mining Disaster 1941" by the Bee Gees.

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