Pandora cuts first-ever direct deal with artists

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Pandora cuts first-ever direct deal with artists
CHICAGO, IL - JULY 31: DJ Hesta Prynn performs at the Pandora Summer Party at the Concord Music Hall on July 31, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Pandora)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 29: Signage at the Pandora Presents Sharon Van Etten at StubHub's Next Stage event at The Chapel on July 29, 2014 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Pandora)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 21: Pandora CTO Tom Conrad attends the The Inaugural A2IM Libera Awards at Le Poisson Rouge on June 21, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)
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By RYAN NAKASHIMA

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Internet radio leader Pandora has come to its first-ever direct licensing deal with artists, a wide-ranging agreement with independent label group Merlin that both said would mean higher payments to artists and more play for them on Pandora stations.

That means Merlin-represented artists like Arcade Fire, Bad Religion and Lenny Kravitz could get more rotations as their representatives will be able to lobby Pandora to place their songs earlier in playlists where they fit.

Artists will also get access to Pandora data for the first time, enabling them to make informed decisions about where to tour, who to tour with, what their concert set list should be and what songs they might release next. They will also have tools to directly communicate with fans on Pandora.

For Pandora Media Inc., the move helps improve relations with artists, who have complained that royalties on digital streaming services are too low, especially as CD and digital download sales decline. It's a departure from its current business model, where it relies on government rate-setting bodies like the Copyright Royalty Board to determine how much it pays artists.

"In a world where it's very difficult to get onto terrestrial radio, a deal like this gives us an incredible opportunity to get our music in front of an enormous amount of people," said Merlin CEO Charles Caldas in an interview. "The data that comes out of the back of this should also enhance our business."

Brian McAndrews, CEO of Oakland, California-based Pandora, said the deal would not have a "major impact on costs" - a concern of investors that have pushed Pandora shares down some 38 percent from their high of $40.44 in early March.

He also said he was "very excited" about the company's first deal with a record label group and said he hoped that others would follow.

"We are open to other deals and we feel we can find a win-win-win for labels, artists and Pandora," he said in an interview.

Merlin, representing more than 20,000 independent labels, commands about a 10 percent share of music consumption worldwide and revenue collected from streaming platforms doubled to $89 million in the year through April.

The deal covers royalties for performances, not songwriting rights, and it comes as the Department of Justice is re-examining Pandora's right to automatically license song rights from publishing societies like the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI).

That process was put in place in 1941 as a counter to anti-competitive behavior by publishers, who say that the market dynamics have changed and they should have the right to negotiate songwriting royalties without the floor on rates set by the publishing societies.

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