The moderator played a little game with the Internet radio executives participating in the ad:tech closing session, a panel on digital music called "Digital Killed the Radio Star." With senior executives from Pandora and Spotify onstage, plus the founders of Turntable.fm and TastemakerX, moderator Brad Berens asked, "If your website were a musical artist, which musical artist would you be?"
The answers told us a lot about the best Internet radio sites and what makes them the top players in the free Internet radio sector. So, free Internet radio stations... If your website were a musical artist, which musical artist would you be?
Spotify would be Radiohead
"They've always pushed the boundaries," said Erin Clift, VP of Global Sales Development at Spotify. "They're super-savvy social marketers."
Ms. Clift chose Radiohead as Spotify's musical alter ego because of their knack for championing innovation and social engagement over theft and piracy. Radiohead, like Spotify, did not break the rules -- they rewrote them. Just as Radiohead released their 2007 "In Rainbows" album for free, Spotify has allowed fans to listen to free music through via Facebook. Both models show that yes, you can make bank by giving things away -- as long as you market it very, very intelligently.
Turntable.fm would be David Bowie
"I am what I play." says Bowie in his 1979 single "DJ." You are what you play on Turntable.fm.
On the Turntable.fm platform, you get to pump your own jams while users chat in real-time over the quality of your choices. "It's a real time experience. It's a social experience. It has a lot of social dynamics," said Turntable.fm co-founder Seth Goldstein. "If you play bad music, you get booted off the stage."
TastemakerX would be the Velvet Underground
TastemakerX doesn't sell records. Then again, neither did the Velvet Underground back in their day. TastemakerX launched a few weeks ago at South by Southwest and are launching their beta version at Coachella.
TastemakerX is a social gaming platform in which the game is to be the first person to find cool music and share it. It features a gaming mechanic that rewards people for being early in the game of finding new artists. Users can get "notes" by buying them or through brand sponsorships.
Why the Velvet Undergound? "They're still cool about 40 years after they stopped making music, said TastemakerX founder Marc Ruxin. "They are the band that were tastemakers for all the bands that came after them."
Pandora would be your playlist
Pandora senior VP of sales and marketing Heidi Browning explained, "It's kind of like that Time magazine person of the year, it's you. Pandora is you."
The playlist concept of Pandora runs far deeper than any of us outside the company realize. The genome behind its logic figures you out pretty well, and adds similar rhythms, tones and key changes that you tend to like into your playlist-determinative genome.
With Pandora's hardware innovations, it can go wherever you go. "On anything from a Samsung phone to a Samsung refrigerator, you can play Pandora," Ms. Browning noted.
With all the innovations of free Internet radio, everyone online can be a DJ. Evidently, your Samsung refrigerator can, too.
This article is part of Allvoices’ series on ad:tech, the largest digital marketing and technology conferences and expositions. Check out allvoices.com/adtech for more of Allvoices’ ad:tech San Francisco event coverage. This series is supported by ad:tech.