Meet Patrick Main, the man who programs Pandora’s newest branded stations

Patrick Main 1 300wPatrick Main is a “Peetnik” — he works for Peet’s Coffee & Tea, a 300-store chain that predates Starbucks.  Peet’s is in the streaming-music news this week because of a new relationship with Pandora. The two companies are partnering to create four new Peet’s-branded stations that play continuously in the Peet’s network of nearly 300 stores, and can be enjoyed by any Pandora user.

As Bar Quality Manager, Patrick Main is involved in every aspect of the customer experience in a Peet’s store. “We are obsessed with details in the stores,” he told RAIN in a phone conversation.

Experience and details make Patrick a good choice to manage the latest change in the Peet’s in-store experience — new music soundtracks. In addition to his official Peetnik qualifications, Patrick Main is a part-time musician who performs live shows, and a lifelong music aficionado and classically-trained pianist. Because of that background, and a previous work project that involved pairing new song releases with coffee drinks, “when the Pandora idea came up, they thought of me to curate the stations.”

pandora peets branding 250wThe partnership started with creating four themed stations: Eclectic Classical, Jazz Giants, Origins, and Melodic Indie. (Click those links to open Pandora and hear the stations.) “We tried to encompass the diversity of our customers,” Patrick told us. “Each store can choose as they like among the four stations. That is about knowing their customers. Our customers are vocal, too, and will tell us what they like in the stores.”

Programming the stations is a human-algorithm collaboration in which Patrick works with Pandora’s Music Genome. He does not hand over a static playlist. “The curation starts with very carefully choosing tracks, then letting the Genome do its thing. I teach the station what I think fits and doesn’t fit. I interact with the stations daily, sometimes using the thumb-up and thumb-down buttons.”

The result within Pandora is a dynamically generated listening experience that can change as Pandora adds new tracks to its catalog which match the seeds Patrick has planted. Whether hearing the stations in Peet’s stores or in the Pandora apps, listeners get the same Music Genome product. In the apps, listeners cannot vote tracks up or down; that power is reserved for Patrick. Pandora users can skip forward, however.

To understand the Genome’s part of the collaboration, and to get new track ideas for seeding, Patrick creates satellite stations for himself.  “When I want to add an artist who would help frame the station aesthetic, I’ll sometimes build a separate station based on that artist and see what it generates. That can give me ideas for seeding a store station.”

None of this was conceptually new for Patrick. “I’ve been a Pandora user for ages. I was an early adopter, and had read about the Music Genome Project before the service launched. It was always a fascinating project to me.”

Brad Hill