👨🎤 What’s the Story behind Pandora?
🧱 3 Pillars of Radio App Development
📱 Top Features to Build a Radio App for Music like Pandora
⚙️ Tech Stack to Create a Radio App like Pandora
💸 How Much Does It Cost to Develop a Radio App for Music?
The music market continues to show exponential growth from year to year. Moreover, modern users often expect far more advanced and diverse functionality than just music streaming. For example, they may want your application to create personalized playlists that match their preferences or use music to create own content like in TikTok.
According to RIAA, the U.S. recorded music market continues to follow the trends of previous years:
In this article, we’ll focus on tips and tricks to create a radio app like Pandora. But first, let’s figure out why this app is so special.
Pandora’s story started with a so-called Genome Project in 1999. Will Glaser and Tim Westergren wanted to create a B2B tech company that would focus on issues of music discovery. For that purpose, they had gathered a team of musicological experts and developed their own algorithm to find similar music based on its features.
Genome Project then evolved into Pandora itself (image by Shu Makino)
How does it work?
They’ve assigned each song from 150 to 450 genes depending on its genre. These parameters corresponded both to key characteristics of the music (like beat, melody, tempo) and to the smallest detail (like a level of distortion on the electric guitar or a type of background vocals). However, the full list of genes was never fully disclosed since it’s officially patented and constitutes a trade secret.
The craziest thing is that at first songs were analyzed manually! It took about 20-30 minutes and at least 1 musician to dissect each song. Later they’ve used this data to create a matching algorithm and develop a radio app known today as Pandora.
If you’ve never used Pandora, it may seem like just another music streaming app. However, instead of trying to copycat existing solutions, the guys tried to take their own niche… and succeeded!
How did they manage to achieve this?
They’ve focused on solving the very specific users’ need — to discover new music that would match their preferences — and built the whole platform around it.
Of course, you still can listen to your favorite artists or create custom playlists. However, many of the common streaming app features are available only when you get the Pandora Premium subscription or after watching ads in the free version of the app.
So the best answer to the “how to develop a radio app and succeed?” question is to find your niche!
The key to Pandora’s success is in its music matching system:
This system makes the Pandora Radio app different from other music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music.
Find your Niche. If you can’t build the Product that will be just better (cheaper, faster, work smoother) than competitors, focus on offering your customers a different experience.
This advice is especially relevant for startups and companies that are trying to enter a market that’s been already taken by one or a few big players.
Find your strategy to conquer the market (image by Masudur Rahman )
From this perspective, the good news for you is that now Pandora is only available in the US. So you won’t have to compete with this radio market monster in Europe, Canada, Australia, South America or other parts of the world. It means that creating your own radio app for music like Pandora is still an option in these regions.
But how to develop a radio app for iOS or Android? This is a way to go and let’s start our journey by defining 3 main pillars that make up a good foundation of any radio app.
As always, a bit later we’ll describe a list of MVP features you’ll need to create a radio app like Pandora. However, there are a few things that require your attention even before you start the development itself.
Obviously, you’ll need a legal right to use someone’s music in your application. That’s why the license is what you should think about before everything else.
How can you get it? Contact the copyright owner and buy it. Almost always professional publishers and songwriters belong to one of these organizations — BMI, SESAK or ASCAP. Consider them as a place to look for the contact information for the owner.
To stream music you'll have to get the license (image by Julia)
However, be ready that it will cost you a pretty penny. For example, Pandora’s royalties for the right to broadcast music make up about 50% of the overall spending. As of 2015, Pandora paid over $610 million in royalty fees to copyright holders.
Another thing to decide on is how exactly you will stream the music to listeners. In fact, this question mainly relates to the way you’ll store the data (music, in your case) and transfer it to users. There are 2 options to choose between:
One more thing to consider on how to develop a radio app for Android or iOS is the technology behind your streaming process. These could be either WebRTC or RTMP. Both of these technologies are used for video/audio streaming over the Internet.
Finally, you will also have to decide on the algorithm of recommendations. It’s important to remember that when you develop an app for a radio station matching, recommendations are the reason people use your application.
Most of the streaming apps (like Google Play Music or Apple Music) use the co-filtering method as an algorithm for preparing music recommendations. It means that recommendations are based on the ratings from other users who listen to similar music and, therefore, you may like what they listen as well.
Recommendations mechanism is important for radio apps (image by Karl Martin)
However, Pandora relies on a completely different approach as we’ve figured it out earlier. This approach is also known as the content-oriented method since it involves the analysis of songs’ features itself.
The content-oriented approach proves to be more accurate and effective, however, it also requires more effort. After all, you will have to develop your own system of song analysis which is quite a tricky task.
It’s always crucial to make up a comprehensive list of features for your radio app like Pandora before you start developing it. It will define the scope of work, main fields of expertise to look for in your future tech partner and let you estimate development time and costs.
How do we do it? We at Stormotion are the true fans of Lean Methodology that recommends beginning with an MVP.
It means that you should focus only on those features that are vital for your audience. Thus, you’ll be able to prove your idea to be viable and gradually scale it without wasting time and resources.
PoC vs MVP vs Prototype: When to Use Each
So let’s figure out what features make up the MVP list for your Radio app for music like Pandora. We’ll do it by dividing the features into user flows.
This flow is what a user experiences when he interacts with your application for the first time.
Usually, Onboarding is organized as a set of different screens that explain the most important pieces of the app’s functionality and navigation.
Despite it may seem like an unnecessary process, the study by Clutch reveals that 44% of users often download mobile apps just “for fun”. Thus, the Onboarding process is the very first moment when you can demonstrate the benefits of using your app and turn curious passersby into loyal users.
However, when you develop an app for radio station it’s also possible to choose another way to onboard new users. In the Pandora app, they show some of the most important mechanics right on the go as users explore the app:
One of the steps in Pandora's onboarding process
The functionality of different radio apps is quite similar so people usually know what to expect. That’s why “on-the-go” onboarding may be even more effective in some cases.
After going through the onboarding process, users usually face the Sign Up screen. Let’s take a closer look!
You could notice that the Sign Up feature is always on our MVP lists. Why?
However, as you will develop a radio app this screen will require special attention. If it’s not user-friendly, you can lose your customers before they even start using your app!
Therefore, here are a few tips on how to develop a radio app with the Sign Up process that won’t scare off your audience:
If users can Sign Up, it means they also can create and manage their Personal Profiles. How users should be able to manage them in a radio app like Pandora?
Personal Profile screen (image by Paweł Łuczak)
At the MVP Stage, Profile management should be quite limited since it doesn’t relate to the main functionality of your application.
However, in further releases, you may add an option to add a profile pick, follow other users, see thumbed up songs, favorite artists and songs, etc.
With or without Sign Up, your users will end up on the main screen to get what they’ve come for — new music. Let’s see how it works.
This is the main flow in your application. Here we gathered all the features you’ll need to develop a radio app similar to Pandora.
In the Pandora app, the Discovery screen is also known as the “For You” screen. It’s also the main screen for users who came to find new songs and artists or just want to listen to music but have nothing particular in their minds.
Do you want a little tip on how to develop a radio app with a great Discovery screen? Provide users with enough options to choose from. Diversity is the key to success here!
Music Discovery is one of the main screens in the app (image by Tasha)
For example, in the Pandora app they offer users to choose from:
The UI of this screen should be clean and minimalist, not distracting from the music itself.
In the Pandora application, My Collection is a separate tab to access previously saved music. From here you can turn on collected or recently played music.
Generally, it’s displayed in chronological order, putting the recently played songs, stations and playlists first. However, you can browse each category separately. The list of categories consists of the following items:
On this screen, you can also filter the songs and play only the downloaded ones — something to remember if you plan to let your users access music caching.
However, music caching may not end up on your MVP list. For example, you may not need it if you develop an app for a radio station with no possibility to save and replay music any time users want it.
Also, this feature may be incorporated in your monetization strategy. If you’re building a radio app like Pandora, you may reuse their model: offline listening only comes together with the premium subscription.
We won’t waste your time by saying obvious things like “if you want to create a radio app like Pandora, you’ll need an in-app music player”. Despite it seems like a pretty standard feature with nothing to discuss, here are a few things worth paying attention to.
Pandora’s music player is different from the one you can find in Apple Music, Spotify or Google Play Music. Moreover, it actually has 2 different music players — one for listening to music discovery stations and one for your own collections or for the music you find through the Search tab. How are they different?
Example of general music player (image by Hesham mohamed)
The music player that you used to listen to saved and found music is quite similar to the ones in other streaming apps. You can shuffle it, repeat, play next or previous song or add it to your collection.
Users can also access the menu for advanced options. For example, if they want to add this song to a specific playlist, share it with friends or start a radio station.
Moreover, users can swipe up to read the song’s lyrics or jump to the artist or the album.
Example of discovery music player (image by Casey Tang)
The music discovery player is quite similar but has a few distinctive features. For example, it has “Thumb Up” and “Thumb Down” buttons to shape music recommendation algorithms.
Also, it doesn’t have a Return button. Instead, there’s a Repeat button but to use it users should either have the Pandora Premium subscription or watch ads to get access to this feature.
You could notice another monetization option for a radio app using a freemium model. I’m talking about the visual ads instead of the song cover.
Like in the first player, swipes up that open an advanced menu with detailed info about the artist and possibilities to add, share or bookmark the song work here as well.
Search is another must-have feature in your Pandora-like application. It doesn’t have any specific features so our general recommendations would be:
What technologies will help your team deliver these features? Let’s check the tech stack!
Here are a few technologies that can help you during your radio app development. Save it for your tech team!
Our developers made an approximate estimate of radio app development based on the most popular features. However, don't forget that these are only the rough numbers.
Radio App Features Estimated in Hours
Using React Native
⏳ Min Hours
⏱ Max Hours
⚙️ Setup Technical Foundations
🔐 Sign Up Flow
Sign Up Screen
Social Sign Up
👥 Profile Management Flow
Thumbed up songs
See followed users
📻 Main | Discovery Screen
Browse by Category
Browse by Mood/Activities
🎶 Collection Screen
Browse by Artist
... by Album
... by Song
⏯ Music Player
Our team took an average for Eastern Europe rate of $40/hour to made this calculation. Yet, the final price depends on many factors as the rate of your developers, the number of features, the complexity of technologies, etc.
We can also make a more precise estimate of radio app development costs just for your project. For that, contact us and we'll be glad to help you!
We hope this article made it clear how to develop a radio app for Android or iOS. The music streaming market keeps growing so it may seem like a promising idea.
Let’s recall the main steps you should take to develop a radio app that will take over the market:
We at Stormotion can be your Reliable Tech Partner to guide you through the development process. Share your idea with us by hitting the button below and get your MVP done by pros’!
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