Pandora, which prides itself on being the largest radio station in the world, stands starkly in the skyline of downtown Oakland. Passersby can see shadows of employees through the tinted windows of the 20-floor concrete slab known as Center 21.
Umami Burger serves gourmet burgers on the first floor. A vibrant mural of giant Hokusai-like waves embellishes the alley across the street. A Latin gay club called Club 21 bears a rainbow flag next door. Hipsters flock to the area for its clothing boutiques and literary salon. Uptown Oakland is the hottest neighborhood in the burgeoning tech center.
The neighborhood buzzes mid-morning with the beeping of delivery trucks backing up, buses screeching to a halt, and construction under the white veil that is Uber. Pedestrians scatter the streets. Sounds of hip hop reverberate in the air through portable speakers.
A block away, The Paramount, an art deco movie theater turned music venue glitters in the sun. “Gustavo Dudamel with YOLA and Norah Jones,” reads the marquee.
This port city has always been known as a music hub. Coined the Harlem of the West, Oakland attracted a long list of artists in the early to late 20th century. Joining in that legacy are the likes of Billie Holiday, Al Green, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin. They are a reminder of how music changes with time and evolving cultural aesthetic.
Pandora is just a different kind of music business. In a booming landscape with new competitors like Spotify and Google Play, will they survive?