Imagine if artists were not paid for every internet 'radio' broadcast of
their music. That might sound a bad thing for musicians but when you
break out of the current music world assumptions that isn't neccessarily
a bad thing for the musician or the radio station.
Currently the royalty system reflects a historical state of the industry
along with certain goals of efficiency and prevention of monopoly abuse
(and copyright is a monopoly). The royalty system in place serves to
prevent labels exercising tight control over what may be played and to
get money to the label and the artists for each play.
This makes an interesting assumption. It assumes that the radio station
gains through this transaction and the artist does not, or gains less.
For a small artist I question that assumption. Does the artist gain as
much from the radio play as advertising as the radio station does from
playing the work ? Is it in fact perhaps fair to say that both the
artist and the radio station are paying a media company for the
priviledge of advertising a work ?
As a musician why would you want to lose radio royalties? Let us
consider a case where a new order of things might make sense. In order
to drive sales of an album there are several conditions you want to meet
- That the work is available
- That you know how to obtain the work
- That you know you like or think you would like the work sufficiently
to pay the cost (including time and effort).
- That the work is not (legally) available for free.
The big challenges to any small band are 2 and 3.
The chances are you don't know who bands like "Madra Rua" or "Show of
Hands" are. You've probably never heard their music either. To drive
sales many of these bands already offer tracks or clips on their web
site. You didn't know they existed or had a website until I told you
As an artist you probably don't want someone downloading your entire
albums - although some bands do this for older albums nowdays. The clips
and some tracks approach used by web sites works well as is obvious by
its continued and growing use.
We've established four things:
- You need to know the band exists.
- You need to know their website to buy the music.
- You need to know you like the music
- Providing a few tracks for free does not harm the band (in business
terms it is an acceptable value leak)
If enough bands are willing to license tracks for free internet radio
play on condition that the band, the track, the album and the web site
are stated before or after each radio or internet streaming play maybe
new music can go around the entrenched barriers instead of taking a huge
hit going through them.
The technology to sell music on the internet exists, and the technology
to stream it freely exists. It seems the opportunity is there.
 And yes you can get ogg down to 24-32kbits/sec if you hack an
additional highpass filter into the player side, and give it a
reasonably low Q.
I have been thinking a lot about the various radio models lately. As I
(probably naively) see it, there are a few distinct groups in the Radio
world: ClearChannel (in other words, commercial radio), Community Radio,
Internet Radio, and Satellite Radio. I think ClearChannel is not going
to help anyone but the already famous acts, so we may as well disregard
them for this discussion. Satellite Radio is interesting, because
advertising is a less-big deal, since users pay directly for the
priviledge to listen. If it works, great. The radio companies will
have a lot more range to choose what they want to play, and can
subsudize the "indie" channels of music with more
popular/quality/consistent stuff that people are paying the premium to
get to, because they already know that they will like it. Community
Radio has the basic problems of funding, because as it stands, royalties
are expensive, and equipment is expensive, and they are competing
against NPR for the already small niche of people that avoid commercial
radio. Internet Radio has the possibility to really broaden people's
horizons, but I think that licensing is a small part of the actual
problem (except for the new DMCA-related rules that are fairly draconian
for internet radio broadcasts...but that is a separate issue).
the hard problem is for people to find out about the not-well-known
music that they would probably like if given a chance. But just playing
a lot of cool indie music on a radio station isn't going to draw people
in unless they are already predisposed to wanting indie music. Which
really isn't very many people. To solve the discovery problem that is
pointed out in the article, we need a better solution. The thing that I
have been thinking about a lot lately is Amazon.com, and how they could
utterly conquer the music downloads world if they decided to. Things
like radio are nice and all, and napster and whatnot are great for
getting things that you know you like, but how do you find out about
stuff that you've not heard of? That is hard, unless you have friends
with particularly good taste. But, the best feature of amazon.com is
its recommendations system. I've bought enough from them that they make
pretty damn good guesses at what I am going to like. Lately I've been
using gnutella to download mp3s of bands that they suggest, then if I
like it I buy the album. I bought 5 cds just last week. It works that
well. All amazon needs to do is make a single or two a free download,
the rest of the album like 25 or 50 cents a song, and then if you like
them, buy the album from amazon, and you get a 50-100% deduction of what
you already spent on the mp3s. Radio is great, but ultimately it is
meant as a promotional tool for music. Maybe the Internet gives us a
better model for finding out about new music. I'm all for streaming
servers, but I don't think that they are actually going to be the savior
or indie music. I'd rather see indie labels have streams of their
catalog on their own websites....that way the legalities are a lot
easier. They can even build in the (lack of?) compensation into the
artists contracts directly, if it serves to benefit them.