Rethinking The Internet Radio Model

Posted 9 May 2002 at 17:57 UTC by alan Share This

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

  1. That the work is available
  2. That you know how to obtain the work
  3. That you know you like or think you would like the work sufficiently to pay the cost (including time and effort).
  4. 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 about them.

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[1]. It seems the opportunity is there.

[1] 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.


For Small Bands, Wrong Approach, posted 9 May 2002 at 18:54 UTC by RyanMuldoon » (Journeyer)

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).

What is 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.

For small bands, for artistic individuals..., posted 13 May 2002 at 01:01 UTC by sye » (Journeyer)

I am afraid music is simply too great to be sold like any other professions for artistic souls in every individuals. I certainly hope that internet 'radio' broadcast will put those popular but not too great music out of their business. Time has proved again and again that people will sooner or later realize that true work of art is what makes our life worth living. My measurement of what composes a true work of art is that it has the power to turn whoever it touches into an artist himself for that moment. If measured that way, people will always want to hold on to real art. I will buy a hard copy of a book that really speaks to me even if i already have its entire content on my computer. I know a person who will buy several different renditions of the same concerto because he is knowledgable and very picky on the performers and conductors. Repetition only kills pseudo art or consumer media products. It will never kill true work of art.

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