Internet radio and the state of American music
I’ve been lurking on the Association for Recorded Sound discussion list lately. It’s mostly studio technicians, archivists, music librarians, and other assorted audiophiles (professional and avocational). And the last few days internet radio has come up. This is so primarily because July 15 is fast approaching. Barring any Congressional action, that will effectively be the Day of Doom for much of internet radio, which will be forced to pay punitively exorbitant royalties thanks to an edict by the Copyright Royalty Board (working in collaboration with the running-scared folks at the RIAA).
As part of their campaign to raise awareness of the July 15 deathknell, many internet radio stations are observing a day of silence June 26. A lot of good it will do them, but still … it’s something (are any sg internet radio stations planning to participate?).
In the process of discussing the protest, there have been a few particularly salient comments, one of which I’d like to excerpt in part because it suggests some of the socioeconomic forces at work in southern gospel – market dispersal and compression, and the decline of terrestrial radio chief among them – are present throughout the music industry more widely and in part because it’s just plain interesting in the polemical sort of way that manifestos can be. What follows is taken from a discussion post by a manager at Radio Dismuke:
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The ONLY relevance the RIAA labels have left in today’s digital, Internet dominated world is their ability to promote their recordings and artists via FM air play. Thanks to today’s technology, artists no longer need a major record label in order produce and distribute recordings - there are plenty of ever increasingly affordable alternatives open to them. But to the degree that top selling recordings continue to be promoted by means of FM airplay, artists need the very one-sided contract with a major label if they strive to become famous as opposed to merely making a living with their music.
Internet radio threatens all this as it is very much on the verge of replacing FM as the venue in which people discover new music. And, unlike FM, Internet radio has no limitations on how many stations can exist and is global in terms of its audience reach. Unlike FM, the RIAA labels have no special advantage over Independents when it comes to getting airplay on the Internet. Even in their glory days, the major labels did not have pockets so deep as to be a able to spread payola and marketing clout around to countless thousands of Internet stations with relatively small audiences.
When venues such as Internet radio and myspace become viable alternatives for those musicians who strive to become famous - well, it will no longer be necessary for them to sign one-sided contracts with major record labels. It will make more sense for them to remain independent and thereby retain ownership and control over their music - and to keep any profits generated from it for themselves.
THAT is why the RIAA and its puppets at SoundExchange are so desperately trying to kill off Internet radio. It is not so much that the RIAA is concerned that current Internet radio blues listeners might not be buying hip-hop. They know that’s not likely to happen. What they are concerned with is the prospect of hip-hop listeners and all of the sheep out there who have little, if any, awareness of music outside of what is spoon-fed to them over FM might suddenly discover that genres such as blues, ragtime, jazz, dance bands exist and are pretty fun to listen to. Even more so, they are terrified that such listeners might discover and embrace all of the many talented independent artists out there in the major popular genres.
I have no problem with Internet radio stations paying royalties. That’s not what this is about. A rational system of royalties is NOT one which will, from the very get-go, bankrupt the entities which are supposed to be paying the royalties. The purpose of the new royalty scheme as well as the scheme that the RIAA backed last time around is to DESTROY Internet radio and NOT to generate a viable stream of revenue from it for copyright owners. Keep in mind that independent artists are just as much legitimate copyright owners as are the major RIAA labels - and this royalty scheme will destroy the only viable means of air play that such artists and copyright owners have open to them.
Internet radio is one of the most exciting developments during my lifetime. Obscure and forgotten genres finally have an opportunity to make themselves available to anyone who cares to discover them and to earn the sort of appreciative, modern audiences they deserve. Before the Internet, if a person wished to listen to, let’s say popular music from the early 1900s he either needed to acquire his own vintage music collection (something which very few people who are unfamiliar with the genre are likely to do) or be fortunate enough to live in one of a VERY small handful of markets where a station MIGHT have had a few hour per week program that MIGHT play such music. Now all one has to do is tune into Radio Dismuke which plays jazz and pop from the 1920s and 1930s. Or one can tune into Wiemar Rundfunk and listen to the same sort of music from places such as Poland, Germany, France, Holland and other countries in Europe. Or one can listen to Elite Syncopations which specializes in ragtime.
The RIAA seeks to destroy all that. Don’t let those bastards get away with it. They are nothing more than the modern day equivalent of the buggy whip manufacturer - and I am looking forward to them eventually meeting the exact same fate.