Trouble for Net Radio

I’ve been half following with some interest the ruling of the (US) Copyright Royalty Board last week that dramatically (and retroactively) upped the royalties to be paid on performances (ie plays) of songs on web radio. I found this Wall Street Journal article by Jason Fry on the subject particularly helpful. In short, net radio operators are worried:

Kurt Hanson, founder of online radio company Accuradio, told my print colleague Sarah McBride that he estimated the new rules would raise Accuradio’s royalty payments to about $600,000 — more than Accuradio’s 2006 revenue — from about $50,000. And he warns others face similarly tough math, arguing that even well-run Net-radio stations would see performance royalties eat up all their annual revenue — and that’s before the need to pay royalties to composers. [...]

“Left unchanged, these rates will end Internet radio,” Pandora.com co-founder Tim Westergren warned on Pandora’s blog.

Some speculation I read suggested that this will be the death of (US based) Pandora and the heyday of Last.fm, which is based in England, but another article quoted Martin Stiksel, co-founder of Last.fm expressing concern at what it might mean for their ability to stream in the American market. Says Fry:

it makes more sense to view what’s happening now as hardball negotiating than as an endgame. Besides the possibility of striking a deal, Webcasters can appeal, and Internet-radio fans are signing petitions and writing letters to their representatives.

And then he goes into a delicous rant about the real problem:

A brief recap: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, building on 1995’s Digital Performance Rights in Sounds Recordings Act, said Net-radio firms had to pay performance royalties on songs played in addition to composer royalties on those songs. Terrestrial radio stations pay composer royalties, but they don’t pay performance royalties, under the long-established rationale that record labels benefit from the promotional value of songs played on the radio.

So if a Clear Channel radio station plays that new Fergie song over the air, it doesn’t pay a performance royalty — but if it streams Fergie over the Net (or satellite radio), it does. Make sense to you?

Of course not — because that makes no sense whatsoever. Treating the two as different is missing the radio forest for the Internet trees; in a sane world, lawmakers would treat radio as radio, regardless of how it’s delivered. [...] Yes, there are technological differences between terrestrial radio and Net radio, notably the ability to guide what’s played, skip songs and keep track of what I like. But those differences seem to work to the advantage of artists and record labels: With Net radio, I’m more likely to hear songs I like, bookmark them and buy them. One listener’s experiences aren’t necessarily grounds for extrapolation, but this bargain seems like a pretty good deal for the recording industry, one it ought to be careful about altering.

To suggest that web radio is not doing as much to promote artists as terrestrial radio is just silly. In the future people will look back and laugh that there ever was a terrestrial/web distinction made (and they may even laugh at the concept of “record companies”). But in the meantime, if you’re an American fan of web radio, this might be a good time to call your congressperson.

(And tell them to end this war while you’re at it.)

Blogging the Dark Side

The Time Being is the blog of Australian musician Steve Kilbey, of the Church (if you know one Church song it’s “Under the Milky Way” from the mid 1980s). Since his brush with stardom with that single, Kilbey has had a rough go of things, including heroin addiction and a stint in prison on account of it. But he’s been back on his feet, recording, touring, being a doting husband and parent. And, let us not forget, blogging.

I wrote a while ago about Amanda Palmer of the Dresden Doll’s blog, which is an amazing piece of diary meets performance art, but Kilbey may have her beat. His entries are all in free verse, very heavy on the disclosure — especially of discomfort, sadness, all that bad stuff — and he weaves a prolific web of hazy autobiography and feeling that reaps dozens of comments on each entry.

For instance, here’s how he writes about trying to choose a name for a new record company in a section of a longer entry:

images :
driving thru the weird dry country
thru charming little hamlets (dahlings)
arguing about the name of our new record company
i musta thorta million names
i was saying the bloody street signs in the end
bing bing bypass records i’d hopefully suggest
after some real corkers like illumination records
had been given the thumbs down
um reduce speed records…
i got it
slow records!
no no
wombat mill records…cmon its….!
hours n hours later
every thing that everybody said
had records put on the end
eg
why cant we call it fucked if i know records?
i dunno killa what do you think records?
hey do you know which way it is records?
sorry not me records?
i thought you listened to the guy records
etc etc records
its hard to stop once youve started records
and occaisionally this method does throw up some good ones
but itll just get shouted down in the tumult records
so only do this method by yourself
its not good to let em all in on yer secret source of material
but if ya keep yer eyes n ears truly open, lieblings
then youll find it everywhere
i promise you
yes i do

What’s amazing about it is how prolific he is, how well he builds relationship with his readers — creating an intimate environment of his own that they get to participate in by reading and commenting — and how willing to disclose he is, and, maybe most of all, how up front he is in writing about heroin and living as a recovering addict and trying so hard to disuade others:

i woke up early
the world seemed hyper real and hyper ugly
everything threatened me
or filled me with a vague fear or dismay
i felt so sad n hopeless
the world seemed black
this must be the world of the depressed person
oh pray you never have to visit here
everything hurts you
the sweetest melody
the touch of sunlight
the caress of water
the smell of clean food
everything is gross n disgusting
and my legs ached
and my arms ached
an awful awful awful ache
and my stomach was nauseated in every way
and i couldnt sleep at all anymore
sleep eluded me
and i was left up n alone
thru wee small hours that went on for ever
and all the time i knew that
one little sniff and itd all go away
and sure enough thats what i did
and it did
and then i was hooked
and it went on hooking me in deeper n deeper
and every habit was worse than the last one
yeah i tried to stop
and occaisionally succeeeded in stopping
from time to time
but always enticed back
never could resist a bit more
then i started shooting the stuff

You really can’t do justice to this blog with excerpts, you have to see the whole thing day in and day out to really get the effect of what Kilbey is creating here. It’s not for everyone, but it’s amazing. And so are the comments, for instance, some of what people say in response to the full heroin post excerpted just above:

well, yes. my brother Mikey just got outta rehab, this was his second trip, but for cocaine. he was calling me at 2 or 3 in the morning to tell me that the little people were in the ceiling and under the furniture, spying on him, so he couldn’t sleep.(I guess I told him one too many bedtime stories, and they all lodged upstairs in his brainpan, waiting.) Then the crazy violence, and of course all the extras you mention. my entire family (we can’t agree on much)got together for an intervention & I was the lucky sod they sent upstairs to drag Mikey outta his room by the hair. I think he is doing better this time. I love my brother. I hope he is ok.

Steve…I’ve never used at all…so I can’t understand the pain and horror. But I have lived life and I feel like I know a little about the strength of human spirit, hope and life….yours must be truely heroic. I hope and pray that all you want now is the pleasure of your muse, the love of your family and the awe of your true believers coursing through you everyday.

i guess most people have a story of sorts that they can relate to this one. i’ve never done anything like that, but i did have a husband that was such a fucking bastard that i began drinking heavily to “get away”…..and then i finally realized i wasn’t getting away anywhere but to even further down the hell hole, so i stopped. wasn’t easy, but just the same. our divorce was nasty, but not as difficult as putting down that bottle and not taking another drink.

like i said~~you’re an inspiration, steve. to have gone through that horror and come out the other side of the long, dark tunnel is amazing, to say the least. i’m glad you made it.

It’s almost like the music is the excuse for writing the blog, which has a life of its own.

To Promote or to Control?

This is a fascinating exchange on a Last.fm forum between a musician and users that nicely displays some delicate tensions at play in promoting one’s self in spaces outside your own domain.

Here’s the scenario: A musician has created an independent label page for himself and uploaded some of his music there. He’s then used Last.fm’s built in recommendation feature to send personal recommendations to users far and wide (a common strategy in some other spaces, but seemingly less common on last.fm). The response is not all positive — users who’ve received this recommendation have gone to the label page and left comments in the shoutbox that diss the tunes. The musician complains to the forums, presumably seeking staff intervention. He writes:

I want to be able to delete posts by little babies that can’t handle a recommendation so when they post non-constructive criticism I can delete the posts. Like when a whiney user like M—– or J—–666 leaves a post that is nothing but negative and counterproductive I can delete it and keep my page positive and open.

A few posts later, he elaborates his case by defining the label page as something that a (mere?) “listener” can “mess with”:

Why is Last.FM allowing a listener to keep messing with a Last.FM Independent Label holder? This may be an eyeopener for the other Last.FM Independent Label artists out there.

But his definition of (what he sees as) his own label’s space as a promotional space that he should be able to “keep positive and open” (open = controlled) gets no traction. A (non-staff) moderator defines a label page’s comments section as a collective space:

No one person “owns” a artist/album/track shoutbox, thus there’s no trash icon. Mods cannot remove shouts from there either.

Then a few users get in there and investigate the situation for themselves. They challenge the musician and construct Last.fm as a space that is about the listeners vs “what the music labels, media and so on tell us we should like”:

It looks to me from that album thread that people who like the recommendation have stated so, as have people who hated it.

If Last Fm moved into censorship and negative comments about bands, songs etc. being deleted that would ruin the whole point of Last FM for me – this site should be about music fans, their tastes, views and interests rather than what the music labels, media and so on tell us we should like.

So it seems the solution to this problem is to tailor the recommendations to people who might enjoy the music, rather than sending it to lots of people who have no interest in that style of music.

Another reader argues that this sort of self-promotion on the site should be expected to generate blow-back:

…you really need to lighten up. If you’re going to send out recommendations for your music to random people then you are going to get a few who say they don’t like it. If you don’t want that then be more selective about who you recommend to.Looking through the various threads/shoutboxes I’ve seen you really don’t come across very well.

If someone just decided to listen to your music and didn’t like it, so posted on the shoutbox that they didn’t think it was any good then maybe you’d have a point, but you did ask these people to listen to it.

I don’t think I’d like it, but your attitude has ensured that I haven’t even tried it.

As of this writing, the final post in the thread is a perfect summation of the tensions at play in here between the site’s architecture, the industry’s promotional and image-control concerns (as well as egos), the empowerment of fans that the internet provides through spaces like Last.fm which users have claimed as spaces in which they can define things for one another:

I don’t give a shit about recommendations; I never look at them.

That said [...] don’t be so sensitive. After reading this thread I was prompted to listen to your tracks. I like them. I even downloaded a few.

No matter what type of musician you are, no matter what genre of music you make, 99.999% of people ain’t gonna care for it.

If you put yourself out there, you gotta be prepared for people who diss you.

Say “NO” to censorship. POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

No matter what you’re selling (or giving away), the flip side of being able to promote one’s self to so many people via the internet is that more people are going to tell the world that they dislike you. It’s important to be savvy in understanding the norms of different online environments and watch what works and what doesn’t before diving in one’s self.

A Collaborative Bootleg Database

Dylanbase is an “unofficial Bob Dylan Bootleg Database.” Not unlike a wiki for Dylan fans, there’s a user-constructed database of Dylan’s concert history that can be searched by song, location, and so on. Registered users have their own pages on the site and anyone can add to and edit the database. The site is run by an American in Copenhagen who describes the page’s purpose this way:

The basic idea of the site is to build a structure so that Dylan fans can get a handle on this mountain of information, and create a giant bubbling information center full of setlists, reviews, comments, trading lists, quotes, ticket info, etc. The site is dependent on people logging in and doing just that. In the first two years of the site, people have submitted 11000 track listings, 1400 reviews, and almost 800 albums.. Thanks! As I’ve expanded Dylanbase, I have tried to balance the needs for user privacy with a way to structure the information. So to provide information to the site, you now need to be registered. I know this is kind of annoying, but basically it’s the only way I don’t have to constantly police the content.

Another thing- If you are looking to buy Dylan bootlegs; sorry, I can’t help! Try looking on the newsgroup Rec.Music.Dylan. I am not a bootleg dealer, and won’t be able to point you to one.

You’ll notice that there are no ads or anything on this site. This may change someday, as there are significant costs in hosting the site, and a hefty weekend time investment! If you want to support the site, knicknacks in the mail are very much appreciated! :)

I can’t even imagine how complex it must be to even get Dylan’s history straight if you weren’t there all along, let alone try to sort through the varying versions of Dylan songs to be found out there. This seems like a great resource and a great example of how fans will build collective intelligence resources that go so far beyond what any individual or even small group of fans could do on their own, and how they will do it as labors of love.

A Brief Interlude of Fandom

Today I ran across a quote someone was using in her Last.fm ‘about me’ profile from Nick Hornby’s 31 Songs:

Songs are what I listen to, almost to the exclusion of everything else. I don’t listen to classical music or jazz very often, and when people ask me what music I like, I find it very difficult to reply, because they usually want names of people, and I can only give them song titles. And mostly all I have to say about these songs is that I love them, and want to sing along to them, and force other people to listen to them, and get cross when these other people don’t like them as much as I do…

… which really struck me because right now I am in the midst of a mad passionate sonic love affair with the eclectic collection of songs that is Radiola by The Fine Arts Showcase (aka Gustaf Kjellvander) and I just want to force you all to listen to those songs until you feel what I feel when you hear them. I will refer you to their Malmö, Sweden-based record label’s page for them, where you can stream their songs in glorious Last.fm stereo streams and admire the newly unveiled web design work of Slivka while you’re at it.

In an effort to have some content other than personifying this blog’s topic by using the internet to gush effusively about how you All Need To Hear This Record Now, I will point out my irritation that their own website is totally lame — it has very little information or content, calls a “guestbook” a “forum” and, worst of all, refers you to a MySpace page, where there’s more content and a b-side can be streamed (ok, but why not let us stream it on your own site?). At least the official site gives his email address (would he write back?). I understand the need to have a MySpace presence, but it shouldn’t be any musician’s primary internet presence. The site under your own domain name should have at least as much to offer. Gustaf, I’m yours, don’t send me to MySpace.