In Homewood’s Head – The Promise of Internet Radio

Every once in awhile Mark, the owner and head honcho of this fine, fine site will forward me an interesting music business article to read as he knows that as a former magazine owner, editor, music TV producer, musician, manager PR agent etc. I have just as much a curiosity and an interest in the business side of the music business as I do in the artistic side. As the major labels implode, the radio stations increasingly rely on the same twelve songs by the same mediocre artists, people quit buying music, the CD disintegrates as a viable format for music purchases – I sit and wonder at the craziness of it all and how simple it would be to right the problems. This particular article is mostly about the future of Internet radio.

So you are on the same page as I am, you can read the article at http://news.cnet.com/whats-the-real-cost-of-free-music/

Okay, so you’re back? Well, the first thing I can tell you is that as I was reading the article Mark sent me, I was listening to a CD by an artist known as Baby Huey I had ordered from a local record shop in the town where I live. There are a few of them still left here, and I try to shoot them all my business instead of hunting CDs on the web. It’s just my way – I don’t expect others to follow my lead, really, but that’s what I do. Baby Huey, just so you know, is a very obscure soul artist who released his first and only album on the Curtis Mayfield-owned Cur-Tom label back in the early ’70’s. He ended up passing away before the album was released due to health problems involving his massive girth. Due to these circumstances, the album was very rare up until Water re-issued the CD a few years ago. I have been interested in this CD since I heard some cuts on the Internet radio station Pandora about a week ago.

Just so you get the point – the article I was sent and that you just read is about Internet radio stations and I was reading the article while I was listening to a CD I first heard about through an Internet radio station, which, after I heard it, immediately put an order in for the CD and bought. In essence, I am saying that Internet radio works just like terrestrial radio used to, despite what some of these music business lunkheads are trying to make you believe. People hear the songs, they end up liking them and later buy the CDs, either from an Internet site or a store or wherever, because they want to hear more. It’s really fucking simple when you think about it. I mean, I can’t be the only one. I am not that original or that much of groundbreaking, visionary leader, quite frankly. And my point is that for some reason, the labels are fighting Internet radio tooth and nail. Unfair to artists they say, doesn’t lead to sales they say – so they try to extract a huge royalty rate from the stations – either to put them under or to offset the losses they are facing by the fall of the CD.

IT’S BULLSHIT! and just another one of the reasons that the FUCKING RECORD LABELS JUST DON’T FUCKING GET IT.

Before you say, “but Scott, the artists and labels deserve to get paid when their songs get played” – let me tell you: I agree. The old royalty system is there for a reason, and a sound one in most respects – it serves as a way for an artist and songwriter to get money when someone uses their song for their own purpose – playing on their radio station, using it in their movie, attracting someone to their product when used in a commercial etc. I agree with it.

But, in this day and age of artists/small labels having to go DIY because their is no label that wants them or the label that they’re on cannot offer support etc is that airplay on these stations is more an ADVERTISEMENT for their album and themselves than it should be for a source of revenue. Sure, if someone stands to make money by use of the artist’s work (commercial, movie use, etc) then they deserve to get paid, no question. Someone’s making some profit and the artist/songwriter deserves to share. But the average Internet radio station owner is making very little (if any) money from their endeavor. Sure, they probably get money from an advertiser here and there, but you’re talking barely enough to pay hosting fees. Pandora has tons of ads, but they can barely stay afloat. There are no DJ’s to support, but there are costs with programming the site and adding the bells and whistles that make their playlist so huge and their system so cool. Pandora is a larger system than most, but the problem is the same with Jimmy Joe’s Redneck Podcast that gets shut down because of the huge royalty fees. Internet stations have owners that are doing this for the pure love of the music they play. They are not in it for the money, they are in it to promote the music they love.

The fact that some artists and most labels fight them boggles my mind. How are people supposed to hear this music? No one is podcasting the same music heard on regular radio. Why should they? It’s either classic rock stuff that’s been programmed for the last forty years or so or new stuff that’s so obviously crap that no one who has ever really loved music would ever play any of it anyway. By and large, the stuff being played on Internet radio is underground stuff. Rare music by obscure or unsigned artists or artists so far under the radar no one could possibly hear their music except for these stations. What these stations are, instead of the so-called thieves, grave-robbers and art-stealers that major labels would have you believe they are, is the modern equivalent of someone inviting you over to their house to smoke pot and listen to music. These Internet radio people invite you over to their blogs etc. and play you the music they love in hopes you will love it too and seek to acquire the music for yourself.

But, instead of taking such airplay for the great advertisement it could be for the unreleased musical treasures buried in their vaults, voluminous back catalogs, new artists and renewed interest in artists with music unfortunately obscured by whatever bad luck befell them or, more accurately, the shitty marketing plan put in place by these same clueless labels, they seek to destroy what could ultimately save them. Just think what sales could be genereated for these labels if they used this basically new fangled word-of-mouth system correctly? Isn’t that how record-labels originally promoted their products? Word of mouth? At one time it involved listening parties and promos given to journalists and powerful tastemakers, then went to radio whenpowerful DJ’s broke songs and bands. Think of the buzz that could be generated for new artists and how many money-losers could finally turn a profit from the re-exposure if they used Internet radio correctly? But still the labels pound these pioneers and potential saviours down. That is, when they aren’t suing their very own customers when they could be spending time promoting their music.

Shit, don’t even get me started on how labels promote their releases now. All labels want to do at this point is send journalists compressed digital files that sound like shit and then they expect these music journalists (who often aren’t paid and are only doing it because they love music and are born proselytizers who want you to check out the music they dig) to write glowing reviews when they don’t even get a good representation of how the music is going to sound. Isn’t that ridiculous as hell? Imagine if the movie industry, instead of holding screenings and previews for review writers, decided to just tell every writer that reviews movies to just watch the film over the web at work on their little computer screens. Sure, it can be done, but they know better. They want to give the reviewer the same experience as the consumer without scrimping on it so the reviewer gets the “full impact” of the movie and can tell their readers the true experience. Now, it’s really not about what reviewers get and get to do, it’s the fact that the record labels are devaluing the art. When the art was valued and the music being released was treated as a “big deal”, the consumers responded in kind. With the removal of the tangible aspect, it’s more like insurance. Who gets a big buzz about buying insurance?

NO ONE.

Again, think about the lack of logic: Sending someone who loves music the crappiest version available of the music and expect them to just love it to death. Whether you’re talking about tastemakers or consumers, that makes NO FUCKING SENSE. Yeah, I would buy music at I-tunes, but you know what? It sounds like shit compared to vinyl, CD and even cassette. Why do they expect people who love music to listen to a crappy version of it?

I am not even talking about somehow discontinuing making music available on the Internet for sale. That genie is out of the bottle. Too late for that. I am talking about the music business being able to find ways to make music valuable again, to instill some sort of “value” into their products. It can be done. The massive marketing arm of the labels can do it. They know how. They’ve promoted the vinyl renaissance up the wazoo. Now, they’re even trying to kill that with their greed by pricing new vinyl at $39.99. Can you believe it? I can. They’ve just forgotten WHY music is important to people and WHY it needs to be kept affordable and tangible. Another thing they’ve forgotten is Why they have to create legacy artists instead of flash in the pans they abandon after the hit is off the charts or because their first album doesn’t see three million copies. You’d think in this day and age when albums aren’t selling that well anymore, big labels would take more chances, try to create the next Beatles.

Again, THEY KNOW HOW TO DO IT. It’s been done before. THEY’VE DONE IT. They know “how” it’s the “why” they’ve forgotten about. Why the business needs to be about long-term results instead of the short term. The short term greed is killing them the same way it has killed the financial business. The labels have forgotten how to WORK. They just want the fast money that comes from the immediate success, the big one-hit, and the fad.

And Internet radio plays against that particular business plan.

So what’s the future for these stations? How do they survive? For one, I believe artists/labels should forgo royalties for any song played on Internet podcasts or radio stations like Pandora. Radical thought, huh? But a long as the owner of said stations do not earn profits, they should not have to pay. The radio Another suggestion would be to charge subscription fees, though we know this is not the cure, as XM radio is still struggling despite having one of the most ambitious, wide-ranging playlists ever and millions of subscribers paying for the service. No, artists and labels need to realize that if they want to restore the system the way it was, or better yet, create a better system to get people to buy music – they need to find ways for people to buy music. To buy music, people need to hear the music. Since terrestrial radio is irretrievably broken, the music business must realise the pioneers of music on the Internet: the Podcasters, the radio stations – need to be allowed to play music without penalty.

I have always been in favor of the artist getting their rightful place at the table. Just as I am for the label who helps put them in the public conciousness and funds their releases. Both should profit immensely from their hard work. Each needs to other in most cases. Artists are best served by concentrating on their art and the businessmen need to leave artists alone and concentrate on maximizing what their artists create to turn each release into a moneymaker. By destroying what could lead to the renaissance of the music business, is the biggest mistake they can make. And, since the music business is being fucked up so badly now in many ways, someone needs to wise up and realize it’s time to destroy the old model and try some new things to create a new system. A system with the cornerstone in the only place their releases have a chance at being heard: Internet radio.

What do you think? Do you agree with Scott? Let’s get the debate started! Scott will respond to all comments so make your voices heard!