Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Death and Rebirth of Web Radio

Web Radio, often called webcasting, is likely going to die. This isn't necessarily news for indie musicians at this point, as we lost out on it years ago due to overregulation. There's a reason why you don't hear indies talking about webcasting much. Most webcasters nowadays are terrestrial radio stations that are simulcasting their feed on the internet. The other ones are usually affiliated with larger organizations like live365.com which handles the paperwork, some of the cost, and the requirements that the original agreement imposed on webcasters. This first agreement took what was a groundswell of excitement and technological innovation and basically quashed it.

The current news is that webcasting is being burdened with costs so high it will make it infeasible for stations to exist profitably. There was a recent hearing appealing these rate hikes, and the appeal was rejected. See here and here for some good articles on the topic. The rate hikes are as much as 300 to 3000 percent.

We aren't writing this little editorial entirely unsympathetic to the copyright holders. From their point of view--which we find understandable, actually--is that it is their music and creative work that is giving these internet radio stations listeners. They are used to having an income stream related to playing their music. And if there's a new way to basically broadcast it without people needing to pay for it, it will reduce their income to nearly zero quickly. We've heard some people say things like: "Why don't you do some REAL work like playing live." We know that they are not musicians. Call us any day, and if we're available, we could play a live show that night, no problem. Now, call us and ask us to write and record an album. We can't get it done in a night, that's for sure. And the equipment for recording is more expensive than what it costs us to put together a live show. In short, it's hard to write and record music. Some people seem to believe that just because it's easy to copy means that it's easy to create. It's not, and musicians deserve to be rewarded for their hard work.

But what the music industry has never done well is taking advantage of new technologies quickly. They even had a lot of trouble when piano rolls were first created. And radio, for that matter. But the internet is probably going to be the death blow. It will be impossible for the industry to make money off of recorded music any more in the future. Still, more than a few people believe that they made the costs of the webcasting licenses so prohibitively high because they feared this new technology. If they really wanted to, they could have left the rates reasonable to let this technology emerge.

What has saved web radio and given it a rebirth is podcasting. The energy and desire of the thousands of people who wanted their own radio show (remember them? The ones driving this technology revolution?) just turned to podcasting instead, which also can infringe music rights, but is in essence unregulatable because of the simplicity of the technology.

Naturally, the major players also work hard to keep their music off of podcasts too. They want to make money off of that medium as well. Again, we can't blame them for trying to protect their income streams. They have been quite aggressive about going after any of their music being shared, and are unafraid to litigate, as we have seen by their legal campaign against file sharers. Most podcasters don't want to use major label music because of this, and are looking for non-infringing alternatives.

This is where indie bands come in. It's such a perfect marriage: Podcasters need music to play, and indie bands need places to get played that the major players can't shut them out of. What indies got was even better than that: the major players are actively keeping the entire medium of podcasting pristine of their music.

We never thought we'd say this, but thank you RIAA.

In the meantime, we want to give a message to podcasters: If you need music, we're happy to provide it. You are creating the new spirit of radio on the web, and we will support you in any ways that you need.