Spoutin' Off: Save the Internet radio before the music dies
By Michael Rau
May 7, 2007
Music lovers of the world, unite! There's an insidious plot afoot to deny you easy online access to the music of your choice, and not surprisingly, it's the major music labels that are behind it.
I don't know how many of you have discovered the joys of Internet radio, but if you haven't, and like me, you just can't stand the claptrap played on commercial radio stations, you're really missing out on a treat.
Internet Radio is something which has quietly evolved over the years into a vast array of small independent outlets, largely playing music you'd never hear on commercial airwaves. Most of them are one- or two-person operations, with lots of college and public radio stations thrown in.
Many commercial stations stream their programming over the Web, but few make their shows accessible through Internet Radio directories.
Nowadays, many music jukeboxes that use online connections can access Internet Radio stations. If you have the most common such application, namely iTunes, you'll find the access point in the left-hand column. Just click 'Radio' under 'Library,' and you'll get a list of available genres. Click on one, and you'll get a list of available online stations, Webcasting at a variety of bit rates (hint: If you're on a broadband connection, choose the highest bit rate available).
I love this venue. It's the only place I can find most of the music I want to hear, like blues, alt country, indie rock - all stuff unavailable on commercial radio. And it's fairly easy to figure out that these stations have little if any revenue. And they already pay more to play the music than conventional, over-the-air radio stations.
Back in 1995, The Recording Industry Association of America of America (RIAA) managed to get an additional fee, which they characterized as a "performance fee," added to those already charged for playing songs on radio. The additional fee applies only to Internet Radio. This covenant expired recently, and the Copyright Royalty Board then decided to raise this additional fee by 300 percent to 1,200 percent.
Now, I don't believe for one minute that RIAA is so ignorant that they believe the average Internet Radio station can afford these new fees. If so, what motive could they possibly have but to drive these entities out of business? Oh, I don't know - maybe because their masters, the major labels, don't want anybody outside their stables to be able to present their art to the public. Why? As always, it's all about the money.
Just as the major labels have worked so hard to assure that independent artists can't get any play on commercial radio, they really don't want anyone who isn't making them a lot of money getting airplay anywhere - even on these tiny little public outlets.
Coincidentally, I just watched a wonderful show on PBS about the history of Atlantic Records and the great Ahmet Ertegün. It's hard to imagine in this day and age, a producer and record label so dedicated to the art and artists rather than just the almighty dollar. The show also touched on how musicians finally achieved enough clout in the late '60s to dictate to the labels how their products would be presented and distributed.
Those days are long gone. Today, any artist who signs with the four majors has sold his soul. The few acts that have enough clout to affect the industry seem too wrapped up in profit to care about any of the little guys.
Maybe you do. If so, one way you can help is to support Internet Radio in their quest to head off these massive fee increases.
Two congressmen have introduced a piece of legislation titled the "Internet Radio Equality Act" (H.R. 2060). It would essentially reverse the Copyright Royalty Board's decision, returning Internet Radio to its previous, percentage-based fee structure, thus allowing these outlets to be able to afford to keep operating.
I understand we've become a society that cares little about anything but accumulating wealth, but surely there's room for art for the sake of art. The only way that Internet Radio threatens the big labels is if they realize the so-called talent they try to foist on the public every day really is poor, and the artists who can get airplay only on Internet Radio are so much better that if the public heard more of them, they'd ignore the major labels' acts (like I do).
Whether you listen to Internet Radio or not, you still have a stake in the outcome of this fight. If you don't want the mega-corporations to control it all, contact your congressperson and ask them to support H.R. 2060. It has to happen by July 15th when the new fee structure goes into effect.
If the Copyright Royalty board isn't stopped, it's hard to say, without buying a recording unheard, how or where you'll be able to find any music from independent or noncommercial artists.
An organization called SaveNetRadio is leading the charge. Their Web site is www.savenetradio.org. As they put it, if we don't do something, July 15 could become known as "The Day the Music Died."
Michael Rau is a mass-communications consultant in Virginia Beach. To send feedback or view past columns, go to http://dailypress.asoundidea.com.
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