If you weren’t paying attention, a lot of streaming internet radio stations went silent yesterday for one day. This was in protest of the Copyright Royalty Board’s proposed rate hikes for royalties. These rate hikes will likely put a lot of streaming stations out of business, and make it exceptionally expensive for even public radio stations to stream their content over the web.
It has been suggested by Adam Curry and others that streaming stations switch over to using podsafe music. That’s a nice thought, but I think that he and the podcasters who are so hyped on podsafe music are missing the point of streaming stations.
Stations like Radio Paradise, WOXY or any other number of stations provide a combination of both mainstream RIAA music and independent music that you’d never hear on commercial radio. They also allow people to “play DJ” with even the top hits of today. While some stations – like my Positive Rock station – are merely collections of music on shuffle – many others employ actual people DJ’ing and playing music that has stood the test of time. People want to hear this music – and these stations, just like terrestrial radio stations, fill a need for them. Unfortunately, you really are tied to a computer to hear them, since you need a high speed internet connection to receive them.
In five to seven years, we are going to have broadband internet in our cars and on our cell phones. What this means is that at that point we will be able to stream these stations anywhere we go. This means we’ll be able to hear the stream of the local radio station, that of a radio station halfway around the world, or that indie streamer who has a music mix just THAT much better than that local station. However – if we let the copyright royalty board raise the rates – most of the streaming will cease – it will only be feasible for companies with those deep pockets to stream. What companies are those? Those that own terrestrial radio stations for the most part. So you’d once again be stuck with Clear Channel giving you your content. This is why it is so important to not let the CRB raise rates. Choices.
Many podcasters would lead you to believe that Podsafe music is the answer. I disagree. It’s part of the answer, but it’s not the holy grail. Many podcasters are so caught up in their podsafe music world – they can’t see past it. Some podcasters listen to mainstream music, but I’ve heard others say they only listen to podsafe music. I think that’s really kind of sad, because by podcasters not being able to play RIAA music – we miss out on a bigger chance at helping these new indie artists who are podsafe.
Now I know what you’re saying – podcasters are missing out by not playing RIAA music? Yes, I said it. It’s an unpopular opinion, I know. But just think about this for a minute.
Right now – podcasting is an exceptionally small niche. Podsafe music is an even smaller niche. How do you get someone to listen to a podsafe artist? Well – you can get them to listen to a podcast full of podsafe music. You have to admit – you have to be pretty open minded and adventurous to do this. I do it all the time. But let’s face it – podcasters who do shows like this are in the vast minority in terms of what they are willing to listen to. Everything is unfamiliar – and if you tasked a more mainstream listener with listening to a podcast filled with only podsafe music, they’d be out by the second or third song.
If a podcaster could put together a show and play RIAA music along with podsafe music – what this does is it creates a comfort zone for a potential listener. Play a track or two from RIAA artists, then throw in a podsafe artist. Then maybe another RIAA artist. I’m not saying you have to play Justin Timberlake or Gwen Stefani (but you could if that is your preference). But if your show is about the blues, or hard rock – the benefit to playing music your audience already knows – is that they know it. Familiarity breeds TSL*. Whoa! Wait a minute – what’s that? A radio term? Surely I’m not suggesting podcasters become like radio stations?
If podcasters want to fight the battle for podsafe music – they need to be on a level playing field – otherwise they’re not going to get very far. Think about that. How many podcasters would play RIAA music if they could? How many more podcasters would we have if they could play it? Mix in the podsafe stuff and you have a winning combination. Familiar songs are the soundtrack to people’s lives for a reason. They grew up with them and they know them. Radio knows this. Now – I know you don’t want to hear that same Van Halen song again – but in context along with podsafe music – it could actually sound fresh again. Think about how radio stations introduce new artists – even ones backed by big labels. They sandwich them comfortably between familiar tracks. This is not necessarily about being afraid to take chances – this is about the psychology of the listener. People are more accepting of new music when it’s in the context of stuff they already know. Radio stations have to watch this more carefully then streaming stations or podcasts. But if we as podcasters are to attract new listeners – and grab listeners away from “big media” – we can’t be all unfamiliar music. There is a reason Coverville is one of the most popular podcasts today. Even though Brian plays familiar songs – they’re covers so there’s a nice twist on them. But people enjoy them because they KNOW them.
I understand when podcasters say that the reason people come to them is because they are tired of big media. But at the same time – if I can play a lesser known band that doesn’t get much radio airplay – but is RIAA-licensed, alongside a podsafe artist, alongside a bigger artist – everyone benefits. EVERYONE. A podsafe artist gets little benefit from being mixed in a show with only podsafe artists because the audience for such a show (and yes – I did one and may still bring it back yet) is so incredibly limited.
Bringing this back around to Saving Net radio – Net radio would benefit from having some indie artists that are podsafe – but there’s no way they could ever give up on RIAA music – because net radio folks know that familiairity does in fact breed listeners. My podcast had at its peak about 150 listeners. My streaming station however, has on average 700 cumulative listening hours a month – and I haven’t even updated it in over 18 months! Both are in directories that would allow people to find them with ease, and I have done little promotion for both.
As podcasters – we should be behind Save Net Radio because if the royalties can be held at bay – there’s even more chance we could one day play the music we grew up with and love on our podcasts, alongside the new licensed music and new podsafe music that is keeping us rocking today.
Bring it all together. That’s what I’m saying. Too much of any one thing is bad. But – bring it all together in one big stew and you have a winning combination of flavors. Yeah!
*TSL – Time Spent Listening – a measurement radio stations use – high TSL is desired as it means listeners stay on the station even through commercials and songs they may not prefer.