Touch That Dial
hereís a good deal. Go to sxsw .com and click on ďtoolkit.Ē
On the upper right of the page there is a torrent file that
will get you 749 MP3 song files of bands that are playing
at the South by Southwest festival this week in Austin, Texas.
Itís free and totally legal. These are bands that want you
to hear them. So, go get the download and listen! Iím still
discovering new bands from last yearís batch of songs.
Youíll be introduced to great bands with names like I Can
Lick Every Sonofabitch in the House, Deaf in the Family, and
my favorite: Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.
A few years ago when I started doing radio again (you can
hear my show The Splatto Festival most Fridays at 3
PM streaming at Berk shireradio.org) I started digging around
for the music of my youth. My grade-school best friendís older
brother had a band in Batavia, N.Y., that released a 45 RPM
single in 1967, a prize from winning a battle-of-the-bands
contest. I got a copy of the single when it came out, but
itís long gone. Iím sure only 500 copies or so were made.
Now, 40 years later, I doubted that Iíd be able to locate
a copy anywhere. But I really wanted to find it and play it
on the radio.
So I did a Google search, and voila, there it was,
listed on playlists of two tiny Internet radio stations. I
contacted both, and both graciously offered to e-mail me an
MP3 of the single for a small donation. Iíve played the A-side,
a terrific Byrds-y version of John D. Loudermilkís ďTobacco
RoadĒ on the radio a bunch of times. A 40-year-old obscurity,
some upstate New York teenagers pouring their hearts onto
vinyl, has new life. Iíve e-mailed copies to my old best friend
and a few other folks who were around Batavia in 1967, and
theyíre thrilled to have it again. And I couldnít have done
it without the help of obsessive music freaks who collect
stuff like this, digitize it, and maintain Internet radio
stations where they broadcast, to the whole world, their little
slices of heaven, rescued from the remains of our collective
culture. As far as Iím concerned, these people are doing Godís
And this may all soon come to a crashing halt, if the U.S.
Copyright Office, spoon-fed policy from the recording industry,
has its way.
Radio stations traditionally have been allowed to play recordings
for free. Songwriters got paid through ASCAP and BMI fees
paid by broadcasters, but not record companies. Radio play
has always been considered promotional, and the broadcast
industryís lobbyists apparently paid off Congress better than
the recording industryís. And it makes sense: Given that the
record industry is constantly getting caught illegally paying
off radio for airplay, the idea of radio paying record companies
to play music is stupid. Not the way of the world.
Then along comes the Internet, where anybody can put up a
radio station. Where the number of stations and the diversity
of selections are unlimited. And where, increasingly, people
are going to listen, because broadcast radio generally sucks.
Broadcast radio and the music industry, both threatened by
this new egalitarian and uncontrollable phenomenon, convinced
Congress (well, OK, paid Congress) to pass a bill that
made a distinction between broadcast (open air) music and
digitally transmitted (Internet) music. Broadcast music would
still be free, but digital transmissions of music now required
a performance royalty. And the level of that royalty would
be set by the Copyright Office.
So the playing field between broadcast radio and Internet
radio was tilted to favor broadcast radio, dominated by corporate
behemoths like Clear Channel, and to the detriment of Internet
programmers. A few years ago the Copyright Office recommended
a level of royalties that would have killed Internet radio
for all but the biggest players, and those recommendations
were beaten back to a manageable level. Now a new set of royalties
have been proposed, and theyíre worse. The new proposed royalties,
which apparently mirror a proposal made to the Copyright Office
from the RIAA, would wipe out smaller niche programmers, folks
who are putting up the music you wonít hear anywhere else,
the archivists, the geeks, the people who are putting music
on the Internet not for money, but for love. Folks who champion
artists who will never get played on commercial radio, and
who program from the heart, not from a focus-group study.
Who reside on the fringes, and arenít rushing to the lower
common denominator, or making shareholders happy.
The proposed royalty rates can be appealed, and the issue
may wind up in court or back in Congress. But right now is
a shaky period for Internet radio, which hasnít yet learned
to crawl, much less walk. And itís disheartening to see that
the Copyright Office is so deeply in the pocket of the industry,
and hasnít got the slightest clue about what is vital for
the sustenance of our culture and cultural heritage. Sickening,