Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Is the local music scene dying?

HarDCore. South Bronx hip hop. Delta Blues. The history of music is often defined by geographic scenes. A group of artists trading ideas, playing in the same bands, and listening to the same concerts has often gone on to create whole new genres of music. But in the age of globalization and the Internet, is the local scene going by the wayside? That question is at the heart of an interesting article on the ABC News web site.

The writer Michael Smith argues that the local music scene is not dead, but the old notion of a scene is undergoing a major transformation.

"The new local scene is a global music scene," said Chris Douridas, a DJ for the taste-making radio station KCRW, which also webcasts to a global audience. No one is a bigger advocate for finding music on MySpace than Douridas, who frequently scours band pages and sifts through mountains of emails from bands who want to be played on his show.

This way of doing things is a big shift away from the old idea of local music scenes, which Douridas characterized as areas where college radio and local print media would support local bands, who would all play the same venues and frequently swap members (think of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog in Seattle). From that joint attention, a band could get picked up by national labels and radio.

These days, it's a free-for-all.

"You can vault over a scene," Douridas explained. "We're playing a band called 'Detective Byron,' from Sweden. I have no idea how they're thought of in their local community. They could just be making great records, and maybe they don't have a live show presence. I'm just reacting to the records they've made."

The lesson, it seems, as most bands are learning is that you can't ignore the changes that the Internet, Web 2.0 sites, and net neutrality have brought to music.

One interesting aspect is what impact the globalization will actually have on the artistic process. On the one hand, the cross pollination of thousands of local music scenes is exciting. On the other hand, will the "local flavor" that has created distinct musical movements like the San Francisco Sound or the South's Crunk be a thing of the past. In other words, are we headed for an era of the McDonaldization of music?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Sweet Home New Orleans

As we approach the second anniversary of Katrina, roughly 3,000 musicians remain without housing in New Orleans. The number is staggering, but New Orleans proved once again you can't keep a good city down and you can't silence its music.

The Indigo Girls, Damian Kulash of OK GO, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Pamela Z, Bonerama, and Al "Carnival Time" played Sunday night in front of more than 400 fans to raise money for Sweet Home New Orleans, a coalition of non-profits that helps Katrina displaced musicians find new homes. "Musicians Bringing Musicians Home" took place at the historic venue Tipitina's Uptown. (I forget to mention Matt Nathanson in the original post. Sorry, Matt. You did a wonderful job along with all of the other artists.)

The Indigo Girls played some of their big hits. Though he didn't have a treadmill, OK GO's Damian Kulash was equally entertaining with the backing of Bonerama. We should have photos and hopefully video up soon. In the mean time, here's a great piece about the event from ABC 26 in New Orleans.

Indigo Girls with the Baby Dolls

Al "Carnival Time" Johnson with Bonerama

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Google calls for real-time auction of radio spectrum

It works for beanie babies and baseball cards, why not for chunks of the broadcast spectrum? Google has proposed the FCC set up a real-time auction system for part of the broadcast TV spectrum that will likely go on sale in 2009 as UHF stations (channels 51-69) vacate traditional broadcasting frequencies for digital broadcasting. The change over is mandated by law.

The spectrum real estate will be particularly valuable to companies wanting to set up new wireless broadband networks.

Google envisions a system similar to the one Google uses to sell ad space on its own site, according to the New York Times. Google's proposal came as the FCC is collecting public comments on the impending sale. Though it seems Google is working to corner every business short of pizza delivery, Google officials say they have no interest in actually bidding on any of the spectrum.

Instead, it seems Google is looking to increase the competition among ISPs and broadband digital networks (which by the way is woefully inadequate right now).

"The driving reason we’re doing this is that there are not enough broadband options for consumers,” said Adam Kovacevich, a spokesman for Google’s policy office in Washington. “In general, it’s the belief of a lot of people in the company that spectrum is allocated in an inefficient manner.”

In their proposal, Google executives argue that by permitting companies to resell the airwaves in a real-time auction would make it possible to greatly improve spectrum use and simultaneously create a robust market for innovative digital services. For instance, a company could resell its spectrum on an as-needed basis to other providers, the executives said in their formal proposal to the federal agency.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Benefit for New Orleans Musicians

New Orleans is American music. You'd be hard pressed to name another city that has had a more fundamental role in the creation of the sounds that we think of as distinctly American. Unfortunately, that legacy was dealt a major blow by Hurricane Katrina -- New Orleans musicians were scattered across the country. Nearly two years later many still have not returned home.

The situation has prompted a group of musicians to travel to New Orleans to tour the damage and play a benefit show for housing for musicians and artists. The show will feature the Indigo Girls, OK GO's Damian Kulash, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Matt Nathanson, multi-media artist Mike Relm, and performance artist Pamela Z. These big national acts will play along some New Orleans legends: Al "Carnival Time" Johnson and Bonerama. It will be at Tipitina's Uptown on Sunday May 27 at 8 p.m. The proceeds will benefit Sweet Home New Orleans, a coalition of non-profit organizations that help musicians and artists displaced by Katrina get new housing. We're proud to present this event along with our friends over at Air Traffic Control.

Ticket are available through the Tipitina's web site.

Benefit for New Orleans Musicians

New Orleans is American music. You'd be hard pressed to name another city that has had a more fundamental role in the creation of the sounds that we think of as distinctly American. Unfortunately, that legacy was dealt a major blow by Hurricane Katrina -- New Orleans musicians were scattered across the country. Nearly two years later many still have not returned home.

The situation has prompted a group of musicians to travel to New Orleans to tour the damage and play a benefit show for housing for musicians and artists. The show will feature the Indigo Girls, OK GO's Damian Kulash, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Matt Nathanson, multi-media artist Mike Relm, and performance artist Pamela Z. It will be at Tipitina's Uptown on Sunday May 27 at 8 p.m. Ticket are available through the Tipitina's web site.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Amazon deals latest blow to DRM

Amazon dropped a bomb today by announcing it would drop digital rights restrictions on music downloads when it launches an online music store later this year. It's the latest in a series of blows to DRM, and signals a larger shift in the music industry.

For those that don't know, Digital Rights Management is protective coding placed on files to keep them from being pirated. Remember, a couple of years ago all of the big majors took a hard line in support of DRM, but in the last several months that unanimity has frayed. EMI announced it would begin selling music downloads without DRM (albeit at a higher price), while Warner and Universal are currently testing selling music without DRM.

With a major retailer like Amazon going DRM free, it puts a lot of pressure on the other major to follow EMI's lead. Here's an interesting column from the Washington Post about what this all means.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The new indie artist

The New York Times Magazine had an interesting piece over the weekend on how musicians are building new distribution networks and fan bases via the Internet.

The piece kicks off by profiling Jonathan Coulton, a former computer programmer and unsigned Brooklyn indie artist who is making a "reasonable middle class living" by selling CDs and music downloads via his web site, iTunes, and CD Baby. Coulton built a fan base by recording a song a week for all of 2006 and then posting them on his blog. They ranged from odes to Tom Cruise ("Tom Cruise Crazy") to pieces about the dead-end life of a programmer ("Code Monkey").

Coulton managed to get 3,000 people a day visiting his web site and as many as 500,000 downloads of some of his songs. Not only has the Internet changed the music business model, it has changed the way artists interact with fans. Coulton spends hours each day e-mailing with fans and blogging.

This is not a trend that affects A-list stars. The most famous corporate acts — Justin Timberlake, Fergie, BeyoncĂ© — are still creatures of mass marketing, carpet-bombed into popularity by expensive ad campaigns and radio airplay. They do not need the online world to find listeners, and indeed, their audiences are too vast for any artist to even pretend intimacy with. No, this is a trend that is catalyzing the B-list, the new, under-the-radar acts that have always built their success fan by fan. Across the country, the CD business is in a spectacular free fall; sales are down 20 percent this year alone. People are increasingly getting their music online (whether or not they’re paying for it), and it seems likely that the artists who forge direct access to their fans have the best chance of figuring out what the new economics of the music business will be.
But the B-list increasingly includes a newer and more curious life-form: performers like Coulton, who construct their entire business model online. Without the Internet, their musical careers might not exist at all. Coulton has forgone a record-label contract; instead, he uses a growing array of online tools to sell music directly to fans. He contracts with a virtual fulfillment house called CD Baby, which warehouses his CDs, processes the credit-card payment for each sale and ships it out, while pocketing only $4 of the album’s price, a much smaller cut than a traditional label would take. CD Baby also places his music on the major digital-music stores like iTunes, Rhapsody and Napster. Most lucratively, Coulton sells MP3s from his own personal Web sites, where there’s no middleman at all.

The writer, Clive Thompson, assigns these artists, like Coulton, the rather moth-eaten title of Artist 2.0. (Can we finally retire 2.0 as a way of describing something or someone exploiting new technology?!?) Despite the hackneyed terminology, Thompson rightly recognizes how the Internet has revolutionized the music industry and really opened up a whole new set of opportunities for the indie artist. There's some great ideas in this piece for people looking to promote their music online.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Senate bill introduced to save webcasters

After having a near-death experience a few weeks ago, webcasters got another dose of good news. Sens. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced a bill that would vacate a recent ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board. The ruling would have increased royalty rates for webcasters by 300 to 1200 percent (according to

This comes after a pair of representatives introduced a similar bill in the House a few weeks back.

Webcasters had complained the new rates would sink many of their operations. The new rates were slated to go into effect on May 15 , but the CRB decided to push the deadline back to July 15 after an outcry from webcasters.

FMC believes artists should be compensated for their work, but there should also be room for small webcasters to operate, since they provide one of the few outlets for smaller artists and genres that normally don't get radio play. The CRB should adopt a tiered system that charges big webcasters the full rate, while smaller webcasters should get a break.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The sky is falling for the music industry? Not so fast...

A lot of ink is spilled on the declining fortunes of music industry. It seems like every other day a new report shows album sales are down for this period or in that country. In the wake of all the doom and gloom, the always informative Digital Music News posted an interesting report showing the sky isn't exactly falling everywhere.

The researcher eMarketer is projecting revenues in the North American music industry sector will grow at a rate of 2.8 percent annually between now and 2o11. Revenues will climb from $23.1 billion to $26.5 billion largely on the strength of live concerts and publishing. eMarketer also predicts mobile and digital assets will offset decreases in physical sales.

"Every major category of the live music industry has been growing and is poised for continued expansion, including ticket sales, merchandise sales, ancillary venue revenue and tour and special event related sponsorships," according to the group.

Of course, the other growth area is independent music. Derek Sivers, founder of independent music distributor CD Baby, reports his sales are up 30 percent this year. All of this is great news for the independent musician -- usually the most profitable area for any musician is touring and merchandise sales and, obviously, a general increase in the independent market bodes well for all indies. It also leads you to the conclusion that music fans may be voting with their wallets for independent music over the major label stuff, but that's a subject for another post.

Anyways, the concert and merchandising upticks haven't exactly gone unnoticed in the music industry. Live Nation just completed a purchase of music merchandiser Trunk.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Policy Day video now up

So you really wanted to attend FMC's "Music, Technology, and IP Policy Day" last week, but just couldn't get away from work. Well, your in luck. Video of the entire day -- from the opening keynote address by Rep. Mike Doyle to each of the panel discussions on radio, net neutrality and music downloading -- has been posted here for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy. Check back soon for audio interviews with some of the panelists.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Before the Music Dies in Philadelphia tonight

Just a quick reminder that tonight (Monday, May 7), the Philadelphia Chapter of the Recording Academy is hosting a screening of the documentary Before the Music Dies. The movie tells the story of American music at a precarious moment when just a handful of companies dominate the radio waves and the retail racks. Filmmakers Andrew Shapter and Joel Rasmussen traveled the country, hoping to understand why mainstream music seems so packaged and repetitive, and whether corporations really had the power to silence musical innovation. Widely-praised and award-winning, the movie includes interview lots of musicians, industry folks and fans.

After the screening, FMC's Kristin Thomson will join in a panel discussion on the effects of radio consolidation, changes to the music industry and artist development with director Joel Rasmussen and Marcy Rauer Wagman, Director of Drexel University's Music Industry program.

Venue: International House, 3701 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA
Doors: 6:00 PM
Movie: 6:30 PM
Panel: 8:00 PM

Admission is $10 for Grammy members and $15 for the general public. We hope to see you there!

Congressman Doyle's speech at Policy Day

Congressman Mike Doyle, D-Penn., caused a bit of a stir at the "Music, Technology and, IP Policy Day" event last week with his keynote speech. People were particularly interested in his comments on low power radio and the possibility of a program funding pop artists for their work. Here's some excerpts from the speech:

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here with you today.

I want to tell you a little story about a Congressman who gave a speech about mashups and mixtapes.

I never thought when I gave that speech in a House committee hearing a month or so ago that anyone would pick up on it, but a lot of folks did – folks who care a lot about issues like the future of music, radio, and the Internet.

I took a lot of ribbing from my colleagues about the speech, and I got a little grief at home about it, too.

My son emailed me asking me how I’d found out about Girl Talk.

I’ve got some Girl Talk on my Ipod, but I listen to a lot more of Steely Dan, Earth Wind and Fire, and the Doobie Brothers.

That being said, I’m a strong supporter of what’s going on in the music scene today.

I know how important music’s been to me throughout my life, and I don’t want to see government and industry choke off independent music creators and deny the listening public the opportunity to hear their work and support the music they want to listen to.

It goes without saying that independent artists get a lot of exposure on line and thru online radio stations.

But independent artists are making inroads on our culture through traditional media like television and advertisements as well.

The one place they’re not getting any exposure is on mainstream radio stations.

The music we hear on the radio isn’t what we hear during, say, an episode of Grays anatomy.

Independent label music makes up only 10 percent of the songs played on broadcast radio, compared to, say, nearly 40 percent of the music played on internet radio.

So when we talk about the future of music in this country, we have to talk about how we make sure that innovative and aspiring musicians have the potential to earn a living from their art and how we ensure that music consumers get the opportunity to hear something other than the latest hit in heavy rotation.

As you well know, a number of issues currently before Congress and the FCC could have a big impact on that process – like media consolidation, net neutrality, and Internet royalty rates.

One disturbing product of the Telecom Act of 1996 has been the rapid consolidation of the ownership of television and radio stations across the country.

This is disturbing on a number of levels.

There’s obvious concern that a radio stationed programmed out of Denver won’t provide much timely local news for residents of, say, Pittsburgh.

That can, at worst, have serious public safety implications, as many have pointed out.

But even on a more mundane level, this process squeezes out all but the most mainstream voices in communities large and small.

I ask you: Could WKRP’s commitment to local news and Jonny Fever’s musical vision have survived in today’s consolidated media market?

On a more commercial and artistic level, there’s real concern – which I share – about the homogenization of the content that these broadcasters provide.

It’s clear that the media consolidation we’ve experienced over the last 10 years has reduced the diversity and independence of TV and radio broadcasts dramatically.

On the other hand, community groups, schools and churches are trying to expand the opportunities to create low power stations in crowded urban markets.

These stations can be heard on the same FM radios – but they’re non commercial and their signals don’t transmit as far as the big full-power stations do.

I know that this issue has been before Congress in the past, and the limitations enacted in 2000 prevented the FCC from giving a low power license to groups in my district like Penn State’s Greater Allegheny McKeesport Branch who wanted to take their internet station – WMKP, “the Roar” – and put it on the FM dial, rather than just on the internet.

WMKP is the largest and most active club on campus, but they won’t be able to find room in the crowded Pittsburgh dial unless Congress tweaks the Radio Broadcast Preservation Act of 2000.

The Senate has been very active on this issue, and while Senators McCain and Cantwell got a strong vote out of the Senate Commerce Committee to expand LPFM in their Telecom bill last year, the House hasn’t seen as much action.

An LPFM bill hasn’t been introduced yet in this Congress, but I am looking at the issue and wonder why – if a full-power broadcaster can have digital stations that don’t interfere with their main channel, even if the two are right next to each other on the dial – a low-power broadcaster will interfere with a full-power station that’s 3 channels away.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what, if anything, the federal government could do to encourage the creation of new and different music.

I think the most important thing we could do is find some way to make a career in music more viable economically.

The NEA has done a great job of promoting classical music and providing much-needed financial support for classical and jazz musicians.

I think our country ought to look at doing something similar for modern music forms.

A lot of DJs and musicians need day jobs today to pay the bills.

Even small amounts of money could allow many artists to take time from their day jobs and tour the country, building a fan base, spreading new music across the country and entertaining more people.

Canada has created a program to promote and develop modern music.

The program’s been a big success – creating a vibrant cultural renaissance in Montreal and taking music magazines by storm.

At a more macro level, it’s created a cultural center that’s driving new investment and new jobs.

I want to explore such concepts, and I’d welcome feedback from you and people listening on the internet as to the best way to encourage new artists and new music.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

D.C. Policy Day draws standing room only crowd

About 170 people turned out for the "Music, Technology and IP Policy Day" on Wednesday making it a great event in our estimation (if not always the most comfortable -- sorry to the people that had to stand for some of the panels). Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., opened the conference with an unusual shout out for smash up artist Girl Talk. He then proceeded to give a wide ranging speech covering net neutrality, media consolidation. He got a round of applause after making the following comment:

“An LPFM bill hasn’t been introduced yet in this Congress, but I am looking at the issue and wonder why – if a full-power broadcaster can have digital stations that don’t interfere with their main channel, even if the two are right next to each other on the dial – a low-power broadcaster will interfere with a full-power station that’s 3 channels away.”

He also said he wanted to explore a program that would fund pop artists as they pursue their art.

“The NEA has done a great job of promoting classical music and providing much-needed financial support for classical and jazz musicians,” Doyle said. “I think our country ought to look at doing something similar for modern music forms.”

A panel on Internet and satellite that largely focused on the Copyright Royalty Board's new webcasting rates. The afternoon saw some sparks over net neutrality, an informative session on music downloading, and a really interesting speech on copyright law reform (yes, it's possible) by David Carson from the U.S. Copyright Office. After a couple of years of false starts, he expects some progress on reform.

“We are very hopeful this year we can take a major step toward resolving as many Section 115 issues as we can,” Carson said.

There will be much more in the coming days as we post audio and video of the entire conference.

Webcasters get reprieve on new rates

It seems Internet radio has gotten a midnight reprieve. Less than two weeks before new, higher royalty rates were set to go into effect on May 15, the Copyright Royalty Board announced it would push back the start day for the new rates until July 15. Many webcasters have complained the new rates are so high they will be forced off the air.

FMC applauds the move because it will give webcasters a chance to negotiate a lower royalty rate that will allow them to remain on the air, while paying artists a fair royalty rate. Webcasters are an important outlet for genres of music and artists that don't normally get played on radio. The CRB should recognize the current one-size fits all royalty system doesn't work.

The reprieve also gives time for a webcasting bill authored by Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., to wend its way through Congress. The bill would do away with the flat rate royalty system adopted by the CRB in March, and return to the old system of a percentage of profits model. The rate would be 7.5 percent of profits -- the same rate paid by satellite broadcasters.

Incidentally, the CRB's announcement came the same day a bunch of webcasters were pounding the pavement on Capitol Hill in support of Inslee's bill. Hmmm. I wonder if that was a coincidence? Kurt Hanson over at RAIN reports a "high percentage" of the house members contacted gave verbal commitments to signing on to the bill as co-sponsors. The next couple of months should be very interesting...

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

OK GO and net neutrality

Would the band OK GO (you know the guys from the treadmill video) exist if net neutrality didn't exist?

That's the question that was at the heart of a presentation given this afternoon at the "Music, Technology, and IP Policy Day" by Future of Music Executive Director Jenny Toomey. Toomey laid out how OK GO managed to go from relatively unknown indie band to Grammy Award winner, Jay Leno playing, mass market conquering super band.

OK GO started its climb to stardom by filming a $20 video of the band doing a fun, but slightly dorky, dance to one of its songs. The band posted the video on YouTube, and asked the general public to submit their own video versions of the dance. The video inspired a raft of video responses that featured everything from lego men to topless men performing the dance.

OK GO followed the original video with its now famous treadmill video that pushed the band to a new level of stardom. As Toomey pointed out, it's hard to imagine an OK GO existing on an Internet where big telecoms are setting up tollbooths to charge web content providers for faster service.

Toomey gave her definition of net neutrality: "It means that artists retain more control," Toomey said. "They don't have to maintain the relationships they had to before to reach their audience."

Webcasters come through loud and clear

The first panel today "Radio Waves" featured a lively discussion about Internet and satellite radio issues. Given the recent ruling by the Copyright Royalty Board, webcasting rates dominated the discussion with many small webcasters and a couple large ones (Pandora and Live365) saying they would be forced out of business if some kind of compromise on the new rates is not found. Mark Lam, CEO of Live365 -- one of the oldest major webcasters -- was particularly passionate saying the new rates would eat up 75 percent of his revenues.

Doyle kicks off DC Policy Day

Tap. Tap. Tap. Are we live?

We're finally live here from the "Music, Technology and IP Policy Day" at Center for American Progress after some initial tech-type hiccups. Check back throughout the day for updates on the proceedings.

Speaking before a packed house, Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., kicked off the conference at 10 a.m. with a keynote speech. It was a wide ranging talk that discussed net neutrality, media consolidation and a government program for funding pop artists.

Doyle, who has burnished his indie cred in the past by mentioning hometown artist Girl Talk, said media consolidation is stifling innovation in music. He said Congress needs to focus on legislation that will allow more low power FM stations in urban areas.

"If a full power broadcaster can have station right next to it that doesn’t interfere with station. . . I’m wondering how a low power station three channels away can affect it,” he said to a round of applause.

Doyle said the Copyright Royalty Board had missed the mark with the new rates it set for webcasters in a March ruling.

“I’m concerned that the new rate changes have gone too far. We need to seek a balance,” he said.

Doyle’s most unusual comment was calling for a program that would fund pop musicians, so they can pursue their art.

“We need to find some way to make a career in music more viable,” Doyle said. “The NEA has done a great job of funding classical artists. Our country needs to look at doing something similar for modern musicians.”

The Radio Waves panel is on right now...stay tuned.