Saturday, July 23, 2011

Let my people podcast

If I haven't made this at all clear on this blog, I'm a radio DJ and I'm very proud of my shows. I put a considerable amount of effort and thought into them and I think the result is unlike anything else found on the dial. I don't want to call it an art because “what IS art?”, but it's certainly a craft and one that many people have convinced me that I'm pretty good at.

Now let me jump ahead so that I can tie it back together: as I understand them (and there's plenty of ways to get lost), the rules of music podcasting are that you cannot give the listener any sort of reference that would allow them to pinpoint where a song within your digital file would lie, so that a listener couldn't use your source to pirate the songs you played. Furthermore, you are expected to pay royalties, likely through soundexchange. Terrestrial broadcasts (FM radio) are typically covered by sort of blanket licensing, where they pay a yearly fee that should cover the royalties that they play, albeit not accurately but that's another story. These licenses do not apply to the digital realm, and in order to be legal, music radio shows must essentially pay up twice for the same broadcast, not that anybody actually does that. If you follow the playlist guidelines and don't announce your songs, your podcast may exist for up to two weeks before it must be erased, barring extra licensing.

Copyright law has always been a cobbled mess of compromises to keep everybody in their respective industries happy, and in doing so keeping very few happy. Since the easy sharing of digital media hit the internet, these laws have been damaged, ignored and rearranged, leaving a picture in my head reminding me of the genetic mess in The Fly muttering “killllll meeeee”. I don't have a suggestion for how to fix copyright (I think it's a deluded notion altogether), but I get it and can see from different viewpoints.

Copyright is the motivation for these limiting podcasting rules, but I'm more concerned with the result. By essentially outlawing digital sharing of broadcast media, you'd might as well say “this is one American cultural force (perhaps even art) that may not be archived nor, collaterally, documented.”

Radio's impact on musical history has been oft-spoken, rarely experienced. By nature, it's nearly always local and temporary. So while we hear about Alan Freed's stake in Rock & Roll history, almost nobody has heard what that show sounds like since it was first broadcast. Let alone, you would never hear about the local DJs that had a more intimate cultural impact on their local communities, both in Rock & Roll and the many other 20th century musical movements that history can't find the narrative for. The narrative, once again, was local, temporary, and perfunctory (though no less important), and so impact was left mostly to personal memory.

Radio deserves a more powerful legacy, as it is not only starting point of musical culture, counterculture, subculture, and unculture, but its own unique soundwaves and voicework are significant cultural forces. I can say with confidence that my own show has had significant local cultural impact, as listeners have told me time and again. But my own surf rock show was heavily motivated by a former stationmate, Rockabilly Willy on WESU. I'd wager that both of our shows were heavily influenced by the likes of Wolfman Jack. The funny thing is, my knowledge of Wolfman Jack is pieced together from small bites and text; I've never been able to get my hands on a broadcast or an archive, just as you will never hear Rockabilly Willy. Hell, I'll never hear him again either, and soon I won't be able to tell you much about it. Nevertheless, his shows changed my life.

In the information age storage is cheaper than ever and radio recordings are way less cumbersome than they were when fans hit the reel to reel trying to capture something they felt was important. I hope that we come to a sane law that allows us to capture history before it's deemed worthwhile, as that's usually the only history that's really interesting.

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