Space Ramblings

The Sound of Fading Music

The Baltimore Sun has a piece on small webcasters going off the air in response to the music industry’s new rates which basically make it impossible for small webcasters to keep going.

From the attic of his condo in Woodbridge, Va., the 38-year-old Web developer ran an Internet radio station that spun his beloved Christmas carols all year long. Then in March, a panel of federal judges sharply increased the royalty charges for playing music online.

Since then, it’s been one long, silent night for Clark and his hundreds of listeners at christmasmusic247.com. His site and hundreds of other free Internet radio stations already have shut down, and most others have said they will stop.

“It really isn’t fair,” said Clark, who pulled the plug when he realized he could owe more than $20,000 in royalties if he continued.

“I miss it,” said Glenn Wilcox, a manufacturing engineer and amateur trumpet player in San Diego who started JazzPlayerRadio.com with three friends in 2004. The station played nothing but trumpet jazz by legends such as Maynard Ferguson and Bobby Shew as well as local artists, but Wilcox and his friends stopped April 30 because of the pending royalty increase.

“If I went to a show or a get-together of guys who are my heroes, because I’m part of JazzPlayerRadio, I could walk up to one of them, like Bobby Shew, and shake their hand,” said Wilcox, 45. “He knew the station.”

“I pay for this out of my own back pocket,” said Dick Shuey, 68, of Holladay, Tenn. He spends about $350 a month to run his country music station, TwangTownUSA.com., but said he would stop because of the higher fees.

The blunt reality of course is that the music industry is once again creating more trouble for itself down their road. Their war on file sharing may have produced some short term benefits by shaking down thousands of consumers and preventing illegal distribution but put the music industry in the position of fighting to defend the collapsing status quo of CD and album sales that eventually put it directly into Steve Jobs pocket.

The music industry today runs on Payola, promoting musicians with limited talent into brands, pocketing all their music sales and sending them out to earn their bread with tours. This is a system that’s worked well for the music industry and allowed them to pile up sizable chunks of money. The problem though is it can’t last. The audience is increasingly less interested in what the music industry is selling. Sales continue to decline and while the industry can blame piracy to their hearts content, the truth is otherwise.

Right now the music industry will succeed in pushing small webcasters off the air, narrowing the field to themselves and big companies like Yahoo Music. This makes the air safe for Payola again but discontent is brewing and right now pirate radio has just begun to make sense again.

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