So I’ve got a quick question for you. Do you still use itunes as your primary means of playing music? Because I sure don’t. At least not since I discovered Pandora Internet Radio. Pandora is a web-Radio site that allows users to create their own stations based on whatever artists the user is feeling at the time. The site is free and incredibly simple to use. Pandora, in addition to several similar websites, is the first step to revolutionizing both radio and music as we know it. Because of the rapid spread of internet radio, record labels and music corporations have been attempting to either assimilate or eliminate these web-stations. This situation reminds me of how the Church and other religious authorities reacted when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440.
As Norman Davies worded it in his book
In an attempt to counter this, the record labels and music corporations pushed for a bill to be passed in 2005 that allowed the record labels to charge internet radio sites significantly higher royalty rates for rights to their music. An article in “Newsweek” magazine described the new rates as being “several times higher than what terrestrial radio stations pay” (Westergren, Pandora's Music Box). Without really looking into the numbers, you might think the bill is an attempt by the label companies to moderate internet radio. Much like how the Christians wanted to censor what was published and distributed during the initial boom of the printing press.(Davies 445). Not too absurd, right? The record labels have a right to have some influence in the goings-on of internet radio, I suppose. Describing the new fees as being “several times higher” however, is a bit of an understatement. In addition to raising the royalty fees significantly, the bill made the new fees retroactive to the year before the bill was passed. As a result, smaller web-stations found themselves in significant debt the instant the bill was passed, with no direction to go besides deeper into the red (Sullivan).
Pandora, Hercules among web-radio stations, had a financial foothold strong enough to withstand paying the retroactive year’s worth of raised fees. However, Pandora is by no means in the clear. Tim Westergren, the site’s creator, mentioned in an article for the “New York Times” that, “Under the current rate set by federal statute last year, my site has had to pay 70 percent of its gross revenue for [their] performance royalty, and will have to shut down if it is not reduced.” (Sisario). The bill for higher rates was more than just a way to reduce annual revenue decay for record companies. It was a direct attempt to maim and possibly outright kill internet radio. The actions that were taken by the record companies are far more similar to how Islamic culture, as opposed to Christianity, reacted to the printing press.
If the record label CEOs and higher-ups were to, let’s say…open a book about the impact and spread of the printing press and come across a section about Islam, they might rethink trying to restrict and halt the spread of a good idea. In the case of ancient Islam’s reaction to the printing press; they decided to outlaw printing entirely. Taking this action would later have a detrimental effect on Islamic culture. Davies summarized this event perfectly in his statement, “In contrast to Christendom, the Islamic world exercised a total ban on printing until the nineteenth century. The consequences, both for Islam and for the spread of knowledge in general, can hardly be exaggerated.” (Davies 445). Translation? Islam attempted to prevent the spread of a good idea by banning the printing press, and as a result, slowed the intellectual development of the human race. No doubt, an infinitely steep price to pay for stubbornness.
Ok mankind learned its lesson, right? You’d think so. But a growing pattern in today’s business and media is that greed frequently occludes logic. It is this greed that has been the primary motive behind the record labels’ recent policies. Pandora’s creator Tim Westergren touched on the record companies’ greed, and the repercussions of said greed in an interview with “Newsweek” when he said, “With CD sales down, they're looking around and trying to grab what they can from other places. It's killing the lifeblood of music, which is promotion."(Westergren, Pandora's Music Box). By attempting to grapple and restrict internet radio, the record companies are unknowingly hindering the advancement of our species. Now I assume they are doing it “unknowingly” only because I feel that if the record label CEOs were aware they are damaging the progression of mankind for the sake of a little extra money in their already morbidly obese bank accounts, they might have trouble sleeping. I might be wrong though. It’s plausible a handful of businessmen and women among the music industry’s upper-echelons are so far gone that nothing in existence is more important to them than the eight or nine numbers that show up next to the “$” symbol on their bank statements. Perhaps that was somewhat brash of me. To be fair, the only realm of knowledge being shunted by these companies’ policies is the art of music. Whereas the impact of ancient Islam’s buffoonery spanned and hindered every aspect of the known world’s accumulated intelligence and scientific exploration. Music however, is an undeniably essential element of human culture. And it is by no means excusable to restrict the spread and advancement of an art form.
Luckily, fans of internet radio are stubborn folk. After the initial bill to raise royalty fees, Web-Radio supporters rallied together with the web-radio stations that were being choked out by the harsh rates and formed a coalition under the name “SaveNetRadio” (Sullivan). Their initial campaigns had minimal success, but SaveNetRadio and its supporters weren’t done.
May 2008. In an interview with “Billboard” magazine, Westergren expressed the shared feelings of the Web-Radio community:
“We are now at the end of our tether. We hung on because there was reason to believe there would be a fair solution on the table, and now we doubt that. We're preparing a full-scale political campaign to get this rectified. The previous campaign will pale in comparison. It will be an outreach across the entire congressional roster, lobbying to individual senators and congress people, putting pressure on all the players on the other sides like large and small labels and artists to recognize the injustice here.” (Westergren, 6 Questions)
This final push made the impact it needed to in Congress and the Senate. A motion to revisit the terms by which Web-radio stations must pay royalties to record companies was initiated. And on
Websites like “Pandora” and “Live365.com” provide us with a continually evolving stream of new music from artists that we would otherwise likely never discover. It provides young and aspiring artists the ability to have their work played and appreciated alongside the songs composed and performed by their idols. Having open access to Pandora’s incomprehensibly vast archive of otherwise un-heard-of music is a phenomenal way to share musical ideas and styles. I am confident that in the near future, internet radio stations, like Pandora, are going to revolutionize how we listen to, appreciate, share, and develop new music.
Sisario, Ben. "Web Radio Bill Passed." Arts: Briefly - Web Radio Bill passed. Comp. Dave Itzkoff.
Sullivan, Mark. "Net Radio Stations: New Fees Will Kill Us." PC World July 2007.
Westergren, Jim. "Pandora's Music Box ; Labels may not like it, but radio on the Net is catching on." Interview with Steven Levy. Newsweek