In RIAA Protest, Chicago’s 9 FM Bans CD Giveaways

In a post-millennial update to the Loop’s legendary 1979 “Disco Sucks” record-smashing party, NewsWeb Radio Company’s 9 FM in Chicago has banned CD giveaways and invited any and all past winners to return their discs; they’ll get a station T-shirt for their efforts. Via FMQB:

“When I read that the RIAA and SoundExchange needed money so badly that they were going to price gouge independent Web streamers and radio stations who stream online, I knew we had to do our part,” said Matt DuBiel, Director of Programming for 9 FM. “In the face of the RIAA’s struggles, it just doesn’t seem fair for us to be giving away CDs (for free) to music fans fully capable of paying for the music themselves. We’re inviting everyone who has won a CD from 9 FM or any other radio station in Chicago this year, to return it to us and we’ll exchange it for a 9 FM t-shirt and give the CDs back to the RIAA. Radio stations need to be able to stream online affordably.”

One piece of advice to fans sending back their discs – be sure to rip them to MP3 first!

Local Rhythms – Killing Internet Radio

head-in-sand.jpgLast fall, I wrote about web sites like Last.fm, Pandora and Mercora, that were shaking up the music world by offering thousands of niche channels and creating social networks for fans. Suddenly, it’s possible to discover artists who are laboring outside of the mainstream.

That could end soon. In early March, the Copyright Review Board, a government entity that’s almost completely controlled by the recording industry, made a decision that is, says Congressman Ed Markey, “a body blow to many nascent Internet broadcasters.”

The CRB ruling, retroactive to last year, triples the amount of money most web stations will be required to pay to record companies to use their products. This fee will not, it should be noted, go to the artists who made the music – that’s a separate payment. Worse, it exclusively targets Internet radio stations.

Regular radio outlets aren’t even required to pay the royalty, created 12 years ago. In 1995, a compliant Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a law that’s spawned nothing but greed and stupidity in its wake.

Since then, the best way into the business is Berkeley Law School, not the Berklee School of Music. Litigators have replaced lead guitarists, and record executives have started to think they’re rock stars.

All the while, the industry has tried to crush any and all technologies that might improve the fate of music in a world of declining CD sales.

It’s not hyperbole to say that if the ruling stands, most legitimate web stations will go out of business. The money CRB is demanding represents two to three times their annual gross revenue. Pirates don’t pay royalties, so they won’t miss a step. But an excellent chance to create a legal oasis for digital music will be delayed, if not destroyed.

When will these guys learn to get out their own way? In rural New England there’s a handful of music stations on terrestrial radio, but many are also online. Two of my favorites, the Point and WEQX-FM, are fuzzy in the car but come in loud and clear on the Net. That would end with the CRB decision.

These are the babies about to be thrown out with this ruling’s bathwater. Several web sites are following this developing story – the best is the Radio and Internet Newsletter.

Write your representative if you believe, like I do, that it’s time to stop this insanity. In the meantime, here are my live music picks for the coming weekend:

Thursday: Spring Savories, Claremont Opera House – A little music and lot of good food, as the State Liquor Commission and several area restaurants get together to show off their wares. Bistro Nouveau, Hullabaloo, Sophie & Zeke’s, Teal Lantern, North Country Smokehouse and the Java Cup, plus six wine vendors will participate in the event. John Lovejoy’s always a pleasure to listen to, especially when he’s tickling the ivories of the Opera House’s vintage piano.

Friday: Kid Pinky & His Restless Knights, La Dolce Vita – New London’s newest dining spot welcomes this fun-loving blues band. Bow-based Kid Pinky plays a smooth harmonica and is an ace piano player. This early evening (6:30 start) set should be long on sultry songs like Jimmy Reed’s “Hush Hush” the smoking original “Watchin’ You” – both of which can also be heard on “Blues That’ll Knock You Out,” the band’s latest CD.

Saturday: All Ages Metal Show, Hot Spot – This is a new nightclub located at the Everyday Inn in Rockingham, located just a little south of Exit 6 on Route 5. Saturday’s afternoon show features Jennings, Otumshank, Chapter 50, …And Then There Were Three and the Jonah Veil. The power trio Stonewall plays their own separately ticketed show at 9. It’s a welcome addition to the southern Vermont scene.

Sunday: Shawnn Monteiro, Center at Eastman – Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon continues with this fine vocalist, backed the JOSA Ensemble and bandleader Bill Wightman. Monteiro draws comparisons to Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughn. Her set includes “Great American Songbook” standards from Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington.

Monday: Live Free Or Die, Claremont Cinema – Not a musical event, but after a seemingly endless wait, the indie film about bumbling criminals shot two years ago in Claremont has finally found a distributor. It gets its local premiere Monday, and opens to general release at several theatres on Friday. There’s an after-party, appropriately enough, at Hullabaloo.

Tuesday: Carbon Leaf, Iron Horse – After gaining exposure opening for Dave Matthews, John Mayer and Counting Crows, this rootsy band went into the studio last year and made “Love, Loss, Hope, Repeat.” It’s a record with the rootsy feel of 2003’s “Indian Summer,” but with more sheen, polish and punch. It has lots of layered harmonies, percussive spice and muscular grooves.

Internet Radio/Copyright Royalty Board Update

edison at phonographVia RAIN, still the best source for information on the Copyright Royalty Board’s ongoing effort to kill Internet radio, comes word that the brains behind the CRB operation is, well, dumb. The Washington Post quotes CRB’s chairman, “Scarecrow” John Simson:

‘The attitude that really has to change is the idea that the people playing this music on the Web are somehow doing artists a favor,’ Simson says. Artists want their music to be heard, of course,… but Simson rejects the popular notion that the only thing small webcasters owe artists is the exposure they get from having their work streamed over the Internet…

It’s called promotion, John. Passionate music listeners, making little or no money, spread the word to others. It sells, music, exposes unknown bands, and its exponential growth should be cheered. Here’s how webcaster Adrian Koren described it to the New York Times:

“I run this as a hobby,” Koren says. “I get virtually no income from this — just some small fees from my share of CDs sold through links on the site, and that just helps pay for a few CDs. Copyright law should encourage innovation. If it’s having the opposite effect, something’s wrong.”

What’s really puzzling to me is that hardly anyone is pointing out that for indie bands, the Net represents a way around the old paradigm, a world that’s forced good bands to break their records through iPod commercials and episodes of “Heroes.” That, apparently, is the way Scarecrow thinks the world should work:

Is 10,000 stations the right number?’ asks Simson of SoundExchange, which sought the higher royalties. ‘Does having so many Web stations disperse the market so much that it hurts the artist? What’s the right number of stations?… Are artists better off having hundreds of listeners on lots of little stations, or thousands of listeners on larger stations?’

Yeah, the “thousands of listeners on larger stations” is working SO WELL to sell CDs, isn’t it? A New York Times article points out that the CRB decision will sit fine with dinosaurs, but independent bands will inevitably suffer:

“Internet radio operators also say it would not be in the interest of labels to stifle a business that is paying them fees to use their music, especially at a time of declining CD sales. ‘That’s counterproductive to the copyright holders,’ said Terry McBride, chief executive of the Nettwerk Music Group, a label and artist-management company, adding that the ruling could be bad for performers whose music would not be played on conventional radio.”

Nice to hear McBride, a real maverick in the business. But the industry isn’t interested in up and coming bands. RIAA has always been a dinosaur protection racket, for both musicians and executives (mostly for the latter).

The CRB is just one more political face of the enemy – of music fans, indie bands and pretty much anyone who isn’t clinging to the old order.