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If You Like Music, Or Just NPR, Listen Up

If you’re anything like I was a year ago or so, prior to my discovery of WOXY.com, you probably could care less about the future of “internet radio.” If you’re anything like I am today, however, you probably could care less than that about just about anything on terrestrial radio, bland and homogenous as it’s become.

While the technologies around music have gotten ever better, from recordable CD’s to iPods, the challenge of discovery remains. Despite the ready availability and easy consumability of content, where do you find new artists? Where do you find new music actually worth listening to? For some, the answers are iTunes or other media players futures. For very few, I’d argue, it’s radio; when was the last time someone mentioned that great new song they heard on that medium? For me, for a while, it’s been WOXY.com, a four person internet broadcaster based out of Cincinatti, Ohio.

I won’t try to argue here with the market forces that have shaped terrestrial radio into the less diverse, anti-long tail medium it is today, because that’s capitalism at work and I’m generally a free market kind of guy. Astute observers might note that terrestrial radio is strongly influenced by an industry that is desperately casting about for purpose in a world that largely doesn’t need them any longer. Or that the perception that it is in fact free market may in fact be an illusion occasionally belied by the truth of payola scandals past and present. Whatever. The only salient point worth making, as far as I’m concerned, is that artists are negatively impacted by the lack of diversity. As are, necessarily, consumers.

The internet, fortunately for both of those constituencies, has been something of a refuge for those of us that love music and those that love to create it. While a lone singer/songwriter out of San Diego might not be able to crack the roster at a major label, and thus terrestrial radio, long tail outlets like WOXY.com give them a direct connection to me, the listener.

This connection facilitated by WOXY is financially rewarding connection for them, and culturally rewarding connection for me. Paging through a couple of weeks of my playlists on Last.fm, a partial list of artists I’ve discovered on WOXY.com and subsequently purchased music from either on eMusic.com or in shiny CD form includes Andrew Bird, Beirut, The Boggs, The Delgados, Devotchka, Editors, Elvis Perkins, Fields, Illinois, Page France, Pela, The Fratellis, Greg Laswell, M. Ward, Shout Out Louds, Silversun Pickups, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, Stars, and the Tokyo Police Club. If you’ve never heard of any of these bands, well, that’s my point (if you’ve heard of most or all, we should talk). You might like them, you might not, but the fact that they have an outlet is, to me, an indisputably good thing.

Regrettably, however, that connection being made is rewarding to everyone except the folks making it. WOXY.com, like many other internet broadcasters, has yet to find the economic model that allows them to do more than cover expenses – or even, in this case, do even that much. But no one ever said life was fair, let alone free, so that is their affair and their responsibility. And none of the internet broadcasters, as far as I’m aware, is arguing anything but that. I’ve yet to see WOXY or any other their peers asking for handouts.

What they are arguing for, and I strongly agree with, is for the royalty rates to remain fair and market relative. That royalty rate hikes are not used as a lever to put all of the independents out of business and turn the vibrant landscape of internet radio into the barren wasteland of terrestrial radio.

It will surprise few of you, I suspect, to learn that the Copyright Royalty Board and their close friends the RIAA are seeking more money from the internet broadcasters. Apparently a rate double that assessed to satellite broadcasters was insufficient for the subsidizing of frivolous litigation against downloaders, so the rates are jumping by anywhere from 300 to 1200 percent.

Should these rates stand – and my Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette is cosponsor of a bill (The “Internet Radio Equality Act”) that would nullify the rate increase – the only ones that will be able to continue streaming music over the internet will be large conglomerates that can subsidize the medium from other lines of business. The economics of webcasting do not justify the rates being paid now, so they certainly will not bear the dramatic increases coming in July.

As one last appeal, lest you think this is a problem isolated to niche stations like WOXY, it’s worth noting that NPR may be among the most severely punished due to the assessments per channel. It tackled the issue on All Things Considered at the end of May, and has been a staunch opponent to the rate hike all along. As is, unsurprisingly, longtime public radio outlet KCRW.

These have all been my words, and my views, but if you’re interested in the subject it might be helpful to hear it from the horse’s mouth, as it were. If you’re curious about the impact, I highly suggest giving the video above a few minutes. WOXY’s Bryan Jay Miller lays out the case against the royalty rate hikes eloquently and succinctly for the House Committee on Small Business. It’s an eye opener, I think.

You’re just one person, you say, what can you do? Take a couple seconds – literally – out of your busy day, and try and help save the future of internet radio by filling out a form. How hard is that?

Categories: Music.