A Day of Silence

Internet Radio goes silent today to protest large retroactive increases in royalty fees.

Sounds like a sleeper of an issue made worse by a campaign that doesn’t make sense!  It shouldn’t be. This is an important issue that at its heart looks like a battle royal over the business models and revenue that will effect the options of what you can hear and where you can hear it. Think of it a Root kit for internet content distribution. And just like that record company ‘innovation’ this isn’t what it seems and may crash the system.

In my mind it’s a strategy put forward by the record industry and swallowed whole by the copyright board that reaffirms the record industry as the primary controller of audio content and distribution. Like a root kit it hides something ugly – its anti-competitive heart in the dreary language of copyright and the motherhood of payments to cheated artists.

The past 10 years has seen dramatic changes in the music industry. And it’s not just distribution and formats – its production and promotion as well. Artists no longer need the record industry to make records or connect with their audience – they can do it directly. While low cost studios make production cheaper its Internet radio that makes building an audience possible. Don’t believe me – read the pages and pages of testimonials for small artists who depend on Internet radio for their livelihood.

What does that raft of new artist do to the record industry? First they are outside its revenue reach. Not only do these artists not pay for services they also fragment the audience so that those artist that do use them make less money for the industry. It’s competition of the most brutal kind – thousands of small artists with one thing in common – Internet radio as the means of promotion.

And here’s where there’s a stroke of genius. By playing the industries favorite card – the cheated artist they can use regulation to play one group of artist (theirs) against another (the independents). If they can eliminate the promotion channel of the latter they create a stranglehold on all artists and channels.

What would it take to do that? Increase royalty rates 300 – 1200%, well above terrestrial and satellite radio and the whole internet radio industry is hobbled. Make those fees retroactive – so business planning is not possible – and you bankrupt 90 of the online stations the first day the regulations come into effect. (For more see here)  Suddenly having a record deal becomes more important for every artist – which is great if you’re a record company.

Instead of a day of silence we need to use the  medium – while it still exists – to show the power of media to connect broadcast to internet based discussion and community building. From there we need to develop and coordinate a strategy that looks beyond the reversal of this regulation to a level playing field for businesses large and small. We need to lay the ground work for a new type of public policy discussion.

Want to get involved? The Save Internet Radio site is a great place to start – Click here to begin your action.  Don’t be silent – speak up.