Stephen Baxter

Give Internet Radio a Chance

radio for today

The Internet Radio Fairness Act could save Internet radio. When it hit the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday, webcaster Michael Roe was standing in line at a bank teller in his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, weary from a recent trip to Capitol Hill to lobby the bill. At about 10 a.m. his cell phone started going berserk in the bank. "Yeah, hold on a second, I've got another call," he said, switching conversations. "Hello?" His phone chirped with calls from reporters, friends and fellow webcasters panting about the bill and congratulating him on his successful lobbying efforts. He picked up my call as he left the teller line and stepped outside. "Sorry about that, my phone's been ringing every ten seconds." I asked him if he thought the bill would pass. "I think it will definitely pass. The timing is perfect."

The fate of Roe's popular Internet radio station, RadioIO, was not the only thing at stake with this new bill. Thousands of other independent webcasters' stations hung in the balance, having been taken off the air by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on June 22. The RIAA is a trade group that represents record companies. Webcasts are usually small, independent labors of love run by music fans. "The bill will have a dramatic impact on future outcomes," Roe said. "Hold on, I've got another call."







sites such as Live365 and AOL's Shoutcast host hundreds of stations and offer a wide variety of music with minimal commercials, DJs or corporate agenda, 24 hours a day. Sound appealing? A lot of net-savvy people seem to think so. Of course, like most all new technology that's cool and free, it's currently being litigated and is on the way to being outlawed.


Internet radio, not to be confused with Napster-esque peer to peer file-sharing programs, is a streaming webcast of music transmitted over the web by DJs like Roe. These stations play artists like Hem and Josh Rouse, who almost never get played on mainstream radio. Larger sites such as Live365 and AOL's Shoutcast host hundreds of stations and offer a wide variety of music with minimal commercials, DJs or corporate agenda, 24 hours a day. Sound appealing? A lot of net-savvy people seem to think so. Of course, like most all new technology that's cool and free, it's currently being litigated and is on the way to being outlawed.

But they should have to pay, right? Shouldn't artists be compensated fairly for their work? Well for starters, any money that the recording industry collects from independent webcasters will likely go in to the record industry legal team's Mercedes Benz upgrade fund--this is not a battle for artist compensation. The record industry trade group's mission statement doesn't even claim to represent the artists, it represents the record labels that hold the copyrights. Secondly, traditional "terrestrial" radio stations don't pay a dime to the record labels, so why should Internet broadcasters? In fact, in the terrestrial radio world, record labels actually pay stations to play their music so they can sell records. In the industry it's called "servicing."

Rockie Thomas of Chronix Radio in Denver explains. "The recording industry will go to a promoter and say, 'Here's half a million dollars. We want this Rage tune in heavy rotation in the top twenty markets.'" The promoter, not unlike a mafia laundry man, offers the program directors of the top twenty stations, say, 150 dollars for each time they add a song to a rotation. If they refuse cash, they may still accept prizes for their listeners, like a trip to see Rage Against the Machine live in LA with backstage passes. The labels' hands are clean; they didn't pay the stations to play the new Rage song, the promoters did. Internet radio essentially challenges this money laundering--er, business model--and makes it easier for independent labels to get exposure by potentially cutting out the Big Five record labels' influence.

But we'll get to that part later. The reason the recording industry is afraid of Internet radio and feels compelled to litigate, according to Thomas, is that they don't want the 'MTV thing' to happen again like it happened in the '80s. "Because, you know, [the recording industry] doesn't get any royalty money from anything that spins on MTV. MTV basically made a hell of a money machine off of their product," she says. And they're afraid that's exactly what will happen with Internet radio.

We could sympathize with the recording industry. After all, aren't they still brushing their suits off from trench warfare with those pesky Napster-loving college students who want everything for free free free? Won't the artists suffer in the long run? First, a little history.

In 1998 a new law granted record companies the right to collect royalties when their songs were played via digital media. The law was called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and it included Internet radio. Because the law was set during the Internet boom, it was set artificially high. (In February of this year the Librarian of Congress decided to peg the royalty rate on a Yahoo!/RIAA settlement, at 14 cents per song per listener for internet-only webcasts, and 7 cents per song per listener for commercial radio simulcasts. A June 22 arbitration cut these rates in half.) The money may sound minimal, but given the fact that most webcasters have zero revenue, only the largest stations could avoid bankruptcy. Also, the fees were retroactive to 1998. To put these rates in context, an independent webcaster run out of a home office, broadcasting for the last three years with an average of 1000 listeners, would owe roughly $262,800. Ouch.

"There we were rockin' along," Hilary Rosen of the RIAA said recently at a speech in New York, "producing great music and producing enough revenue to support artists, producers, writers, engineers, A&R teams, new investment by record companies and a vast and wide distribution system. Then suddenly we wake up one day and everything we have worked so hard to produce is being offered to consumers for free. Not 10 percent off. Not quarterly payments. Not reduced interest rates. Not negotiated payment schedules. Our product is suddenly being offered to consumers for absolutely nothing."

Just for the record, I'm listening to the recording industry's "worst nightmare" as I write this, freely streaming a webcast on Live365. While Rosen runs her mouth about how Internet radio has the potential to ruin record sales, in reality the opposite is true. Internet radio gives bands more exposure and helps fans find and buy more records.

On Live365, each webcast has a link next to the track that's playing says, "Buy," directing the listener to a page at Amazon.com or CD Universe that sells the record. RadioIO has a similar link next to its current playing track and according to Roe, RadioIO has sold over 38,000 dollars in music...and that's just in the past two weeks. CD Universe keeps detailed reports on how much money is spent on records from webcasters' links, and clearly Internet radio is having a large impact on online retailers sales.

"It's ironic," Roe says, "that the industry that I serve, by pointing my listeners to their music, is trying to put me out of business. If the labels were smart, they would see the Internet as a great way to distribute the product without the expense of retail, and they would partner with the Audiogalaxies and the Napsters of the world and together come up with a viable business model that allows them both to survive. They would also be partnering with webcasters realizing that we're programming niche formats." Many of the songs that stations like RadioIO are playing give exposure to new artists and drive their record sales. Artists who have had little exposure on commercial radio are stars on Internet radio, where people are requesting and buying their music online.

Make no mistake, people who listen to Internet radio are generally fed up with the stylized trash on commercial radio, so it's no surprise that formats like underground hip-hop, indie rock, classical and jazz are popular with internet radio listeners. Webcasters and listeners are people who gravitate toward artists on independent labels, the very labels that haven't historically come up with the money and influence necessary to get their new artists played on the radio. "And guess what," says industry vet Rockie Thomas, "if the recording industry isn't careful, they're going to start seeing people just bypassing the big labels and buying directly from independents, and then they're basically going to lose their power."

Most independent webcasters agree. Rick Burroughs of IndiePopRadio.com in Portland says, "I work with a few promoters, but deal mostly with the artists and labels directly." The relationship between webcasters and indie labels has been strong, but there are still a lot of webcasters playing major labels' songs, said Burroughs.

While you might think that the artists would back the RIAA's efforts to see that they are properly compensated, it turns out that many don't. Over 500 artists' have signed a petition against the RIAA's actions on the Voice of Webcasters site, no doubt realizing that the only thing Internet radio can do is increase their exposure, which is precisely what they need to sell records and be financially successful. Webcasters side with the artists and think they should be compensated for their work.

Bryan Burns, 25, of Evil Scheme indie rock radio in the Bay Area, will abandon his webcast this week because he refuses to pay the new five dollar fee Live365 has imposed on webcasters. "If I knew the per-song royalty was going to the artists I would pay up in a second, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the artists will never see a penny of it." Mark Frazer of Seattle, 27, says that his Riot Grrl station Bust.com will continue to broadcast with Live365. "As of now, the five dollar royalty fee is more of a nuisance than a deterrent. If the fee continues for a long period of time or starts to rise I will most likely stop my Internet stream," he said.

Rockie Thomas sees the bigger picture. "I've been in this industry since 1997 on the terrestrial radio side, and I keep saying to myself that this industry needs to get its shit together. It's gotten to the point where everyone sticks their fingers in their ears like little kids going, 'I'm not going to listen to you, I'm not going to listen to you,' because I'm afraid I'm going to get screwed.' Look, there's enough money in the kitty for everyone, and that goes for FM, AM, internet, peer- to-peer, if everyone would stop being such lawyers for one minute and sit down and talk about a way that we can make sure that everyone gets compensated."

The Internet Radio Fairness Act was introduced on the last day of the congressional session because members of the House are now in their home states listening to the needs of their constituents in this election year. Michael Roe hopes that Internet radio listeners will fax their congressmen and remind them that their reelection depends on it. The bill is about so much more than Internet radio; it's about shifting power in the music industry away from the Big Five record labels, about helping out the independent webcaster and the independent label, and about having access to new music without a corporate agenda. It's a chance to start cleaning up the dirty business of music in America, one stream at a time.


Get Involved!
Send an email FAX to your congressman at the Voice of Webcasters website

Special thanks to Paul Maloney of the Radio and Internet Newsletter.

National Organizing Exchange Brings Young Activists Together


For some youths, political organizing is not just a way to exercise their values, but a set of responses to crucial circumstances in their communities. On the third weekend in June, thanks to the Funders' Collaborative on Youth Organizing (FCYO) many of these young people had a chance to come together on the small, tree-filled campus of Mills College in Oakland, Calif.

The FCYO National Youth Organizing Exchange brought together more than 50 youth organizations working for social justice around the country to attend workshops and meet with other youth activist groups. The groups took time away from their work on issues ranging from juvenile justice and education reform to environmental racism to network and talk about collaboration.
"We decided to have the conference in the Bay Area because so much organizing is happening here," said Melody Baker, a program associate for the Collaborative and one of the event’s organizers. The FCYO also wanted to have the conference at a place of higher learning in order to set a tranquil and academic tone for the event.






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Rather than working for an abstract goal or "cause," the idea of fighting for local and immediate change came through in every element of the gathering.


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The FCYO is a collaborative of foundations that generates funding for youth organizations. They help youth organizing groups to develop stable and sustainable organizations and try to increase the awareness and understanding of youth organizing among funders and community organizations. All of the organizations at the conference receive support from the collaborative, which paid for two members of each group to fly to the Bay Area for the Exchange. Once there, the diverse group of young activists spent three days visiting the offices of Bay Area-based groups and attending workshops on organizing strategies, tactics and campaign issues.
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Rather than working for an abstract goal or "cause," the idea of fighting for local and immediate change came through in every element of the gathering. CAAAV, for example, a youth group that organizes Asian communities in the Bronx, are working for systemic change out of community necessity. When new welfare laws in that area threatened many of their parents and neighbors, they surveyed the community, held press conferences, made a documentary and organized a direct action at the welfare office. Similarly, several of the youth there who are involved in struggles against the prison industrial complex had either been in Juvenile detention centers themselves, or had friends and relatives serving time.
Precisely because these youth are so active in their own backyards, however, many of them are not aware of the larger youth-led social justice movement that is taking root around the nation. That’s where meetings like this one come in. Ditra Edwards the acting director of LISTEN, Inc., a group that gives technical assistance to youth activist groups and holds a similar meeting annually praised that collaborative for their efforts. "One of the biggest challenges," she said, "is connecting people from all over."
Many of the attendees were surprised to learn that other groups were dealing with similar issues in different places. While activists from New York brought stories about their work to reform the mandatory sentencing of the Rockefeller drug laws and their effect on youth, their Californian counterparts shared their experiences with aftermath of the passing of Proposition 21 and the subsequent practice of regularly prosecuting youth as most states do adults.
According to Baker, similar Exchanges may happen in the future, furthering the FCYO's goal of empowering youth through organizing.


The Participants


Alex

Alex Boykins, 19, was first exposed to activism in 1997 by her mother, who was involved with a program within the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN).

She says, at first, it was difficult to get a youth group together "because young people were not used to having people ask their opinion," Alex said. "In the beginning, a lot of them were cautious, while others jumped right in. They had been waiting for this opportunity."
In the last few years, NYAP has worked to keep an alternative high school open, has exposed racial profiling in schools, and has rallied against a chemical waste dump site. At the Exchange, Alex met people from big cities who were dealing with some of the same problems that she says they see Reno, but on a larger scale.
"Even though the we are a smaller city," she says, "the bigger cities aide us in solving our small problems. And sometimes the problems are overwhelming for the bigger cities, but the small cities can help them. "

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Andrew Wesley, 17, works for the Citizens for Community Improvement of Des Moines, Iowa. He is an activist who has worked on education and transportation issues in Des Moines and is currently working on a campaign for student fares on city buses.
He was excited to be spending the weekend on the serene tree-filled Mills campus. "Coming from a city school, I look around here and I think, I could learn at a place like this," he said.

Lisa Rodriguez (no photo avaliable) is a 17-year-old youth organizer from Chicago. Lisa got involved with the Chicago Youth Council when her mother brought her along to a rally.
"I was really loud and everyone was like 'wow, you should come join the group'," Lisa said.
So she did. Lisa has been working with the Brighton Park branch of the council for the past 18 months.
BPYC has worked to get better school lunches at the schools in their community. They are also organizing to get more police to patrol around grammar schools, more police cars on the street, and a youth-conducted training class for high school security guards focusing on sensitivity, diversity and dealing better with kids.
Lisa says learned new strategies for collaboration that she plans to take back to her group. "My group collaborates with people, but I don't think that we collaborate as much as we can. I think that it can help us a lot,"she said.
"The best part of is the experience of being here myself, " she said. "I got to meet people, and there are so many things that I didn't know about youth organizing that people have taught me."

alex and fenando
Fresh from organizing a hip-hop educational rally, Alex Cross and Fernando Carlo, both 16, came to the conference to learn more about youth organizing. Alex and Fernando are from New York and are members of the NorthWest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC). They are also involved with Sistas and Brothas United (SBU).

Alex recently got involved with the NWBCCC through a summer job He took an active role and decided to join the organization. In order to join, Alex had to leave the street gang that he was part of. Since then, he has been elected to the NWBCCC Board of Directors.

Fernando has been active with NWBCCC for three years. In that time, he has assisted in a campaign on school repair, a peer mentoring program and a youth organizing summer training program.
The hip-hop rally was held in New York earlier this month, and was a way to inform people of $1 billion cut from the NY education fund's budget.

The organization teamed up with Russell Simmons to get a surprising range of popular entertainers including P-Diddy, Jay Z, Wu-Tang Clan, and Alicia Keys to come out and show their support for the cause.
"When you have people that others idolize, you get their attention. The concert opened up a lot of people's ears," Fernando said. "More people are active because of it."
"We educated people through hip-hop," Alex said.

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Seleah Bussey, 18, works for an organization called Sista II Sista in Brooklyn, New York, which monitors sexual assault in schools. They are working toward the training of school safety officers in middle schools and high schools.
She says she was surprised by the similarities in the struggles that organizations from so many parts of the country were taking on.
"With so many white kids out [in California]," she says, "I figured the schools would be better. But they got the same problems we got in New York. Everybody ain't really that different."

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Robert Foxx, 20, had flown all the way form Harlem on a red-eye Friday night and he was tired Saturday, but glad to be there. Foxx has worked with a few different organizations, and says that the people who work there make a big difference. He says he learned about the group he’s working with now, Youth Organizers United, when they did a presentation at his high school. He thinks that youth organizing is at a crucial point in its development. "It is starting to take off," he says. "Before, I didn’t really care about the issues, then I got educated and thought, hey, this is my problem. "


Emil, (no photo available) 17, is active in a group called Let's Get Free, a juvenile justice organization in the Bay Area. He was recently interviewed by the Oakland Tribune at a rally against the Alameda Superjail, but now he says he regrets speaking to a reporter who described his appearance in a less than respectful way. The media, he said, often distorts what young people say and do. Emil eventually warmed up to the WireTap crew, and admitted that making it to an organizer’s meeting was rough on a Saturday. "I've been working for [Let's Get Free] all week 9-6, " he said. "I'm tired as a mutha*****, but I came to this conference because it's important, you feel me?"

Tamara Crockett is a college senior at FAMU in Tallahassee, Fla. She is studying magazine production and graphic design in hopes of one-day starting her own magazine. She is a Summer Fellow at WireTap

Stephen Baxter, 22, is a recent college graduate and budding journalist from La Jolla, California. He is a Summer Fellow at WireTap.

The DIY of Dogtown

skate

In a short scene at the beginning of "Dogtown and Z-Boys," a new film playing at about 50 independent theaters nationwide, a tow-headed young surfer hacks up a roller skate with a saw and a screwdriver. He pries off the wheels, affixes them on to a wooden plank, and a homemade skateboard is born.
This Do-It-Yourself ethic runs throughout the film. It shows up in the skateboard construction, the lifestyle of the subjects and the film’s format. Making use of archival video footage and hundreds of photographs from 1975-79, the documentary revolves around the Zephyr skate team, a ragtag group of teenagers who came from a surf ghetto in Santa Monica they called Dogtown. The film’s origins are also very DIY, as director and co-producer Stacy Peralta’s decision to buck Hollywood and go independent suggests. Of course this anti-Hollywood image also gives the film an extra healthy portion of street "cred." But there’s a little more to "Dogtown and Z-Boys" than just good looks and timing.

The buzz started with a "Spin" article that described skaters Stacy Peralta, Jay Adams, and the "Dogtown" skate scene. Hollywood bigwigs noticed the piece, and there was talk of a studio feature production based loosely around Peralta’s life story. As Michel Cicero reported in the
"Ventura County Register", Hollywood executives approached Peralta in 1999 to buy his life story rights for use in a feature film. Peralta opted out when he was told he wouldn’t be involved in the writing of the screenplay.
Peralta wanted to do it himself, it was his life story after all. Of course, he also needed funding to get the project off the ground. When Peralta chose the DIY route, Vans Inc., the makers of the original skate shoe, decided to put down $400,000 for the independent project. Vans did not want any creative control, and simply asked for a short logo shot at the beginning and end of the film (which does not run at some theaters). There is no mention of Vans in the promotional material for the film, and even though all the skaters in the film are wearing their shoes, it’s the type of transparent but successful marketing that most viewers don’t notice— retroactive product placement. Before the film was released, Vans stated that there would be no promotional product relating to the film, but today they are selling shoes and clothes on their Web site that imply a strong movie tie in.

What Kind of Skate Movie is This?

Unlike Hollywood feature films, today's company-sponsored skate movies are rarely distributed nationally and don’t gross millions of dollars. Prior to release, they are hyped in magazines like "Transworld Skateboarding" and "Thrasher" and are given debaucherous premiere parties in Newport Beach California. They go directly to video for distribution at skate shops, and sell for about $25 a copy. These plotless, cut-up videos are then usually played in an endless cycle in skate shops around the country, in a kind of private screening world where kids gaze in adoration at the newest heroes and the latest tricks, wondering things like, "How did Rob Boyce make that backflip in Vancouver?" The fact that "Dogtown and Z-Boys" is being distributed nationally to Landmark and other independent theaters across the nation may be reason to rejoice for skaters stuck in the middle of nowhere, simply for the fact that it will be viewed on something other than a tiny, stickered skate shop television set. skate

But for the non-skateboarder, "Dogtown" might just be a curiosity. The film is a fun dive into So Cal youth culture but the endless array of grainy still photos and "Brospeak" interviews might seem pretentious, self-serving, and even boring to an outsider. Nonetheless, fun is what's at the center of the film and there is something universal about teenagers having fun.

The film explains, with Sean Penn’s narration, how the national surfing craze of the 1960’s spawned the first wave of skateboarding. As the ‘60s wore on, surfing and skateboarding went more underground, and stayed there until the mid-1970’s. When the Zephyr team surfed, the scene was filled with new heroes like Larry "Rubberman" Bertleman. The team took Bertleman's moves to the streets of Santa Monica. They had fun on their own terms, broke in to backyard pools and skated them with abandon. The Z-Boys came from broken homes and humble backgrounds. The thrill of covering new terrain, and knowing they were part of something bigger gave them a mix of freedom, accomplishment and adrenaline.

From a non-skateboarder’s point of view, the film might be more about rebellion and subversion. The difference is, in the ‘70s, there was a lot less gear to buy. Kids in the film are wearing ripped jeans and gardening gloves. Now, the free-spirited nature of amateur skateboarding has given way to a culture where every skater needs the shoes, the clothes, the hat, and the camcorder to get that cool, edgy feeling. If you read skateboarding magazines, this is not the first time you've heard that the skate industry has forgotten its innocent, less materialistic roots.

Which brings us back to Vans, Inc. Is it any better that the money came from a skate industry company ( that made 15 million last year) rather than a Hollywood studio or Coca-Cola? Perhaps it is. Peralta’s choice to make a documentary in a climate where that genre of film rarely turns a profit speaks volumes for the credibility of the film. On the other hand, he also wrote a screenplay called, "Lords of Dogtown" that has been bought by Hollywood execs and is expected to begin filming in Venice, California this summer. According to "Variety," it will be directed by Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit. "But," the Z-Boys Web site asks, "Has Fred ever skated a pool?"

Stephen Baxter, 22, is a summer fellow at WireTap Magazine and a native of San Diego, CA. He once owned a Tommy Guerrero pro model and currently lives in San Francisco.

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