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For Money or ...?

By Dave Davis · June 11th, 2007 · Distribution Revolution
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J.D. Cutter



With parents scarred by The Depression, baby-boomers came of age under Ronald Reagan, cashing out dreams of a Great Society for "incredibly sweet" deals.

As Rush Limbaugh infected the airwaves in the 1990s, tax cuts replaced God and good faith as defining "conservative" values.

Post 9/11, compassion is just a slogan of a Liar in Chief. The greatest revolution since agriculture was hijacked by small men with narrow vision (only as wide as their personal stock portfolios).

The unspoken life lessons from The Depression through the Cold War: Money is the sole motivating force of humanity.

But money is a tool, not a force. If it were the motor of the 20th Century, it's a mistake to assume it's always been so and must remain. Networks and data resurrect other forces -- passion and curiosity, animal attraction and religious fervor. Professional artists, musicians and writers now compete with amateurs with no ambition to make a living from their work. So it's no surprise that free-to-me podcasts and other streams are rapidly replacing old media and radio models.

I enjoy Internet radio, a domain where Cincinnati-based woxy.com remains great, but I'm a quality snob. Give me more than or at least 128k, and don't tether me to a jack! So I love WOXY's "Lounge Acts" and their "Unsigned@WOXY" podcasts. The Lounge Acts collection of live in-studio recordings is already a classic, most of it recorded locally (the trick is to subscribe now and check out your booty later).

BetterPropaganda.com is another Indie-oriented blog/radio/music site known for its streams and podcasts. With podcasts and radio streams for Hip Hop, Rock and Electronica, it's a great place to start your exploration of music podcasting since they use the best features of the medium to explore the latest/greatest music.

Like albums with tracks, each podcast is a unique and self-contained show.

Check out the one called "S4MPLR 01." It differs from their usual Electronica shows, relying on the most accessible cuts from earlier shows in retrospective. All their shows are fresh, so I'm constantly clicking back and forth or checking the iPod to see what's playing. The iTunes' MP4 format embeds album art, images and hyperlinks to artist info pages that change as it plays. It sounds and looks great on desktop or iPod. No subscription necessary!

Of course all this effort isn't purely altruistic! Magazines and music blogs use podcasts to be more useful for readers and fans, maybe sell some tracks and swag, but mostly to extend the reach of sponsors. Paste Magazine, a print outlet centered on Indie and Americana, does cool things with this idea. Alongside the CDs that ship with the print version, they do a weekly "Culture Club" podcast. They also partnered with advertisers like Coke to expand the scope of music they cover with podcasts exploring regional flavors like "European Beats," "Latin America Sounds" and "Global Rhythms."

It's not surprising AOL Music now anchors their sites with old-school radio-like podcasts. Indie-looking, feature-driven podcast at "The Interface"(accessible at spinner.com) highlights a different artist in each issue. You'll find newly beloved bands like The Raconteurs and The National alongside international stars like KT Tunstall, Lady Sovereign and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, featured with interviews and live tracks. Like betterPropaganda, (not to mention WOXY, World Cafe and Radio Paradise), "The Interface" embeds Web links to the artists' Web site and photo galleries of the interview sessions and performance. For fans of Modern Rock, The Interface is an in-depth repository of music, interviews and ideas and, better yet, a lot of it has full-motion video! Who could complain?

Well, me. Compare "The Interface" to betterPropaganda. Whether you have a Mac or a PC, a Zune or an iPod, I suspect your preference will be the same. Elegance, organization and design really matter when it comes to finding your way around music. It's the difference in shopping at a store like Shake It or Everybody's Records versus Best Buy or Wal-Mart.

Savvy record labels already develop their artists and rosters with podcasts. UK-based label Ninja Tunes fearlessly signs new artists who use new media as part of the song: Kid Koala collaborates with Jonathan Ng on a killer Flash-based animation, "Floor Kids." Unfortunately, none of the Ninja podcasts (ninjatune.net/solidsteel) I've seen link deeper information.

Hospital Records (hospitalrecords.com) do a better job tagging their Drum and Bass content but go over the top with an aggressively commercial slant. The podcasts feature a DJ talking about the tracks as they play, tracks culled exclusively from their roster. While the cool cockney accent reminds me of Mike Skinner of The Streets, the message is too much.

Many podcasts deliver entertainment value equal to commercial radio. While money remains a key tool to influence people, a more fundamental resource is in play: Time and attention have quantifiable value.

The real cost of a commercial is defined by the audience share of the program it runs on, not the production expenses. The phone lines, bumper stickers and yard signs of politicians are real expenses incurred in the acquisition of mind share.

We used to cultivate attention with ever-larger herds. Podcasts reach tiny micro-herds.

This matters because content isn't just music -- books and magazines, lectures and discussions featuring many of the greatest minds (not to mention historic content from the past) are there for the taking, all packaged for consumption on the go. While the content is freely available, the time spent listening has real value -- it's time no longer available for consuming other stuff!

Which can be good only if you're sick of commercial radio and subscriptions.



DAVE DAVIS makes records and designs new media at Sound Images.
 
 
 
 

 

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