Thursday, January 04, 2007

Music industry softens on podcasts

via ars technica:

Sony BMG has decided to dip its toes into the world of podcasted music with its recent agreement with marketing agency Rock River Communications (warning: annoying Flash site) Inc., making it the first (and only, for the time being) major music label in the US to license music for podcasting.

While you may not have heard of Rock River Communications, you will most likely recognize what they do. The agency creates promotional mix CDs for companies like Volkswagen, The Gap, Verizon, Chrysler, and more to hand out at retail stores and dealerships. Rock River, in an attempt to move past CD-only distribution, is now creating promotional podcasts for Chrysler and Ford Motors.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ford and Chrysler are both paying Sony BMG a flat fee to license music for podcast distribution for one year, no matter how many copies are downloaded. On the customer's side, the podcast will be free and can be kept forever. Rock River says that they are in talks to license music from more music labels in the future for podcasting.

It's no secret that the music industry has always been very much against any form of digital distribution that is not DRMed. Unprotected files of songs or podcasts with songs in them could be chopped out of the podcast and widely distributed via those nasty P2P networks, with no royalties paid back to the labels as they usually are in radio. The Internet, after all, is often viewed by the music industry as the Wild West in that regard.

However, labels are beginning to slowly test the waters with unprotected files—in Weird Al's case, offering MP3s for free via his web site helped propel him into the Billboard Top 10 for the first time in his career. Sony BMG's actions seem to indicate that the company is willing to do some cautious risk-taking in hopes that the podcasts will spur customer interest in buying more music, and other labels are sure to keep an eye on Sony's success.
I recently contacted Sony BMG to see if Dreamtime could podcast Dylan's Christmas/New Year's Theme Time Special, as the XM press release had mentioned that the episode was also being made available for "non-commercial" radio broadcast. I couldn't think of anything much more non-commercial than Dreamtime, so even though I guessed the answer would be "No!" I zipped off an email to the Sony BMG rep. And received a response, - in the negative as I had anticpated - but both polite and prompt and noting that podcasting raised too many legal issues that Sony BMG wasn't prepared to address at the moment. I replied with a "if things change in the future, please think of Dreamtime," and again received a speedy "will do" response.

But, the above article is a hopeful sign that someone at Sony BMG is at least exploring the idea of podcasting music, and maybe next year the answer will be "Yes!" I was also amused that the Theme Time Xmas show had Our Host reading another pseudo-email where the supposed writer mentioned in an aside that she was copying the Theme Time shows to CD and sending them to a friend in Finland or someplace where the broadcast wasn't available. It's easy of course to fall into the trap where every Dylanesque comment (or in this case, non-comment) is interpreted like a sheep's entrails. But I think one could safely assume that in this case Dylan and/or XM is acknowledging the reality that Theme Time lives on long after being broadcast.

I'm not such a virgin that I don't realize the whole licensing/permissions scenario takes on a whole new intricacy moving from broadcast to podcast, but I bet it can be worked out if enough leverage is applied. Brian Ibbott over at Coverville pays licensing fees to ASCAP and BMI (although if you read the full, exhaustive thread you'll see differing opinions as to whether even this fully covers the licensing issue). For Dreamtime, what I try is keep my use of music to fair use commentary/criticism excerpts, or talk over the music, or clip it, or something. Anyone in desperate enough straits to be chopping music out of Dreamtime, let me know, and I'll be happy to consider gifting you the 99 cents to get the music legally.

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