Tuesday, April 24, 2007

FINAL: Five Predictions For the Future of Music on the Wireless Internet

We live in a technological world that is constantly evolving. Quoting Dale Carnegie in today's Music Media Solutions lab presentation for Emmis Broadcasting, Professor Jerry Del Colliano noted that it is in the best interest of broadcasters to take advantage of the new technologies that are out there, especially if they want to retain listener ship. It is another teaching of Carnegie's, however, that should serve as a lesson for most of the "big-wigs" in today's music industry. This teaching reads, "Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy." These "big-wigs" are afraid of how new technologies will change the music and recording industries. These individuals are afraid because they are unaware of the affects of this change. In order to achieve success, these suits must adapt quickly to change and overcome whatever reservations they may have regarding the issue.

In this final post, I will propose five predictions for how the music industry will evolve in response to advancements in wireless technology. Specifically advancements regarding WiFi and WiMax technologies, as they become readily available to the public. These predictions are as follows:

1. Free Downloads and On-Demand Streams of Music

2. An End to Podcasting

3. Terrestrial Radio Will Turn to Internet Broadcasting

4. The Death of HD Radio

5. Satellite Radio Will Flourish in Automobiles

Prediction #1: individuals will be able to access free downloads and streams of their favorite music whenever they want. Although this may not seem like a novel concept, there is more to it than meets the eye. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks gave rise to the on-demand access of free content. The introduction and incorporation of p2p file-sharing programs and online radio stations (abiding by this on-demand model) into the daily lives of Americans created a decline in record sales and radio audiences. Americans began to grow accustomed to receiving music instantly and without cost. In order for the RIAA, the music, and entertainment industries to increase their revenue, they must change their ways of promotion, distribution and marketing. In an interview conducted by John Sutton Smith on behalf of the Recording Academy for Grammy Magazine's April 2006 edition, Bonnie Raitt agrees, (when questioned about the affect digital technology has had on her recent career), “We have to be creative and figure out how to let people know that you have a new record out in different ways, so we basically did a live album for iTunes, live recordings for Sirius Radio, a huge VH1 special, another concert on DirecTV, and we did AOL Sessions, so I was editing and mixing for two months what basically [amounted] to three or four live albums. It’s certainly changed how we deliver music”. Back in 2005, the likelihood of completely shifting traditional forms of distribution to digital was not likely, “while the record companies and the publishers have had ample opportunity to voluntarily put such a licensing system in place, making it easy for consumers to get the music that they want digitally, it is quite unlikely that they will ever do so of their own accord, for what is now a familiar reason: they lose control,” (Kusek, David, Gerd Leonhard, “A New Music Economy”, The Future of Music p.132 2005).

However, things have quickly changed in two years. Suddenly the move towards digital distribution and acquisition is more plausible. Websites like Pandora.com have developed over the past couple of years to offer listeners with free streams of their favorite music. Pandora allows users to customize radio stations and skip over songs that they do not like. Such websites give hope that user suggested content is on the horizon in addition to free downloads. Now, more than ever, illegal downloads haunt the record industry. P2P networks serve as the means by which users receive illegal content. “It is estimated that hundreds of millions of copies of these free software applications have been downloaded and that millions of people are online trading music files every minute of everyday around the world.” (Kusek, David, Gerd Leonhard, “Music Like Water”, The Future of Music p.5-6 2005). From this format, people have the potential to communicate with others about new music or media and share personal interests. This is the exact appeal of social networking sites like Last.Fm which allow users to share their play lists and communicate with those of similar musical tastes. Clearly such technology and websites promote conflict within the record industry. With WiFi becoming readily available to the masses, illegal downloading will only increase. Instead of being a service, like it once was, music has evolved into an inherent need for people--like water. In order to accommodate this need, the record industry must adapt to these changes and accept the fact that legal purchasing of music is just not plausible for the future. Labels must acknowledge that they will not be making money from the exploitation of records so they must find alternative means of promoting, marketing, and monetizing artists. Additionally, the industry must encompass on-demand models (while distributing, promoting, and marketing media) to satisfy the general public. Once these changes are successfully achieved, the music industry will be able to make profit from their artists.

Prediction #2: Podcasting will reach the end of its road. Podcasts can be an effective way in promoting artists and other entities. However, one must consider the amount of people that actually subscribe and listen to these Podcasts. People are progressively becoming disinterested in both broadcasting and listening to Podcasts. Listeners and independent broadcasters are beginning to find other things to do with their time. Although Podcasts democratize media and broadcasters can create and determine the material they broadcast without reservation, there is not enough incentive to continue broadcasting---most of these DJs are not paid. Thus, the fad of the Podcasts is slowly dwindling, people do not have the time to integrate the listening of Podcasts into their busy lifestyles. At times it seems as though there are more Podcasts in existence than actual people on this earth. There are far too many podcasts in existence to attract listeners and viewers. Like any other fad, it is without a doubt that Podcasting will continue to run its course until the majority of the public loses interest. Especially with the expansion of WiFi technology, Podcasts will flourish with increased user created content then plateau.

Not everyone has iTunes, or an iPod, or even the Internet. It is impossible for Podcasting to become a revolution of new media as a means of changing how consumers view the music and entertainment industries. First of all, there are issues with licensing and rights management that Podcasting has stumbled upon. Currently, broadcasters are extremely limited with the amount and kind of music they can broadcast during each podcast. There are certain licenses that must be purchased in order to have control over the broadcasting of recorded music. In particular the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is violated every time an independent broadcaster plays a song with major label publishing. As a result, broadcasters are limited to just talk, independent music, and producing their own music on-air. There are plans to revise the Telecommunications Act of 1996 for Internet and web-based programs and, perhaps, a modified blanket license will become available for Podcasters; but, until then, it is unlikely that people will consistently tune into programs that feature just talk with the occasional uninhibited song—is this not what listeners of terrestrial radio ran away from in the first place?

In the future, Podcasting will become obsolete. There will be new developments and inventions within the next 10, 20, 30 years that will divert subscribers’ attention. Individuals will come to realize that specialized-programming is not necessarily worth spending the time to listen to. Artists will resort to social computing sites to gain continued and guaranteed promotion—the Podcast is unnecessary for this means of technology. Radio will find other ways to survive, it does not need Podcasting to secure its existence. Radio survived the invention of the television and it will attempt to combat the wave of Internet-based new media. This is the beauty of the Internet—every development is ephemeral because everything, especially Internet technology, has the potential to change and will change—it does not seem as though Podcasting will survive this ultimate change.

Prediction #3: Terrestrial radio will shift its broadcasting to be on the Internet. Once WiFi and WiMax become available on a larger scale to the public, the prevalence of Internet radio will increase ten-fold. Professor Steve Cunningham mentioned once in lecture that Internet radio has become the fastest growing radio format in the past few years. He agrees that once WiFi becomes readily available, Internet radio will quickly gain popularity. There will be thousands upon thousands of stations available to listeners on-demand. Back in 2004, About:Radio reporter Corey Deitz saw the future of Internet radio as the future of Internet radio as "bright". He agrees that Internet radio "will slowly evolve and with the help of broadband, wireless, and product development it will find it’s rightful place in the home, auto and hand-held device." Eventually the stubborn terrestrial programmers will realize the potential of the wireless Internet and develop a game plan for breaking into Internet radio niche-markets. Already there are thousands of user-created online radio stations. Free services like Live 365 take advantage of Internet radio. Live 365 provides thousands of free Internet radio stations from all over the world that are categorized by musical genre. Pandora and Yahoo! Music are other free online music host sites that allow users to stream radio stations live complete with their favorite artists and genres.

An important characteristic of Internet broadcasting is its on-demand aspect. On-demand gives the listener the illusion that they control what they are listening to. If terrestrial stations create a way that listeners can instant message the dj their requests, and if the dj's do honor these requests, then we have go something going on here. This model is similar to that of college radio. KSCR, the radio station of the University of Southern California, operates on the typical college radio standard. Hosting a simultaneous terrestrial (AM band) and Internet broadcast, KSCR targets its student population on campus. However, the majority of KSCR's listenership is generated from its online stream. This is a result of the fact that its AM-Band (1560 AM) only works within a 10-mile radius of its studio, located in Marks Hall. And, of course, terrestrial broadcasting is impractical in today's society...especially for the demographic of 18-24 year olds. Current KSCR General Manager Nicole Williams mentioned casually to me that KSCR generates over 4,000 listeners per week via its online broadcast--a noble feat for any radio station on the Internet (especially since KSCR is not a household name). This feat is especially notable since funding for the station was recently cut 45% by the USC student government. As an example made by KSCR and other online stations and hosting sites, there is definitely a home for current terrestrial streams online. Terrestrial stations can dominate the online market with their vast funds and sponsorships to provide a one-stop shop for their listeners.

Prediction #4: HD Radio will die out. In opposition to what the majority of the RIAA and NAB may think, HD radio only serves as mechanism by which terrestrial radio stations can play more eclectic genres of music; essentially creating an "underground" radio model that was successful and flourished in the 1960's. This will not, however, replace digital and web-based radio services. Generally, listeners want a radio station that is going provide the highest quality of content possible. There is noting "High Def" about HD radio. The quality of sound is not much better than it is on FM and the quality of content is the same. With masses quickly becoming accustomed to radio services the Internet has to offer, terrestrial radio will become close to obsolete and what little importance is placed on HD radio will diminish. Not only is HD radio pathetic, but also it comes at a cost. Currently, HD radios can cost anywhere from $200-$1,000.

The high cost of HD radio is daunting. Some reason that programming on side channels will be a bit better if not the same as the main terrestrial channel and, if this is the case, then why should they spend the money? If anything, HD radio creates exclusivity as opposed to inclusiveness. By valuing HD radio at such a high cost, this crack-team in radio is combating competition by isolating its listeners. This just doesn't make sense---why would you attempt to gain listenership through a high cost of listening (in both respects)? The future of the wireless Internet is categorized by inclusiveness, so there is no place for an exclusive technology like HD radio.

Prediction #5: Satellite Radio will flourish in automobiles. With an increase in the prevalence of wireless Internet, a market will be created where satellite radio can dominate. Currently, XM and Sirius are the two main satellite radio providers and, with their proposed merger, there is a potential to monopolize the market. To remain consistent with prediction #3, once terrestrial radio makes its shift over to Internet broadcasting, there will be a need for a car radio replacement. Here is where satellite radio comes in. Already, listeners have the option of having satellite service in their cars. Some vehicles even come with satellite radio already installed. Satellite providers are going a step further with Sirius' new "Backseat TV". Backseat TV will solidify satellite providers' dominance in the automobile market. I could go on and on about this, but I believe that the presented examples speak for themselves regarding satellite content providers' future. For, XM and Sirius will no longer been seen as purely satellite radio providers--in the future these companies will be in the satellite mobile content industry.

So there you have it, my top 5 predictions for the future of the wireless Internet. It will definitely be exciting to see in the coming days, months, and years if any of my predictions make it to fruition. Keep in mind that with new technology comes change, and with change comes opportunity. If individuals welcome this change, then great chances for monetary gain result. The music industry, especially, must adapt to changes posed by these technologies. Currently, we live in a culture that favors on-demand acquisition and knows the feeling of free downloads. As a result, individuals do not feel the same way about music as they once did during the times of, say, the Beatles. The music industry, in particular, must find alternative measures of reclaiming the awe and wonder music sparked amongst audiences—they must find alternative means of promoting, marketing and distributing music. Additionally, the industry must encompass on-demand models (while distributing, promoting, and marketing media) to satisfy the general public.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Rap and Hip-Hop Love Women?

"You're in business to make money, not to change society", cultural critic Jimmy Israel says. Currently, music is a business--not an art form like it once was. Today's music integrates infectious beats with misogynistic lyrics. Such lyrics largely objectify women and convey that it is acceptable to refer to women as "bitches" and "hos". Back in the prime of the Baby Boomers, lyrics had everything to do with the music--lyrics made the music. Artists like Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix were placed on pedestals as revolutionary lyricists. These artists promoted change and harmony in their works...these artists defined an era.

Those artists defining our modern era include rappers Nelly and Snoop Dogg. Such "artists" promote the objectification of women in both their hits and music videos. Most rappers have no idea what the implications of their lyrics are; they do not understand how greatly this music actually affects its listeners. By listening to such rap and hip-hop, individuals think that it is okay to refer to women unfavorably--they see women as simply sexual objects, not human beings. This distinction further separates the sexes in the race towards equality. Instead of accelerating this race, the teachings of rap and hip-hop lyrics only retard this action.

The few artistic musicians we have left of this generation are taking action. In an effort to highlight the ridiculousness of rap and hip-hop lyrics, artists like Jenny Owen Youngs, Ben Folds, and Alanis Morrisette have done stripped down covers of "Hot in Herre", "Bitches Ain't Shit", and "My Humps", respectively. Alanis Morrisette has taken these efforts a step further by producing a viral video featuring her Black Eyed Peas cover that includes a scantily clad Morrisette surrounded by men, jewelry, and cars--typical of the average hip-hop music video.

Women activists in the Black community are speaking out against the negative connotation associated with rap and hip-hop music. According to NPR reports, Essence Magazine has committed to a yearlong campaign to "Take Back the Music". This campaign will consist of an effort to "remake rap and de-emphasize its misogynistic lyrics". These women will focus on holding a yearlong series of conversations in Essence Magazine regarding their efforts to end the harmful lyrics contained in rap and hip-hop music. Additionally, these women seek to end the negative depiction of black women in the hip-hop world. We will have to see if their efforts promote any justice in the music world.

University of Southern California Gender Studies major Vanessa Shakib comments, "it's not a matter of seeking out the corporations responsible for promoting such music, it's a matter of addressing the individuals willing to exploit their own for the purposes of making money and achieving fame". In other words, Shakib suggests that those protesting against such issues should seek out the source of the music. In this case, the source of such defaming material would be the rappers themselves. This is the exact goal of the Essence's "Take Back the Music" campaign. Nelly, for instance, is an artist who campaigners targeted in the beginning of their efforts. They sought Nelly as a dominant rap icon who had ties to the Black Women's community, as a spokesperson for Leukemia (because his sister suffered from the disease). Instead, Nelly began producing music videos desecrating the Black woman, leading campaigners to think otherwise of his ability to make a change in the rap and hip-hop community.

Hopefully the Essence campaign will spark interest amongst other individuals to do the same. Rappers like K-OS, Kanye West, Nas, and Common give hope to rap and hip-hop by showing that it is possible to create both positive and meaningful music that is profitable.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Imus Wears His Scarlet Letter Gracefully

As many of you may know, Don Imus made some "politically incorrect" comments regarding the Rutgers Women’s' basketball team during a discussion about the NCAA Women’s' Basketball Championship on his show. This past week, Imus was held responsible for these comments and publicly "crucified" for his words, resulting in the termination of his job from both CBS radio and MSNBC television. From this cancellation of the syndicated "Imus in the Morning" show, Imus lost out on a reported 50 million deal. Imus has gone on record saying that he does not really need the job and it is not about making more money. Imus continued to mention, during a CBS evening news broadcast, that he wants to personally apologize to the Rutgers Women’s' team.

The Rutgers team has held a number of press conferences and has even gone on Oprah to voice their stance on the matter. They feel that Imus' comments were unfair, racist and chauvinistic. Currently, many individuals side with the Rutgers' team in their allegations. Al Sharpton held an interview, which seemed more like an attack on Imus, to discuss the matter on his April 9th radio show. Sharpton concurred that comments Imus made about the Rutgers team were "abominable", "racist", and "sexist". It seems as though figureheads in the media are blowing smoke left and right just talking about this issue.

The issue is not whether Imus' claims were said with malice (they were not), or politically correct (they were not). The matter at hand regards the extent of free speech in America---how far is too far? Radio jocks like Howard Stern constantly objectify women on their show and poke fun at people's sexual orientation---we are not seeing these people losing their jobs. America has a certain definition of free speech that is not consistent with what is stated in the First Amendment. Personalities like Rosie O' Donnell (that are currently under attack by the media) are speaking out to protect their rights as well as those of Imus as upheld by the First Amendment. It is hard not to side with Rosie on this subject---it is ok to bash on gays and lesbians in public, but it is not ok to make racial comments? The First Amendment grants citizens the right of "free speech, free press, free religion, and the right to petition".

If consistent with this amendment, Imus would still have his job. It seems like the media perpetuates scandal and conflict by targeting individuals and exaggerating subject matter. The media will do anything for ratings and discussion. It is somewhat pathetic how the media spins stories in their favor, but that is a whole other issue for debate...

Sunday, April 1, 2007


"In about 10.5 hours, we'll be living in a different world", typed a friend to me over instant messenger. After receiving this message, I was left scratching my head. I thought to myself, "what could this guy possibly mean?". He later explained to me that Steve Jobs and EMI plan to announce no-DRM music on iTunes. But what does this mean for the consumer public?

Digital Rights Management (DRM) refers to technology used by copyright owners to control the access to or usage of hardware. Copyright owners and publishers are proponents for DRM because it prevents unauthorized duplication of copyrighted works. In other words, copyright owners want to control how they're paid for exploitations of their works. The presence of DRM quickly increased following the introduction of the Internet and P2P networks to serve as a means of attacking illegal downloading of digital material. However, from the consumer's standpoint, DRM translates into what is known as "tethered downloads". Many online digital content stores, like iTunes and RealRhapsody, have included DRM with their content. This DRM scheme, in the case of the iTunes store, limits the amount of computers and portable devices that downloaded material could be accessed with. This means that the consumer does not actually own the material they have purchased. So, the first-sale doctrine (upheld by the Supreme Court in 1908) which currently applies to the purchasing of copyrightable works does not apply in practice with digital content, even though such content is copyrighted.

Apple DRM

As you can tell, DRM is a highly debated issue. With rumors surfacing that Steve Jobs and EMI will hold a press conference Monday morning (as confirmed by the Wall Street Journal ) to announce the removal of such anti-piracy software, they are making a huge step towards a DRM-free music industry. With such a statement, hopefully other labels will follow suit and offer DRM-free catalogs for sale on digital content stores like iTunes. By offering a DRM-free catalog for sale on stores like iTunes, it shows that the labels trust their consumers.

It is obvious that one of the most important qualities in a relationship is trust. So by EMI's motion, consumers are getting the message that they are trusted by one of the big 4 (record lables, that is). In turn, this will promote a better relationship between the labels and consumers; hopefully resulting in a greater increase in music being sold legally. Consumers will take the initiative to go to outlets like iTunes to purchase their content because they will actually own the material this time. Now I understand why we'll be living in a new world come Monday morning. No longer will we be living in a world where record labels are our enemies (at least not EMI). Come tomorrow morning, we will be living in a world where the record industry is taking the steps to trust its consumers--and that is what the industry should have been doing all along.

Down with DRM