Streaming And Scheming|
(New Options For The Online Musician)
[ No. 49 - November 2000 ]
So, you've been plugging away at your web site, working with downloads,
graphics and uploads to other sites. Now you've heard about Internet radio.
It sounds intriguing: A free, all-your-music station, all the time? OK! But
guard against euphoria. Just because you put your music on the Internet
doesn't mean anybody's noticed. If you've been developing your web site in
ways we've discussed in this space over these past four years, however,
your fans may be ready to tune in online. Thanks to the venture capital
funded company Live365.com, they can do exactly that. Live365.com is the
biggest kid on the personal Internet radio block. They handle the grunt
work, streaming almost any music you desire, whether its yours or that of
your favorite musician. There's a wide range of stations already available
in genre-based formats from "Jam Bands" to "Medieval" and anything else one
could think of.
Two Other Free Streaming Services:
(recently acquired by listen.com) allows you
to create your own rudimentary streaming program containing only
<www.mp3.com> will stream your
uploaded band tracks, though it simply
plays each song and then ends, which isn't radio. MP3.com's early entry
into customized major (and indie) label music streaming (My.MP3.com) ran
aground on the rocky shore of litigation and needs one more ridiculous
multi-million dollar deal with a major label before it returns, probably
as a fee-based subscription service.
Let's "create your own Internet radio station." Go to:
and click on "Broadcast". Click to the signup area to create a member
account. Pick a member name, enter a valid email (this makes sense - they
want to be reasonably sure we are who we say we are). Thankfully, the rest
of the required fields are kept to a minimum (entering zip code and country
doesn't feel too intrusive). Unless you're interested in Live365.com's news
updates, unclick the newsletter and program guide subscription options. You
can always change your mind and edit your profile later. Next go to: "User
Agreement." Under "Rules" (always interesting) Live365.com uses the phrase:
"At present" which we take to mean: "Who knows how long this will last?"
The rules are generally meant to discourage audio file copying (see
sidebar). If you want to create a program of music you don't own the rights
to, be sure to study them carefully. Despite the current chaos and
confusion consuming Internet audio, it's possible to be ethical without the
unnecessary morality crap. Pirating songs isn't that big a challenge anyway.
Live365.com's Internet Broadcasting Rules
Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) (See
for more info) Live365.com's
Internet broadcasters must comply with these points. (Live365.com
says they will be "obtaining licenses from the copyright owners"
and have "abbreviated these rules to include only those likely to
be relevant given the manner in which you are able to use the
Live365.com system.") Keep in mind that if you are only working
with music you own the rights to, you are free to do as you choose.
Some of the restrictions limit the creative side here. Hopefully
once the DMCA settles down (or is modified in some way), some of
the rules will be lifted. The rules are designed to protect copyright
owners but the legal landscape must fearlessly enter the doors
opened by recent technologies. At the same time listeners should
be able to request a band's song, and that band should, obviously,
be compensated for it.
- Your program must not be part of an "interactive service." For your
purposes, this means that you cannot perform sound recordings within one
hour of a request by a listener or at a time designated by the listener.
- In any three-hour period, you should not intentionally program more
than three songs (and not more than two songs in a row) from the same
recording; you should not intentionally program more than four songs
(and not more than three songs in a row) from the same recording musician
or anthology/box set.
- Continuous looped programs may not be less than three hours long.
- Rebroadcasts of programs may be performed at scheduled times as
follows: Programs of less than one-hour: no more than three times in a
two-week period; Programs longer than one hour: no more than four times in
any two-week period.
- You should not publish advance program guides or use other means to
pre-announce when particular sound recordings will be played.
- You should only broadcast sound recordings that are authorized for
performance in the United States.
- You should pass through (and not disable or remove) identification or
technological protection information included in the sound recording (if
We next accept the terms (do we have a choice?). An email is then
automatically sent to us by the site, arriving promptly and pointing
to a log-in page to "Create our account." After logging in we're
dumped back to the main page. We scratch our heads for a moment
before clicking back to "Broadcast" where it says we are not signed
up to broadcast. Huh? Ok, here's what we do: we click on the link
to turn our *member* account into a *broadcaster* account and now
find ourselves on a page with three choices: "Easycast" (Live365.com
handles everything), "Live Broadcast" (we broadcast from our
computer) and "Relay Broadcast" (we use a remote computer). Easycast
is what we want and we select it. 365MBs of storage space are
instantly available, plenty for a little program of MP3 tunes.
Before we can upload our MP3 music files to their server, we need
to select a streaming bitrate. Most people don't have ISDN, DSL or
cable-modems, so we opt for 24kbps which works fine over a 56k
dialup modem. Live365.com offers a piece of proprietary software
(PC only) called "EasyLoader" for uploading audio files to their
site. It simplifies the upload process and also automatically
converts existing higher bitrate MP3 files to the lower bitrates.
This means that if we've already got our music encoded as 128kbps
MP3 files, we can use EasyLoader to convert them to our chosen
24kbps bitrate as part of the upload process. Mac users don't have
that luxury and need to make sure the songs they upload are encoded
at 24kbps. Since we're using a Mac today we'll go the regular route,
uploading our MP3 files (encoded at 24kbps) one at a time, just
like on regular upload sites. The link to upload through our web
browser, though available after we first registered as a broadcaster,
can be a bit hard to find. From the home page, click on "Broadcast",
then click on "Go To EasyCast". Option #6 provides a link to upload
or delete songs through our browser. Resource links and tutorials
are thoughtfully provided in case there are questions during the
We've uploaded some tracks and now click on "Go To Easycast" again.
A numbered list of options appears. #1, "Create A Playlist," is a
scroll down menu which now contains more options for creating or
deleting playlists as well as containing the playlist of our uploaded
tracks. We select our clearly marked playlist. The rest of the
dialog boxes immediately change to reflect our new playlist.
Broadcasters can choose a genre for their music which is helpful
if you like genres. Since the tracks we've uploaded are encoded at
24kbps, we choose the 33kpbs "Minimum Connection Speed." Below this
are two boxes, one containing our playlist "Library" and one called
"Current Playlist." We add the tracks from the libraray to the
playlist and click "Save." Next click on "Broadcast Now." A dialog
box tells us our playlist has been submitted and we should be up
and running in about ten minutes. After ten minutes or so, we use
the site's search option to look for our playlist by name, choose
it from the resulting list and voila, we are an online streaming
program. On their homepage, Live365.com has a useful feature called
"10 ways to promote your station." It's worth checking out and
includes tips and also the URL you can use to link to your show
from your web site.
Some Thoughts On Internet Broadcasting
The long-term financial health of companies streaming unlicensed music is
uncertain. At some future point web sites like Live365.com will have to pay
back licensing fees as a result of the DMCA. These back fees scare the hell
out of potential investors. Given the rapacious nature of copyright
Collection Societies it's plausible the past-due balance may exceed the
current (and future) worth of the entire company.
Until these fees are decided (this is a good time to be a digital
rights lawyer), amateur Internet radio stations are swimming in
murky waters. If Internet radio broadcasting services like
Live365.com get run out of business by huge licensing fees, your
personal band streaming service will disappear. No offense to
independent musicians, but companies providing streaming service
for indie music will be hard-pressed to show profit (how much money
can they make from ad banners delivered to listeners of "Bob and
Gail's Excellent Groove Thang"?). The service could possibly fold
into a larger business model (a la MP3.com). The FezGuys actually
spent a pleasant lunch looking for other funded (read: venture
capital money) companies providing free streaming services for
indie music. We couldn't find any. (If you know of any please tell
us!) This appears to reinforce the idea that potential investors
are standing by to see whether or not this particular business
model (such as it is) will work. The Internet broadcasting sites
mentioned above are visible enough that it's unlikely new sites
will chance starting from scratch.
The FezGuys had a consensual FezDream last night. We saw a future
of thousands of grassroots arts organizations working together,
providing streaming services for local bands and all paid for by
grants from the National Endowment of the Arts. Then we woke up.
Bottom Line on Live365.com: They are a group of plucky folks bold enough to
provide this service in the current climate. The FezGuys say: "Go for it."
Got an audience who might pay you for access to your music? As
Napster continues to shake things up, musicians are toying with
subscription services as a way to make a little cash using the
Internet. Sometimes called fan clubs, this idea has been around
for ages. Many bands (and even, *gasp*, major labels) have used
them succesfully to both build community and drive revenues. Consider
the profit margin involved in the Dave Matthews Band taking in
$30/person annually from 30,000 online fans before shipping anything
out (we made this up but it's possible). Musicians like Todd Rundgren
have been testing subscription waters for years and (as mentioned
below) younger bands are breaking new ground, quickly building up
databases of online users to market their music directly to fans.
One popular model asks fans to buy a low (we mean cheap, like, one
dollar) monthly subscription (paid yearly) to your online music
and art. Musicians must make some important decisions first. Sorry
to have to say it, but there it is. A little work must go into your
subscription model. Get out of bed, you! The most irritating decision
is how you will accept their money (For more info on payment options
see: "Collecting The Funds" in
Also check out newer payment options:
and, of course, standard
credit card transaction systems. These last can be purchased as
off-the-shelf packages - search around online). Keep a safe (from
prying eyes and from accidental loss) database (backed up frequently)
of your users. Then you must decide what you will deliver and how
you will deliver it. How secure does it need to be? If you're
advanced (or have techie friends) you can create password-protected
accounts. If you have a small user-base (up to 300 people) and
trust them not to give their passwords away, this should be good
enough. If you have 100 subscribers or less you might even be able
to get away with emailing them all a "hidden" (no password and no
link in to any other page or site) page containing the goods. The
more subscribers you have, the more likely it is they may share
their password and so the more complex it will be to provide a
solid technical solution. If you've got a lot of fans, you'll want
to team up with a tech programmer or perhaps even a small company
who can provide these services at a realistic price.
Musicians Doing Cool Things
To quickly build their mailing list, punk-style popsters The
Offspring created an online contest, leaking the first single of
a new album as a free mp3 file and offering all downloaders an
opportunity to win 1 million dollars (money put up by the band).
They originally wanted to upload the entire album as free mp3s but
the label responsible for releasing the music to stores (Sony)
threatened a major legal spanking. Interestingly enough, while
hanging out at Live365.com we noticed an option to add their entire
album into your playlist in one click!
Similar to what Pat Dinizio (formerly of The Smithereens) did
earlier this year, Evan and Jaron
have created a "We Play Where You Say" tour. To independently promote
their new album, they'll play in fans living rooms, backyards and
garages. The musicians are collecting user information, building
their database and posting regular news updates and photos from
To get the best response, deliver something on a regular (monthly
is good) basis. A combination of news, photos and music is a good
start. Even though it's delivered online, consider creating a
collection of the same materials in a familiar physical package on
a yearly basis, included in the price of the subscription. Take
the long view. Be creative. Do some oddball packaging rather than
a boring old CD jewel box. Remember those fans willing to pay a
little money in advance for your art are the truly dedicated ones,
but also the most demanding. Fans of this nature will alternately
be your best grass-roots promotion team and your harshest critic
(after you, of course). Treat them as you'd like your favorite
musician to treat you. Too many times we've seen a musician turn
on a dedicated online fan. It only has to happen once, but the
ripples travel infinitely. Also, if you care whether or not your
subscribers toss your music onto Napster, consider using a watermarking
technology to track down those who leaked it. For one watermarking
option take look at Cognicity's AudioKey software at
They offer a free 20-day evaluation period. Have a friend "steal"
a song and post it. Follow directions to discover whether you can
actually see the trail.
The subscription model offers a myriad of choices. There's no "right" way
and that means creative freedom. Have fun with it. Your fans will thank you.