Running Around At The Top Of Our Lungs|
[ No. 56 - June 2001 ]
The hubbub about MP3 as a "platform" is a distant memory. Gone are
Michael Robertson's ubiquitous rants, replaced by layoffs, bankruptcies
and a questionable future for Internet audio's poster child, Napster.
In the U.S., Riffage.com is gone, Listen.com is dumping staff,
Sonicnet is buried, MP3.com is keeping its head down and EMusic.com
is being picked up by Universal Music Group. Liquid Audio, for all
intents and purposes, is an arm of the RIAA and RealNetworks'
ongoing fight with Microsoft over ownership of the streaming audio
standard has become a bore even to the press. As usual, the casual
user's preferences remain ignored.
Across the ocean Besonic.com (Germany) and Vitaminic.com (Italy)
are proving the old adage "slow cooking makes a creamy pudding."
Both sites continue to gain ground, quietly collecting users and
branching out beyond borders. Riffage.com's home page continues to
refer people to Besonic. Vitaminic rescued IUMA from EMusic,
resuscitating the gasping Godfather of Music Upload Web Sites. The
signs are all there for a Next Phase. Internet audio is dead. Long
live music on the web.
Disgusted with what passes for music programming on terrestrial
is charting the inspired
course hashed out by FM rock radio in the late sixties and early
seventies (when DJs loved music). We spoke to Rusty Hodge who, with
his partner Zach Hoon (aka DJ Sordid), are the primary perpetrators
of an intelligent, independent and very musical streaming site.
Started in early 2000, Somafm was first streamed from a Windows/NT
computer running Winamp with a Shoutcast plugin, and served off a
Linux box. Using bandwidth at Rusty's workplace and running a single
56kbps stream, the site (through word of mouth) grew in popularity.
"We filled up two T1 lines with 40 or 50 simultaneous streams," he
says. Not willing to clog his employer's connections, Rusty bartered
for bandwidth within his circle, upgraded encoding/streaming to a
"homebrew rack mount 600mHz PIII Linux box" and moved the serving
portion to a server co-location facility. With real-world common
sense typically lacking in larger companies, he and his partner
added streams and began offering them at multiple bitrates to
facilitate both modem and broadband users. In the January of 2001,
Shoutcast set up a repeater service for the little streaming station,
allowing 500 additional simultaneous listeners. Word was getting
around about a cool streaming site with no advertising, high quality
audio and good music.
Rusty is no stranger to DIY startups. In college he "took the lead"
in re-animating the campus radio station, dead for 20 years. "My Dad was
a computer mainframe guy," he admits. Though assisted by other
students in obtaining funding and permits, he resurrected the
technical side alone, handling the soldering and rewiring as well
as organizing the programming when the station came on the air. After
college Rusty (now 38) worked as a software developer creating
electronic mail and bulletin board applications for Apple II
computers hooked up to 1200-baud modems. He worked at KPIX-TV
and, in the early Internet era, ZDNET/ZDTV. He found the tech side
interesting but quickly grew tired of the "uncompelling content."
Radio provided no relief either. "I couldn't find anything I wanted
to listen to," he remembers. After operating pirate radio stations
at the annual Burning Man festival in northern Nevada he turned to
creating his own programming on the web. Growing steadily, Somafm
currently has ten channels. It's free for now but "the trick is to
make it pay its own bills." One idea is offering streams for free
with "some" advertising and providing the same streams without
advertising, as a subscription service. The ads could be "inoffensive
and completely in tune with the programming," he offers. Another
idea is a link to Amazon.com. If users clicked to the retail site from Somafm
and actually made a purchase, a percentage of the price would feed
back to Somafm. It arguably wouldn't be much but every little bit
helps. A good citizen, Somafm complies with BMI and ASCAP music
use strictures. Quarterly reports are filed and fees get paid.
Somafm has a log where users can follow the trials and tribulations
of day to day operation. A typical entry: "Amazing. We go away
for a long weekend and nothing crashes. The vibes are really with
us. 17-Apr-01" Feedback is encouraged and there are links to sites for
downloading a free MP3 player (appropriate to your operating system)
necessary to hear the music.
For now, Rusty remains pleasantly surprised and heartened by the
popularity of the site. Sure, it's not the lovely and notorious
KPIG with over 50,000 worldwide users on the web and certainly isn't standard
terrestrial radio programming with a mind-boggling 95% of the U.S.
listening at some time or other. But for an indie site offering coherent
musical programming with a marketing department named "word of mouth,"
it's a Sign.
"We recently switched the source encoder software from Winamp to
OtsJuke (an Australian product aimed at mobile DJs and Third World
radio) that has a really good playback program," he mentions. "It's
very intelligent about crossfades." He still gets excited about
strange audio. Listening to one of Somafm's ambient streams at
24kbps sounds "lo-fi, kind of like shortwave." Experimental, inspired
and still underground, Somafm.com is another much-needed oasis in
the vast corporate-owned radio wasteland.
Top Five Reasons To Not Invest|
Time & Money In Your Web Site
Your FezGuys are naturally optimistic. We often get caught up in
thoughts of what an efficient tool the Internet is for musicians.
But a recent conversation with a well-known (not-to-be-named)
musician friend reminded us that sometimes a little reality check
is in order. This particular artist has lived through ups and downs
of the Internet's effect on his career and with that in mind, we
offer some real reasons on why you don't want to go overboard
- 1. Don't Go Hoarse Shouting Into Empty Space
Over the years, we've done our best to point out how operating
online is very similar to the old fashioned standards: there's
no comparison to playing live, treat your fans with respect,
etc. With this in mind, it's a waste of your time to put up
a web site if there's no one out there to appreciate it. If
you aren't letting fans at your shows know you've got a web
site, emailing your friends about it (stick it in your email
signature), then you shouldn't bother with anything more than
the absolute basics: a bio, song sample, contact info.
- 2. Return on Investment
Your web site has a monthly cost (whether it's $19.95/mo or $500/mo)
and each time you pay that bill you should be thinking "Am I
happy with what I'm getting for this?" We don't suggest comparing
everything against how many pennies it's costing, but if you're
spending a lot of money streaming your favorite ASCAP-protected
bands' music to your fans, you might benefit from rethinking things.
By the same token, if your web site fees prevent you from pressing more
CDs or going on the road, you should reconsider your priorities.
- 3. Opportunity Costs
Whether you're writing a chorus to a new tune, finishing up
an album, or begging the local papers for a table scrap of
coverage, there never seems to be enough hours in the day.
Do yourself a favor and don't spend hours
putting updates to your news section when you should be working
on new material. We've said it before and we'll say it again:
Get yourself a geek. No thanks to the dotcom explosion; a lot
are unemployed and may be looking to bolster their resumes.
- 4. Have a plan?
Like anything, jumping in before you've thought it out can
often result in dissatisfaction later. Figure out realistic
goals to achieve with your site before getting
in too deep. Examples are: trade links with 10 other bands,
expand your mailing list by 100 people, sell 50 CDs or provide
a comfortable place for your fans to hang out together.
- 5. Go outside and smell some flowers, dammit!
My band is trying to insert MP3s on our web site for the general
public to access, but it's not working for us. Here's what we've
done: Ripped our WAV files to MP3s (each file less than 500K).
Uploaded the MP3s using WS_FTP95 LE. Created a link to the MP3 on
our MP3 page. Did we miss something? What else do we have to do?
Thank you - The gang of 76-Juliet
Dear Gang - The problem is that your MP3 file is being
incorrectly served by your web server. Our lab tests show
your MP3 files are being delivered with the MIME type of
"application/audio" instead of "audio/mpeg" (or any of various
other acceptable variations). You need to have your web administrator
update their server configuration accordingly. As a side-note, most
Windows users may still be able to listen to it properly since
Windows uses the file name to determine that it is in fact an MP3
file. Mac and other operating systems don't use the same method,
so you should make that change to make things easy for those users.
All the best - The FezGuys
Visit us: <www.fezguys.com>