January 18, 2012


I once worked for a small radio station that had a very limited budget. Because the station was small and just starting out, the record companies didn’t really pay attention to the station. And when a record company doesn’t play attention to the station, they don’t care if you play their latest hot sensation or not. And since they don’t care if you play their latest hot sensation, they don’t give you records (or in our case, CDs) to play. Since everything about the music industry (aside from a selection of genuine artists) is profit generated, they’re not going to waste the few cents needed to give you a CD so that you can play their song, since they don’t care if you’re there because you haven’t built a name for yourself yet. This posed a problem for me as the Music Director of this station, because to have a successful radio station you need to do more than play Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” over and over and over again, especially when you’re going for the young and hip generation (resurgence of bell bottoms notwithstanding).

The limited budget presented to me for promotional purposes and music purchases was $1.46 every two weeks. Actually, I exaggerate, I wish I had that much to spend. I ended up begging and pleading with a local record store to see if they would give me records in exchange for advertising. I ended up with $100.00 a month in “trade”, as we call it. The problem with working with the record store in this fashion was that we didn’t get any new music, we got established music, which was fine, I guess, but when you’re competing with another radio station and you’re throwing lines like “Where the hits hit first” around, you have to live up to the hype.

Enter Napster.

Napster was this new, fun program that let you download songs for free from others. Back in the day, it was cool because you could get tracks that were only available on vinyl as MP3s, meaning we could play the long dance mixes of songs without having to put a turntable in the phone-booth sized studio. In addition, since there seemed to be some unscrupulous people in the music industry, we were able to play leaked tracks of songs that would have never seen the light of day. (Ironically, I’m still kind of proud of two things from my radio career: getting yelled at by a VP at Warner Brothers Records for playing Madonna’s “Music” before it ever hit the street and then having the VP yell at me again a few hours later when he heard us play what is now known as “You Thrill Me”, the demo and unreleased version of Madonna’s “Erotica” single. Like a good gay, I lived dangerously when it came to Madge in her prehistoric years.)

We were kind of walking a fine line when it came to using Napster tracks on the radio station because while radio station music is all marked “For Promo Use Only”, and that’s what we were doing, we didn’t really obtain the music according to the rules. On the bright side, this unfortunate practice did get us noticed by the record companies and actually helped our ratings enough to get us listed in the all mighty Trade Magazines. After this all happened, the record industry cared what we played.

However, there was a part of me that felt really dirty getting ahead in this manner.

I have to admit that as a former radio guy and as a computer programmer, I’m not the biggest fan of illegal obtaining intellectual property. It’s not right. I see it as stealing. I have been given black CD-Rs that were marked “Windows 2000 Datacenter Server” and told to install them for a customer. There was a time when I could type the Office 2000 installation key from memory because the one-use key had been installed on so many different machines. It’s all wrong. I get why folks don’t want their stuff pirated. I’m fine with purchasing music and books and television shows and movies and computer programs, in fact, that’s what I do on a daily basis. I just don’t appreciate it when I’m treated as a criminal for making a copy of a song so I can have a copy on my laptop and on my desktop. I don’t appreciate being told that I should have to buy an extra copy to have a CD with my favorite tracks put together as an album. I don’t like that.

You may have noticed that sites across the internet, including this one, were “blacked out” and urging you to call your elected officials to urge them to vote down the SOPA and PIPA acts passing through Congress next week. These acts, if passed, will give folks the ability to turn down a website, without warning you first, if they suspect that you’re hosting any sort of content that they deem illegal. Essentially any site targeted would have it’s identity removed; you’d have no way of getting to it even though it’s still sitting there, right on it’s server. And this is if they SUSPECT you’re hosting illegal content.

That’s not the way to do things, folks.

Positive reinforcement always garners better results than the converse. Legitimate copies of music should be treated with the respect it deserves and the consumer should be allowed to do with it as he wishes, as long as it’s not violating the normal distribution channels of the associated industry. If you like your friends MP3 collection, let them listen for a while and then let them buy their own copies. We never saw folks sitting at a bus stop reading a Xeroxed copy of “War And Peace”, why would we just make digital copies of our music and throw it out all over the place? Place nice so that the industry learns that they have to play nice.

As a quick aside… the current Congress is the most dysfunctional, unproductive Congress in the history of the United States. Our elected officials know Solitaire and Microsoft Outlook ’97 on their laptops and little more. Do we really want to give the government the opportunity to enact legislation that marks American citizens as criminals when they don’t really get technology in the first place? We don’t want the government in our bedrooms and we certainly don’t want them in our earbuds.

Call your senator or representative today and urge them to vote against SOPA and PIPA. Google it for more information.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad