I worked with the band Flatbed last weekend on a podcast. we had a great time and I had some great conversation with Derek Bassett from the band about the music scene.
In a followup email, he asked me the following question and I got to thinking my answer would be great material for this blog. Never mind that I got so long-winded!
Here’s the question:
We’d all like to get to know you better. For instance – How did you get started doing all of this?
Once again, I think what you are doing to help local music is freaking amazing!
Wow, I never gave it a lot of thought, I guess it just evolved.
I’ve always been a music fan. In my teens, back in the sixties, I had always liked typical music for that day, Beatles, Stones, etc. I had an English teacher who decided to teach poetry by using music lyrics like Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, etc. We all thought it was pretty corny at the time, but in retrospect it was pretty cool.
A friend at school at the time turned me on to a lot of the music from the counter-culture of the time, Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish, Big Brother and the like. His brother had a pretty good record collection – vinyl, of course – and we raided it pretty regularly.
I was also a HAM Radio operator and spent a lot of time listening to AM broadcast radio from other parts of the country. I got into some of the folk music of the day, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, an on and on. I knew a guy who was a DJ at WBZ in Boston (from Ham radio – I had met him on the radio) and he did a weekend show called Inside Out that focused on folk music. Sandy Beach (I believe) was doing a pretty good folk show on WKBW at the time as well.
But for many years, after school, I was too busy working and raising a family to get out to live shows. I was aware of, but mostly missed all the great Buffalo acts of those years – The Road, Talas, Stan and The Ravens, (Hey, I’m covering a lot of years here!) etc. I mostly just spent too much money supporting the record industry buying albums. I had never learned to play an instrument myself, except for a couple years of Trombone in grade school, which wasn’t all that pleasant an experience… My sister learned guitar, and I tried to follow along on it, but she just took to it so easily, I got discouraged. Besides, it was her guitar, I had to borrow it just to practice. I finally accepted that I probably don’t have any great musical talent of my own, I could probably be average with a lot of work, but was just content to enjoy what others played. I’m a natural music fan.
At some point, I finally got to where I could find time to get out and see some of the local shows. I discovered Thursday At The Square and started going to some of them. I heard some local bands there and started following them. Somewhere along the line, I got into Celtic and Irish music, especially the Paddy-punk end of it and discovered the annual Irish Festival at The Pier and the Amherst Scottish Festival.
Of course, the Internet had come along and I was into that. I had been a computer hobbyist since day one. At some point, I started taking pictures and putting them into web pages devoted to the shows I had seen. I started a web page just for that around 2002, I think. It wasn’t a Blog, just a hand-made HTML page that I kept adding to like a diary. It’s still there. I run it on my own server. But most of the newer stuff is now going into a couple other Blogs I have.
Somewhere along the line as well, I discovered how to put music onto my computer. I put my entire CD collection into digital form. I discovered file-sharing. Not Napster, Napster sucked. Everyone was on dial-up and would quit in the middle of a transfer. They left half a file and then that person shared the half-file. But I had a ton of vinyl sitting here (still here) that would be an insurmountable job to rip to digital. Why not get a copy from someone who had the CD? After all, I had bought the music in the first place. Well, we all know the RIAA doesn’t see it that way. I chose to disagree.
All that made me very aware of the whole music industry and got me reading more about it. The tales of record companies ripping off artists for the rights to their songs are legendary and far too widespread to write off to isolated cases. The whole thing stunk and still does. I loved the music and had thought that when I bought a record or CD I was supporting the musicians. Instead, I was supporting big multi-national companies and their fat-cats that spend enormous amounts of money on telling us what we should listen to. They make rich, pampered stars out a select few musicians to hold up as examples and make us think that’s the life they all live and feel better about giving them $20 a CD.
The end result, instead of turning me off to music, was to make me even more aware of how good the music we have locally is. The difference in talent or quality between the big stars and the better local and regional musicians is usually indistinguishable. Often, the stars are on the short end. They just get the promotion and the fame and money. They become big egos and are unapproachable to the fans. The vast majority of musicians, even many well-known names that maybe never got to the top level, or fell out of favor with the big industry honchos, still make their money touring, playing to small and medium sized houses and really appreciate their fans. Who would you want to get your hard-earned money?
So here I am, sitting on a huge collection of digital music, saying I’ll never buy another CD from a big record label, or from a Wal-Mart for that matter, again. I made a conscious decision to buy CDs from the bands themselves at their shows. I haven’t regretted it.
Oh, big record industry people: It’s not file-sharing that’s hurting your business. It’s our disgust with how you’ve commoditized music and screwed the artists that made us stop buying your CDs.
Finally, we’re up to the podcast part.
I only discovered podcasts in the last year or so. I had heard of them, but like most things tech, I don’t jump on the bandwagon too soon. I used DOS long after Windows came along. Used Windows 98 until WinXP came out, then switched to Win2000. Used Compuserve in text mode long after AOL came along. Still occasionally edit HTML with a text editor and still hate WYSIWYG editors. Call me a Luddite.
But with Podcasts, while I’m not a first-adopter, at least I’m somewhat ahead of the curve. I listened to a few podcasts simply by going to their web pages and downloading the file then playing it in Winamp. The first podcast I actually listened to and enjoyed so much that I would get every episode was The Dorktones. They are a bunch Dutch musicians who love all sorts of rock music from the ’50s up and serve it up with a distinctly European flavor. Some of the covers by European bands or even obscure old tracks by famous bands that they find are amazing.
I got a feed aggregator – a program that checks for new RSS feeds to Blogs or Podcasts (which are really just a Blog with an audio file attached) – and started subscribing to podcasts. I soon was listening to a number of Podcasts and following what was happening in that subcultures infancy. Just as I began listening, some of the bigger podcasts had attracted enough attention that they had received warnings about playing copyrighted material. The reaction across the board was pretty much, okay we’ll stop playing anything unless we can get permission from the rights owner to waive the fee. So podsafe music was born.
So the RIAA and their international equivalents pretty much shot themselves in the foot on that one. Other than a few specialty shows (Coverville, for instance, or podcasts of a radio station’s show) pay a licensing fee to play music. If you’re a band with a contract to a big label, it’s now pretty hard to get played in a podcast.
Which got me thinking. They started the Podsafe Music Network and musicians and songwriters started putting music into it for podcasters to play. But it didn’t have much local music. I wanted to do a podcast of my own, but wanted to feature local musicians, but they weren’t in the podsafe category. The only other way was to approach the songwriter directly and ask permission to use their songs. If they still owned the rights to their music, as most independent musicians do, they could grant that permission.
Well, if I’m going to do that, how do I meet them? How do I find them? Of course, the answer is to go to their shows. But if I’m going to do that, why not feature their music in a live setting? Why not interview them for the podcast. The Buffalo Live! Music Podcast was born. It solved all the problems with permissions and let’s me do even more to promote the local musicians and venues that support them.
While a couple local musicians do have their music in the Podsafe Music Network (Sam Conjerti and Tommy Z) and there are other podsafe repositories as well, the majority of local musicians don’t. Some haven’t even heard of a podcast. Certainly many that have heard of a podcast aren’t sure what it is or how to leverage them to promote their music. I can’t blame them either. Many are simply too busy working on their music, practicing, playing and of course working their day jobs, to have time to work on something they may not even have the tech skills to do. I know many musicians who have very minimal web sites, even though they feel it is a necessity to promote themselves, because they have to hire someone to do it for them. Thank God for MySpace. So, I can use my computer and Internet knowledge to help out, at least in some small way.
So, that’s a long answer to a short question. Another question I hear often is “How do you make money doing this?” or “What do I charge for this?” The short answer is, I don’t. I don’t even intend to. I have gotten some good deals on my hosting by knowing the market and shopping around. The podcast costs me about $20 a month for hosting. Half of that is for my blogspace, which I run myself on a server that also holds several other projects of mine, so I can’t even count all of that. $10 per month pays Libsyn for the hosting of the audio files themselves. They are the best for podcasts, especially growing ones, because their fee schedule isn’t based on total bandwidth, it’s based on storage space. I pay for enough to hold about 4 podcasts per month. If one person downloads a podcast or 10,000 people download one, it costs the same. Try that hosting the files on a regular web space provider! I did put the first couple podcasts on OurMedia, which is free, but it was also slow and at times so busy I couldn’t even upload the files.
This is a hobby to me, but one I plan on pursuing into my upcoming retirement. At that time, I may need to recover some expenses. Equipment, gas, beer, etc. all cost money too, even if I’m not counting it now. And my time is still valuable. My retirement is considerably earlier than I had initially planned, due to my employers impending bankruptcy, so I may be going on to a new career too. It would help if, when the podcast reaches a more mature level with a larger listener base, I could find a way to “monetize” it, as they say in the podcast community. I can forsee the possibility of sponsorship, advertising, or donations playing a part of that. One thing I will never do is charge either the musician, the venues, or the listener. They’re all doing their part already!
The musicians I have spoken with have almost universally been supportive of this project. I’ve found them to be great people and fun to work with. A few have been skeptical or suspicious at first and I can understand that, but once they understand what I am doing, they are most cooperative. I think every response I’ve gotten has been positive. No one has ever said NO outright. A few have just not given me an answer. That’s okay. I respect that and it’s not a problem.
I’m finally starting to get to the point where I am getting bands and musicians approaching me. That’s good. Not because it makes my job easy (it does!) but because it means the word is getting out and they are recognizing the podcast as an opportunity for self-promotion. That’s what it is all about.
I think a big part of that has been MySpace. Podcast directories are great for people into podcasting, but for music, MySpace (and to a lesser degree, Garageband and other sites) is the place to be. The potential for finding bands, of for bands finding me, there is much better than anyplace on the web, just because it’s the 1000 pound gorilla of Internet networking right now. Every time I get on there, I find another local band I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. I’ve even found some great bands in my own hometown of Lockport that I wouldn’t have heard of otherwise. (Knowing what is going on here in Lockport is really hard. Our local paper sucks and almost nothing gets into the Buffalo paper. I hear more about what is happening in Amherst than Lockport.)
And one last item. No, I’m not much of a “Radio Announcer.” I have no background in broadcasting, or DJ work. Even though I ran a pirate FM radio station for several years, it was all music, no voice. I’m still learning to be comfortable in front of a mike. I work on the podcast squirreled away in my bedroom or when no one is home, in the kitchen, because I’m still pretty self-consious about it. I know I make a lot of unprofessional mistakes, ummms, ahhhs, you knows, etc. and am a long way from doing a podcast in one take. I record the voice portions and often edit them before inserting them into the podcast. I’m getting pretty used to doing dry cuts where if I screw up, I simply pause, start again and cut the mistake out later. That would never work on-air! I have a lot of admiration for the pros at the radio stations, even if broadcast radio sucks. (It’s not the announcers’ fault.It’s part of the same big corporate mess music is in.) Somehow, the live interviews are easier and while I still make mistakes the other people really put me at ease. It’s all about them, not me, anyway.