Thursday, December 13, 2007

Church of Girl

The stated aim of Church of Girl is "Airing the Female Voice".

Internet radio owes a lot to the female voice. Well, one voice in particular: Suzanne Vega's. As many of you may know, Internet radio really got its kick-start from Nullsoft's Shoutcast server technology, which made it easy for amateurs to set up a station streaming in mp3. The mp3 standard was in turn developed by the Fraunhofer Society in Germany. As legend has it, the good folks at Fraunhofer thought they had developed a half-decent lossy audio compression format. Instead, they were "disillusioned" upon hearing their audio format butcher a recording of the a capella version of Suzanne Vega's Tom's Diner. Diner was then used to effectively callibrate the mp3 format. This is why Suzanne Vega is sometimes referred to as the "mother or mp3".

But it gets more interesting. There really is something to the female voice that really interacts with people's psyche even when it's just part of some computer. Some people argue that it's more comforting. I've heard others argue that the male voice is considered more authoritative, and likely to be followed. From what I can tell, the female voice is just less irritating. Case in point: It seems like every IVR and voice-mail system out there uses a female voice. At Bell Canada, they've even taken it one step further and when you call for customer service, you're greeted by an IVR computer voice that brands herself as "Emily". Back in the day, when I worked for Northern Telecom (before they were called Nortel), I worked in the Meridian Mail division which was the first enterprise voicemail system. The highest paid employee was none other than "Meridian Mary" who recorded all the voice prompts. All the foreign voice prompts were also using a female voice.

I have no idea exactly what point I was trying to make in the last paragraph, except to say that there is something very distinct about the female voice that I find [dare I say] seductive? But what this translates to is that I'm much more apt to listen to the more indie stuff on Church of Girl. Let's face it, there's a lot of really good really cutting edge music out there, but some of it can be challenging. The female voice brings a great deal of accessibility to pretty much any genre it touches.

I would say that this is where Church of Girl excels. CoG is not about playing Celine Dion or Whitney Houston. If you want that, just listen to your local adult contemporary station. No, CoG is more rooted in the following artists from the 60s and 70s:

  • Janis Joplin
  • Nico (from The Velvet Underground, who also had a woman drummer: Moe Tucker)
  • Joni Mitchell
  • The Runaways
  • The Bangles
  • Lydia Lunch
  • Exene Cervanka
  • Siouxsie and the Banshees
  • Kate Bush
  • Michelle Shocked
  • KD Lang
  • Laurie Anderson
I'm looking at this list now, and while these are all legends, it doesn't really do justice to the variety on the station. Right now I'm listening to "The Dark Hour" which has a nice goth mix going. Later the next morning... I'm now listening to some hip hop ("Apani B-fly Emcee"). So the music is quite eclectic, which IMO makes for the best Internet radio stations.

Before signing off, I'd like to bring up one last thing. As far as censorship is concerned, at TUN3R we only have one rule: We don't list stations that have a clearly racist, sexist, or homophobic agenda. But some may argue that Church of Girl is sexist because it discriminates against the male voice. First off, CoG does have an hour dedicated to the boys... But more to the point, and more importantly, it is clear to me from listening to CoG that the station does NOT have a misandric (anti-male) agenda. This is a key distinction. However, it's certainly possible that a song has been played that may be considered a bit misandric (or perhaps the artists holds those opinions). But a station cannot be held to account for the lyrics of each and every song it plays, or the opinions of the artists it plays, and we must take the time to look at the bigger picture and take into account all songs that are being played.

Overall, there is no doubt in my mind that CoG has a positive karma score. They also play great music to boot!

Stay TUN3D.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Site back again!

Hi folks,
Apologies for the outage. The site is back up and running again.

-neil.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Site down: The price of cheap bandwidth

Hi folks,

I'm sorry to report that the site is down again. It looks to be a hardware issue ... again!
Life is all about trade-offs, and I suppose reliability is the price you pay for cheap bandwidth.
This reminds me of something my grandfather used to say "Buy cheap, buy dear."

We expect the site to return within a day or two.

Stay TUN3D.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Coming home to Radio Rivendell

As you can probably imagine, I listen to a lot of radio: Terrestrial; Satellite; Internet. You name it, and I've probably heard it. That said, I do have favourites that I go to frequently, and I also have stations I listen to when I'm in a certain mood or state-of-mind.

We all have those dreary days where we wished we were somewhere else. For me, this happens with a certain regularity since I can't resist a good session at the pub. Sure those pints of Becks or London Pride seemed like a good idea at the time, but the next day is invariably a bit of a slog. It's times like those, that I mellow out to Radio Rivendell: the all fantasy [mainly film score] station. Listening to scores from films like Lord of the Rings, Pan's Labyrinth, and my all time favourite Krull, gives me that warm and fuzzy "coming home" feeling.

But before I explain more about Rivendell, I should state my biases: I have always been an avid fantasy film buff. You see, as a child of the 80s I had but one simple criterion to help me determine whether or not a film was worth $2.50 (the going rate at the time): The Neil Monster Quotient. If the movie had one or more monster, it was worth looking into. If the movie had several monsters, it was a must-see. So, movies like Krull, Clash of the Titans, Beastmaster, Willow, and The Dark Crystal (and yes the Star Wars movies) were [in my mind] some of the greatest films of all time. Ah, but I have other biases towards fantasy: I am good friends with published horror/fantasy author Jason Ridler author of "Blood and Sawdust" (available on-line at darkrecesses.com and "A Whisper in the Scream" (available on-line at theharrow.com). Finally, I should mention that I live in Toronto, which is where Howard Shore lives, who won the Oscar for best film score for his Lord of the Rings score (we also produced an over-the-top broadway-style musical, which was reworked and moved to London).

Getting back to fantasy music. What is it exactly? Well, I think in the popular imagination fantasy music is something medieval sounding with lots of mandolin, flute, whistle, harp, and coral music. While these elements are present in some scores, fantasy film music is no longer beholden to these "Jethro Tullesque" cliches. Case-in-point: Many of the best film scores, and best film composers are for fantasy films:

  1. James Horner's Krull score
  2. Basil Poledouris' score for Conan the Barbarian
  3. Jerry Goldsmith's score for The Secret of NIMH
  4. John William's score for Harry Potter
  5. And, of course Howard Shore's Oscar winning score for The Lord of the Rings
Of course, at Radio Rivendell you can hear all of these scores, and many many more. In many ways, Rivendell stands on its own simply as a film score or even classical music station.

I've also been rooting around the site and also really enjoy it's design and layout. The site (and the station) have ostensibly been assembled by the one and only Lord Elrond, and is faithful to its fans and genre. I'm sure Tolkein would be proud.

Signing off, I implore my readers to return to or begin anew at the one of the Internet's coziest shires, that is Radio Rivendell.

Stay TUN3D.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Audio is fully back

Hi folks,
Our audio is fully back up again, and the site is completely back to normal.

Now that we've got a few scars on our backs I can get back to blogging about normal interesting radio things.

Stay TUN3D.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Back up again

Hi folk,

TUN3R is mainly operational - sans audio audio samples. You can still find and listen to your favourite stations, but the audio browsing will not be operational for another day or two more.

We again apologize for this.

Stay TUN3D.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sorry for the Interruptions: Will be back in 1-2 days

Hi folks - we're experiencing some hardware issues with our drives. So this has been why the site has been going up and down like a yo-yo for the past couple days. We expect to have this resolved in one or two days.

Basically, we had a catastrophic drive failure, and are recovering from back-ups. Consider it a 'rite of passage' for TUN3R.

If you feel like venting, just e-mail me at: neil@tun3r.com

Stay TUN3D.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Music + Movies = Awesome Radio Format

A couple posts back, my friend and guest blogger blogged about the difference between passive versus active listening (this blog was inspired by a comment made by Kevin Hiscock aka RadioGnome). I just discovered - and promptly added to The Dial - a station which takes a different approach to active versus passive listening. Namely, I'm referring to mplusm.fm. (Dial Spot: H47).

The station's format is so simple, yet so effective. I had one of those "why didn't I think of that" moments. Namely, just intersperse great music, with great film dialog - and boom kapow - you've got a kick-ass format that draws you in, but is also very relaxing. Namely, mplusm.fm (which originally began airing from Monaco) plays an eclectic mix of mainly downtempo beats and hip easy listening. When not playing music, they intersperse dialog from English or French films. They even invite you to send in submissions of dialog (samples must be of a high quality).

Since I'm a huge film buff, I absolutely adore this. Furthermore, I've got a tremendous respect for French New Way cinema, so hearing the French dialog reminds me of the great French New Wave directors like Godard, Truffat, Resnais, Clouzot. Not to digress, but if you've never heard of the French New Wave movement, you should check out some films like "The Four hundred Blows" by Truffaut, and "Week End", by Godard. The major innovations that came out of the French New Wave movement was a return to a "grass roots" approach to film making utilizing hand-held cameras, and amateur actors, and the directors typically would also write the screenplay. The director referred to himself as an "auteur", which for me is the most critical aspect of the movement, as it represented being about one person holding to a singular artistic vision and truly taking ownership of the medium. Contrast this with big budget Hollywood films which tend to be more like major construction projects, with the director acting as more of a project manager, than an artist. Today this movement has been resurrected by the Danish Dogme95 movement, whose most famous director is the gifted Lars Von Trier, but even mainstream Hollywood still borrows much from French New Wave (The Bourne Ultimatum comes to mind).

Which brings me back to mplusm.fm - there is undoubtedly artistry to not only this approach, but also the way in which it is executed. Auteurs, they are indeed.

One last thing - I implore you to check out their web site. They have a fine collection of photos of high-end vintage hifi audio gear. Sweet!

Stay TUN3D.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Alternative Music - it doesn't exist

Hi folks, I have another fine post from guest blogger Kevin Hiscock (aka Radio Gnome who is behind Radio Hidebound, Dial Spot: H9)

I also wanted to mention that we've made a few changes to The Dial. Namely, we've improved the horizontal scrolling, so now it's pretty easy to get to the far right without having to spend $3000 on a high-end monitor.
Secondly, we've added two extra Bands. Although there is room on the Main Band, most new stations will be placed on the Overflow Band. Last, but not least, we've forced the entire Dial to be black-and-white. Previously, there were a few spots that defied this rule. We've fixed that so it's all in B&W. Basically the reason for making the Dial B&W is so that we can overlay colour to convey more information, such as search results and Bookmarks/Presets.

Now, onto Kevin's post:

=========================================================================================

Alternative Music - it doesn't exist
(or, how pompous can Americans really be?)

It's a pet peeve of mine. In general, I don't particularly like "labeling" music. Like songs are people working in Dilbert and the simple-minded must create cubicles for the songs to work in. But "Alternative Music" as a "genre" of music simply pisses me off.

Alternative Music - what the fuck is that? Ooooh, it's a bunch of greasy long-hairs from Seattle (disclaimer: I'm a greasy long hair from D.C.). What about Toure Kunda? Or Geoffrey Oryema? Or C Cat Trance? Or nowdays, fucking Tchaikovsky. Any kind of music will ALWAYS have an alternative.

The word "alternative", for those who give a shit, was coined because "the labelers" figured out "college radio" wasn't really a label for music, but a FORMAT for a radio station. For a radio station, the word "alternative" makes sense since the majority of radio stations are sheep. Before the Internet, "alternative" meant something for a radio station. Now, not so much. Thank Goddess. But this "Alternative Music" label crap has GOT TO GO.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Active Listening vs. passive listening and the pop hook

Another post from James Wallace
---
Hi everyone. In responding to my last post, radio gnome from the station Radio Hidebound made a comparison between passive and active music listeners.

Passive listeners have music in the background and hum along with the melody, while active listeners try to soak in all different aspects of the music such as the lyrics, the tone of the instruments and the different rhythms and melodies. As a teenager, whenever I discovered a new artists or a song I was really crazy about, I would play that music for people I knew anticipating that they would be able to find the same aspects of the music that I dug so much or even better: perhaps they would hear something that I didn’t and would be able to give me a whole new perspective on the music. Usually I would get a cool response like “oh, it’s ok” or “not bad” or “I don’t know.” I can only think of a couple of people who were able to give me instant feedback and would be able to describe what they heard and reference other music in the process. I realized that a lot of people need time to come to accept new music, particularly music that is challenging and does not use a conventional approach to melody.

This brings me to the pop hook. Popular music of all genres needs to have the pop hook to function. The chorus of the new country song or the beat of the latest hip-hop track all need to have a certain melodic structure in order to get the listener humming along. Modern pop music particularly focuses on a repetitive chorus that is catchy and easy to sing along too. You will rarely hear music that ever breaks this rule on contemporary radio and it is this “hook” that is a necessity for the passive music listener. My friend’s father from Romania used to love singing along to the chorus of Country and Western songs and would just mumble during the verses. The lyrics of the song where irrelevant to him and didn’t really matter, as long as he had that chorus to come back to.

As I listen to Sun Ra’s Spectrum on Sky FM’s Modern Jazz station while I write this blog entry, I think of the vast universe of music that gets left out of the equation when the need for the conventional pop hook usurps all other aspects of music. Many peopled have argued with me that it is this approach to melody and song structures that people are drawn to at an instinctual level. However, I don’t know whether or not this is true. I lived in South Korea for five years (An-yong-hae-se-yo!) and I got the chance to listen to a lot of traditional Korean music. This music (along with other traditional music from across Asia) has a total different point of reference in terms of melody and rhythm than what is found in the western musical cannon. These melodic structures developed out of this society. Unfortunately, this music is nowhere near as popular these days in South Korea as the very commercialized pop music which fills the radios and television sets across the country(though there is great stuff happening in the underground). The westernized pop hook has infected their culture.

What I came to realize was that Korean traditional music requires more active participation from the listener for it to be truly appreciated. And I find that this true of most music that doesn’t follow the conventional pop structure. The listener doesn’t mindlessly hum along to the chorus but rather has to be engaged in the experience. Just as a Thomas Pynchon novel requires more of the reader than one written by Stephen King. Just as a Werner Herzog film requires more of the viewer than one made by James Cameron. However, if the listener, reader or viewer is willing to do the work, then the rewards I think are huge. I would love to see listeners of commercial radio be able to take the time to really appreciate beauty of Indonesian Gamelan music or the compositions of Bela Bartok. But then again maybe I’m dreaming.

In case you didn’t think I liked any pop music, here are some of my favorite pop albums:

  • Brian Eno-Here Comes The Warm Jets
  • The Jesus and The Mary Chain-Psychocandy
  • The Pixies-Doolittle
  • Change Of Heart-Smile
  • The Rheostatics-Introducing Happiness
--James Wallace (jwcwallace@yahoo.com)

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tony Wilson: 1950-2007, RIP

About 2 years ago I caught the movie 24 Hour Party People, directed by Michael Winterbottom, and starring Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson, an impresserio who led the "Madchaster" movement in Manchester, England during the late '70s towards the early '80s, on the heels of the punk rock. Wilson is credited for [among other things] having launched the seminal '80s new wave movement, spearheaded by his backing of Joy Division, which went on to become New Order. More concretely, he helped form the label "Factory Records", and founded a club called The Ha├žienda which was arguably the nucleus of this scene.

While the story of Tony Wilson might be seen as a story of the musical universe, I think it's equal parts the business universe.

While Tony's behaviour was at times erratic, what rose above all else was his sincere dedication to the scene he was promoting. While he was as a matter of intent and instinct, a businessperson, and understood his fiduciary obligations. He believed in what he was promoting, and maintained a rare integrity to the end. Of course, to a certain extent you could argue that this was his downfall, and quite frankly I wonder if he could have had his cake and eat it to.

That said, history has judged him well, and from our perspective here and now, how can we fault him?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Music to my ears: Sprint is spending $5 billion on WiMax

Just read this article.

Sprint claims that their service will reach up to 100 million people upon completion! For those of you who are new to WiMax, it's basically a wireless technology that was originally developed by Motorala under the name Canopy. The technology is a lot like WiFi, but a single WiMax "hotspot" can cover up to a 50 km radius. Furthermore, multiple hotspots can be "meshed" together to form a continuous uninterrupted wireless broadband network.

The future of Internet radio will be intertwined with WiMax, and the availability of cheap GSM/CDMA networks. When people ask me why Internet Radio isn't more popular if it's so great, my answer is: "When the entire population can drive around in their car, and listen to it for practically nothing, then we'll see big changes."

I believe at this point, Internet Radio will see dramatic growth, mainly at the expense of terrestrial and satellite radio. It will be possible for both terrestrial and satellite to carry over large portions of their listenership to Internet radio - especially terrestrial radio which tends to have a local focus. However, satellite radio will be hit hard, and may be forced to reconsider their business model.

Consider this: when I was in Seoul Korea a few years ago, everyone was chatting on their cell phone in the subway. You couldn't get an FM radio signal down there, but you could listen to Internet radio (assuming you could afford the data charges). In a different situation, I was talking to Bob Hamilton from New Star Radio, and he told me that he was RVing around the mountains in Colorada and while his Internet radio connection through his Motorola Q was flawless, but his satellite connection was being constantly interrupted due to line-of-site interferences because the mountains were always getting in the way (this can also happen when driving near high rise buildings).

While I don't claim to be a psychic, there are certain events that can be easily predicted, especially when the march of technology is in clear view (as indicated by $5 billion infrastructure investments). If we look at the telecom markets, it was predicted that once VoIP technology became reliable it would cut into traditional telecom revenues. This is clearly happening right now. I see the emergence of cheap ubiquitous wireless broadband as accelerating the adoption of VoIP, and will carry Internet Radio with it.

Okay, enough technology for now, next blog we'll get back to talking about music.

Stay TUN3D.

Monday, August 13, 2007

From FM Terrestrial to Internet Radio: A DJ's firsthand account

Hi folks,

A short while back, I asked Kevin Hiscock (aka Radio Gnome) of radio hidebound (Dial spot: H9) if he could guest blog on the differences between DJing for a good ole' fashioned terrestrial radio station, and DJing on the Internet.

For me, the DJs studio is one of those iconic locales which I believe has always captured the popular imagination. For me personally, I had a friend who DJed late Saturday nights for the University of Waterloo's college station CKMS. After bugging my buddy for weeks, he let me hang out one night with him, and the place was everything I imagined: tons of records spilling off shelves; studio equipment; but most of all, a strange sense of intimacy with the microphone and the turntables that felt less like "just spinning tracks", but more like speaking your mind. Reading Kevin's reminds me of this time, but also shows me the work that goes into running a station, that at the time I probably took for granted.

So, without further ado: Kevin's first guest blog on his experiences DJing from terrestrial to the Internet
---
For me, the two are drastically different. I was "on the air" over 20 years ago playing "brand new music" and now I'm never actually "on the air" and playing, mostly, the music that was brand new over 20 years ago.

For the most part, my "on the air" experience was at WXYC, the college radio station in Chapel Hill, NC. I also spent a year or so at Chapel Hill's only commercial station, an AM Adult Contemporary Hits (at least that's what it was called back then) format. My commercial radio experience was pretty awful and aside from a few possibly funny anecdotes I told over the air, it's not really worth mentioning other than in no way was it fun or "art".

My college radio experience was just the opposite. I loved being on the air, even though at WXYC I hardly ever said anything other than, "that was {some song} by {some artist}, before that we heard blah blah blah and before that was blah blah blah . . . it's 24 minutes before two o'clock . . . you're listening to WXYC . . . and here is a new song from {some artist}.

In order to (eventually) write anything truly meaningful about the difference between "being on the air" on a terrestrial radio station and running an Internet radio station, I should probably write a little about WXYC itself. From the perspective of a DJ, aside from not getting paid (hmmmm . . . I'm sensing a pattern emerging), it was the closest thing to a perfect radio station that I can imagine. While we did have something resembling a format, the format was "anything good and let's focus a bit on music released in the last six months". While we focused on newly released music, a station favourite from many of the jocks was Nick Drake, so keep that in mind I guess. For most of the day's "programming" at 'XYC the only requirement was to play at least five songs every hour from our playbox. Our playbox had three parts, heavy rotation (about 25 records), medium rotation (about 25 other records) and light rotation (another 50 records or so). We were to play three heavies, one medium and one light every hour. Given a specific record in the playbox, we could play any song from that record we wanted to. Other than that, we could play whatever the hell we wanted to. Sometimes I'd play my five rotation songs and sometimes I might only play two or three of them. The new music rotation rule was really more a guideline.

When I started working (if that's the right word) at 'XYC in the fall of 1981, I was a typical 70's prog-rock junkie. I new absolutely nothing about punk, new wave, etc. etc. and, to be honest, didn't even particularly like it. I started on the path of learning about this "New Music" slowly, the station manager would keep telling me to play more new music and less Genesis et. al. and after six months or so I had changed my aural palette. Over the next four or five years, that palette grew and grew and grew. I kept playing Genesis et. al., but I played less and less as time went on and far more Teardrop Explodes and The Church and Rupert Hine - the 80's Rupert Hine, not so much the 70's Rupert Hine. And while I could have done all of this without being on the air, doing so in order to actually be on air and play songs was, I think, different than just listening to new music for myself.

Similar to many college radio stations, I had, for the most part, one two-hour shift every week. Those two hours were precious to me and I was very picky about the songs I played during those two hours. Those two hours were my way of saying, "here is the best music I think is being recorded today". Allow me to introduce you to U2, Echo & the Bunnymen, REM, Dream Syndicate, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Martha and the Muffins, Juluka, Guadalcanal Diary, Green on Red, the latest from Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel and David Bowie and Brian Eno and Bill Nelson. While I wasn't playing the Top 40 as defined by Billboard, I was playing the Top 400 as defined by the radio gnome. I would go to the station about 30 minutes before my show started and look at the list of songs played by the jock (we never really used the term "DJ", we were just "jocks") before me and the one before them to know what I couldn't play, since I didn't want to repeat anything they had played. Then I would go into the records library and pull 30-40 records for my two hours. I might not play a song from all 40 records, but I'd pull enough records so I could pick various things based on context. Then I'd take my 40 records into the control room and at the top of the hour, I was on the air.

The biggest part of actually being "on the air" was segues. When I started, I didn't know any segues, I didn't even know what a segue was. But over time I learned how to listen to both the beginning and ending of a song to get ideas about other songs to play before or after a song I was hearing for the first time. For songs in the playbox, if I "heard a great seg", which means I would hear it in my head while the playbox song was playing, I would rarely have the record the song was on in the control room. I'd make a mad dash into the library, pull the record, run back into the control room and cue up my song. Sometimes I made it back to the control in time, sometimes I didn't (oh the joys of college radio). Most of the time I made it back into the control room in time to cue the song. Which brings me to slip-cueing. Our turntables had felt covers on them so one could cue up a song, then a few seconds before the song currently playing would end one would put a thumb on the turntable for stability, put a ring finger (it had to be the ring finger, using the index finger was simply not sexy enough) on the vinyl, start the turntable while holding onto the record and then at an appropriate moment . . . let go . . . and the next song would start at a precise time. After getting reasonably sufficient at slip-cueing, I would actively search out segues with a high degree of difficulty, segues that would require me to . . . let go . . . at the exact split second or have the segue be spoiled. I could write a bit about cold fades and warm fades and false ends, but then we might be here for awhile.

All of this led to a very tactile aspect of being on the air. My fingers were almost constantly touching something while I was on the air. At times it was a bit like playing an instrument and sometimes even slightly athletic.

Fast forward 20-something years to running an Internet radio station. Because I decided to attempt being some kind of time capsule of what I did at WXYC, there is not much of a new music component to radio hidebound and definitely not one where the whole point is to find the best of everything released this week. There is also no real concept of "being on the air". I'm never really "on the air" at all. I suppose I could sit down and run the station manually for a couple of hours, but . . . why?

Instead of pulling of records from the library at WXYC, I rip CDs into mp3 files.

Instead of listening to boatloads of new music, I review the mp3 files to make sure they are technically okay and list the songs from each record I want to include in the playlist for radio hidebound.

Instead of sitting in the control room with a pile of LPs leaning against a cabinet, I load the mp3 files of songs I like into my broadcasting software's database.

Instead of opening boxes of promotional records we would receive at 'XYC, I search for CDs I to buy. Yes, I have to plunk down my own money to buy CDs I want to play on the station. WXYC would get promotional copies of everything under the sun.

Instead of opening my mic to say "it's 24 minutes before 2:00", I record canned mp3 file station IDs that say things like "it's 24 minutes before 24 minutes from now . . . you're listening to radio hidebound". I have no idea what time it will be when the station ID gets played and I have no idea what time zone a listener might be in when they hear it.

Instead of taking requests to play specific songs over the phone, I answer posts in my online forum about, well, whatever a listener wants to say.

Instead of having a personal Top 400 list of songs to choose from once a week, I have a library of over 10,000 "songs that don't suck" playing in an endless loop with various controls in place so that the same song or musician doesn't get repeated too frequently.

Instead of personally selecting what song to play next, I leave that to the logic of the software I use. Having said that, I am almost constantly amazed at how good most of the segs I hear on radio hidebound are. Sometimes there are some real losers, but in general I think they are pretty good and sometimes I'll hear two songs played together which I would never have thought of playing together and be thrilled at how well they blended together.

Instead of broadcasting to a very small potential audience in Chapel Hill, NC, I am broadcasting to the largest potential audience possible, the world.

Finally . . . there is all of the technology involved in running an Internet radio station and the reality that I'm responsible for all of it working. I didn't have to worry about anything like this at WXYC. Walking into 'XYC was like flipping on a light switch, I expected everything to work and if something wasn't working, all I could do was call the station's engineer. Now I'm responsible for:

- making sure my DSL connection is working
- maintaining the various computers involved in running radio hidebound
- installing, configuring, enhancing and trouble-shooting my broadcasting software
- connecting to my broadcast host and dealing with the bills, etc.
- making sure I'm legal with all licensing issues
- ftp'ing files to a non-php HTML host server (the original "web presence" for radio hidebound)
- installing, configuring, enhancing and trouble-shooting my own portfolio of php-based software to provide for an on-line community experience for my listeners
- making whatever vain attempts at marketing I can think of

Today, I probably spend more time on the community parts of radio hidebound than I do on the station itself. Of course I keep adding songs to the playlist, but doing so takes very little time, other than spending time listening to a record I'm unfamiliar with several times before deciding which songs to add. A process which takes a little longer than one might think because I also spend a lot of time simply listening to the station itself. Listening to my station. In part to make sure it is still on the air, but mostly because I simply enjoy listening to it. If I didn't, why would I go to all of this trouble in the first place? While, of course, I want to have other people listening to the station to feel somehow important, mostly I just want to enjoy listening to it. If someone else enjoys listening, great, if not, that's okay too.
---

Friday, August 10, 2007

We got our first award. And, introducing new guest blogger

Hi folks,

We won an award to today! We won the MashupAward of the Day. We're all feeling a bit chuffed today.

I also wanted to take this opportunity to introduce a guest blogger for Monday's post. I've already taken a peak, and quite frankly, this is one of the most interesting blogs I've read in a long time. Namely, Kevin Hiscock (aka Radio Gnome) has generously furnished TUN3R with his first-hand account of transitioning from a terrestrial DJ to an Internet DJ.

This is a story I've been waiting to hear for a long time. Folks, this is what the Internet is all about. As much as I'm into new technology, it's these types of stories where I get off my ass to print out a hardcopy, and take it with me on the subway and read from beginning to end. This is the real shit folks.

Stay TUN3D.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Dial Presets (bookmarks) now live

We now have TUN3R Dial Presets!

In a nutshell this allows you to bookmark your favourite stations, and then quickly jump from Preset to Preset, using the left and right arrow buttons next to the "Bookmark" field, found in the station details area just beneath The Dial.

This is a feature I've been dying to see for a while now. While I think this feature is a no-brainer, what I think will make it more useful than the bookmark feature in most media players, is that TUN3R is not restricted to any media format (we're close to rolling out support for Windows Streaming Media-only stations), so you'll be able to flip through all your favourite stations from one place.

We've also made it cookie based, so effectively we're storing the bookmarks directly into a browser cookie. This basically means that if you change browsers (e.g. from IE to Firefox) you may lose your Presets. We're working on a simple way of embedding Presets into a web address (URL) so you'll be able to easily save them in your Favourites, and e-mail them to your friends and family. We took this approach instead of forcing you to sign up for a TUN3R account, as quite frankly, there's no need to force users to register, and we want to keep things as simple as possible.

We're now working on another feature that's a bit more ambituous than Presets, and we're even more stoked about that one, but for now let us know what you think of the Presets, and how we might improve them to make your life simpler.

Stay TUN3D.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Another Rant

This is James Wallace's second blog entry for TUN3R.com.

Btw, folks we just updated the FAQ to explain The Dial a bit better. Check it out at: http://tun3r.com/faq.html

---

Hi folks! In my last blog entry I made a slight error. I described Radio Hidebound as a hardcore punk station. This is actually not true. On my iTunes player, I have Radio Hidebound right next to PHC radio. Radio Hidebound is in fact a station that is trying replicate the sound of college radio during the eighties and they don’t really venture into full on punk hardcore sounds. They do however play many great bands from the 1980’s underground such as The Violent Femmes, Rain Parade, Dumptruck, The Feelies and Mission Of Burma. They don’t solely play bands from the eighties but that is there prime focus and it is a great all around station. PHC radio is a totally kick ass station and is the place to go to hear hardcore punk. I wish this station had been around when I was eighteen. Every time I listen, I hear punk greats such as Crass, Oi Polloi, The Exploited, The Lurkers, Dayglo Abortions, The Bruisers and numerous others. They don’t completely confine themselves to the genre as I have heard Devo, Killing Joke, Skinny Puppy and even both Blondie and Nina Hagen played in the mix. I love this station.

The way in which music is promoted and consumed is very different than it was in the classic rock era. Back then, there was not this same over saturated hype machine that exists in this day and age. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd did not have to release singles that would be oversaturated on the radio, create a cheesy video to go along with it, appear on the talk shows and get write ups in magazines that have nothing to do with music. The music seemed to have much more of a mystery to it. I recently heard one music critic (sorry his name escapes me) say “the music was out there and the people believed in it.” Major labels gave the bands much more freedom and would allow them to experiment. This situation is a rarity these days.

Imagine if the Strokes had just been a band that was out there and touring and was not oversaturated with hype. Imagine if they gradually began to build a fan base and their legacy began to spread through word of mouth. They would have not been suffocated by the whole marketing hype machine that surrounded their first release. In the conversations that I’ve had with my friends, they point out that artists could potentially subvert the whole music industry by releasing their music entirely through the internet and could build a fan base through word of mouth, file sharing, and being played on independent radio stations. I’m sure there are artists taking this approach and would love to see a whole wave of artists stick it to the man. But for me this begs another question: How do we convince people to take more interest in trying to discover their own music rather than simply being passive consumers waiting for the major labels to show them what they should be listening to? Maybe my expectations are too high. Our society cares more about Paris Hilton than Darfur. And in turn entertainment is far more important than art.

Here are some bands/artists that I wish were more well known.

  1. The Fall
  2. Wire
  3. The Pop Group
  4. Gang of Four
  5. The Birthday Party
  6. Savage Republic
  7. No Means No
  8. Can
  9. Victim’s Family
  10. The Residents
  11. Pere Ubu
  12. John Fahey
  13. Henry Cow
  14. Chrome
  15. The Silver Apples
  16. Sonny Sharrock
  17. Mx-80 Sound
  18. Simply Saucer
  19. John Zorn
  20. Swans
  21. The Ex
  22. Sun Ra
  23. James Chance
  24. Lydia Lunch
  25. Discharge
You can read about these bands at: http://www.allmusic.com/
-James Wallace (jwcwallace@yahoo.com)
---
Neil writing now. Thanks James!
I just want to mention that I was contacted by another James Wallace - who is the CEO of http://priceprotectr.com/
It turns out he's also a music buff who's used TUN3R, and read this blog, and was floored when he read about my buddy James also being a music buff. We had a great conversation on the phone, and now I know two cool James Wallace's. Hey, how's that for serendipity.
So, calling all James Wallace's and Neil Hepburn's out there - feel free to contact me. You never know what will happen.

Stay TUN3D.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Portofino Network makes Adult Contemporary Fresh Again

Several years ago, Martin Short (a well known Canadian comedian/actor) was asked why there were so many successful Canadian comedians in Hollywood (e.g. Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, John Candy, Dan Akroyd). Martin Short responded by saying "Americans watch television. Canadians watch American television."

In effect, Mr. Short was saying that an outsider's perspective is sometimes a better perspective.
I think Italians get this too, and to their testament one of the greatest comedians of all time - Roberto Benigni - hails from this great country.

Which brings me to... Portofino Network (www.portofinolive.net). Based right in Portofino (as its name suggests), Portofino Radio sticks to what here in Canada would be described as "Adult Contemporay". This is often referred to as "middle of the road" fare, and I'll be the first to admit I'm not in this station's core audience. However, there are always those songs we'll hear from time to time which can best be described as a "guilty pleasure". For me, Portofino has managed to pull out and spin those gems, which has drawn me back to into this genre, where my local FM stations pushed me away. It shows you what a great DJ is capable of, and why DJing truly is a creative form. If you'd have asked me if I'd be interested in listening to Gloria Estefan, Simply Red, Phil Collins, and Christopher Cross, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders. But in reality, I do have a soft spot for the particular songs that Portofino has chosen, and it all sounds kind of fresh to me even though some of these are older songs. Sure there are times where I'll hear a song and roll my eyes a bit - but to get Neil Hepburn to actually enjoy Adult Contemporary is no mean feat.

I was about to blog on Portofino this earlier, but another neat Italian station flipped on the TUN3R Dial: Lolliradio Happy Station (www.lolliradio.net). I haven't spent as much time listening to this station as I have Portofino, so I can't talk with any authority about the music itself. However, what caught my attention was its niche. Namely, Lolliradio just plays "happy music". I think on its own, focusing on emotions is pretty cool concept, and one of the reasons I love Internet radio. There's so much trailblazing going on. Heck, I'd also be interested in a station playing "sad music" (not to be confused with "melancholic music"), another playing "angry music", and of course "sexy music". The cool thing about such a concept is that you could easily cross genres and languages and still keep to that same emotional theme.

By the way, I've talked about stations from Italy, but not Italy itself. If you haven't been to Italy yet, this is a must-visit country. Oddly, my fondest memories were skiing in Canazei in the dolomites, which is not what you would normally think of when you think of Italy. Who'd of thunk that some of the worlds best skiing (especially if you like touring) could be found in Italy. There are so many other great places I could mention but that would be a blog post on its own But I think another reason why I love Italy is the food. There is just this incredible attention to freshness of ingredients whereever you go. It makes you realize how processed and bad the food is here in North America.

Well that's it for this week. My friends James says he's got another blog post he wants to put up, so in all likelihood you'll be hearing from him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

BlastFm.ch has a Nose for Cool

A while back when I lived in Copenhagen Denmark, I knew a guy - Lornts - who worked with the fashion industry. He wasn't a designer. Rather, he worked for himself as a distributor of new international brands that he would introduce to Denmark. When Lornts wasn't pitching these brands to Danish retailers, he was on the lookout for the next trends. Although he was too modest to have described himself as this, he was basically a Cool Hunter.

I asked Lornts how he did it, and how the fashion industry knows what's fashionable. He explained to me that the fashion industry (while appearing to be in control), were in fact slaves to the unpredictable, and generally would respond through copying and selling for a cheaper price. He showed me that in spite of how hard the fashion industry would try to guide the direction of fashion, the latest tends would always emerge from a grass roots level. This intrigued me, and I kept asking Lornts how he could tell what was coming next. He admitted that he was wrong a lot of the time, but explained that he would just observe people on the street, what they were wearing, how they were positioned, what they were doing, how they were talking, and so on. Beyond that he was unable to give any specifics. This intrigued me further since the whole thing seemed almost mystical in that we couldn't dissect it, but at the same time he was always pretty successful, so there was definitely something real and tangible going on - just impossible to pick apart.

Which brings me to BlastFM.ch.

We recently were contacted by BlastFm.ch to put their station on our Dial. I always take a listen to new stations going up on our Dial, and this one really caught my ear. These guys really have their ear-to-the-ground. In their own words, BlastFM.ch plays a "mix of Dub, Downbeat, Funky breaks and cold sweated House". For me it just sounds authentic. When I listen to BlastFM.ch I'm reminded of some of the best bars, coffeeshops, and parties in some of my favourite European cities like: Amsterdam; Copenhagen; Berlin; Paris; Krakow; Prague; and Jaun les Pins.

For me, this music is pure zen. Much like the station's gorgeous surroundings located in Bern Switzerland.

I'll be honest though, I don't recognize the names of over 90% of what these guys play, but it's all really really good! The genius of BlastFM.ch appears not to be entirely an accident. In their own words:"After collecting records for years and spending hours in bars and clubs around the world, the time has finally come. BlastFM.ch, a brand new webradio, is ready for Blast off." So, clearly there is a genuine pedigree here. The fact that they have been able to mix together such distinctive and silky sets can partly be explained by this experience. How they do it. We'll never know. At this point, science must take a back seat, and we should all kick back and enjoy the music.

We are very proud to have stations like BlastFM.ch on the TUN3R Dial.

In my next post I'll talk about another station that recently joined The Dial, but that which appeals to a totally different mood.

Stay TUN3D.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The State of FM radio. All Praise the Sounds of Mediocrity

The radio DJ used act as a portal for the listener to discover new music. The DJ was somebody who was passionate about music and willingly to take risks with the kind of sounds that they would play. Listeners would gravitate to the show because it was a way to become informed about what was happening out there in the musical landscape. Radio would provide a listener with both the surprise of hearing the familiar (I love this song) and something new. DJ’s had a great knowledge of music and felt a responsibility to share that knowledge with the listener. The DJ I believe that most exemplified this attitude was the late John Peel. Mr. Peel had possibly one of the most receptive attitudes towards new sounds in the music industry. His ear was constantly to the underground. He played Kraut rock and dub reggae in the early seventies, when no one was familiar with those styles. He embraced the punk movement right from the beginning. He was even open to playing the early grind core bands such as Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror and Doom. He would never dismiss a band because of the genre they were associated with. Mr. Peel loved music that was passionate. I also personally have a great love for Mr. Peel because he championed my favorite band of all time: The Fall.

Outside of College radio, every time I listen to the FM dial, I hear the same formulaic sounds. The latest “alternative” band who sounds like the same batch of Pearl Jam clones or Green Day clones or Smashing Pumpkins clones that have permeated the airwaves for the last fifteen years. I’m not quite sure what aspect of this music makes it “alternative”. I think the majority of it sounds so similar that it all seems to blur together like the hum of a radiator. I find it depressing that Nickleback is the soundtrack for the current generation. Then there are the classic rock stations. Don’t get me wrong. Floyd, Zeppelin, Sabbath and Hendrix are my gods, but I hear the same songs day in and day out. And they wouldn’t dare play groundbreaking artists from that era like Can, The Stooges, Captain Beefheart, Rocky Erikson or The Silver Apples. You can’t even hear any Frank Zappa. And god help me if I ever start listening to adult contemporary. Pass me the Celine Dion and the Prozac. And unfortunately, we don’t hear many political messages from the world of hip-hop anymore (at least on contemporary radio). No Public Enemy or KRS-1. Just lyrics about making money, treating women badly and the glorification of Gangsta culture.

Thank god for internet radio! Finally there are options out there for the true music fan! Due to sites like TUN3R, I can listen to a whole variety of music genres. I can flip back and forth between Techno, bluegrass, death metal, free jazz, Goth, punk and
numerous other sounds. And I’m rarely interrupted by ads or mainstream DJ’s with their patronizing marketing voices. I can just listen to the music. I always have believed that radio should be this way. I never could accept the mediocre and passionless sounds that fill the mainstream charts were what the masses really wanted. I also like the fact that many of the stations don’t confine themselves to one genre of music. I have never met anybody who ever just liked one form of music. But if you want to hear something really specific (such as sixties garage rock), you can find it with TUN3R.

It is for all the above reasons that people who are passionate about music should support Internet radio. Internet radio represents a challenge to the main stream music providers and that’s why they’re so scared. It’s time music fans started to subvert the system.

Here are some of my current favorite stations:

1. Sky Fm Modern Jazz- For the free/experimental jazz lover in you
2. Radio Hidebound- A must for any hardcore punk fan
3. Technicolor web of sound- A place to hear rare psychedelic and garage sounds from the sixties.
4. Flux 4- a great eccentric station.
5. Aural Moon- Prog rock geek heaven.
6. Doom; Dark music for tortured souls- the same says it all
7. Radio Bira/R1A- The heaviest of metal sounds
8. Dandelion radio- A great station that named John Peel’s own record label. The station plays a great range of music and keeps with the philosophy of the late DJ.

-James Wallace (jwcwallace@yahoo.com)

Monday, July 9, 2007

We Came, We Launched, We got Swamped

Well, I'm sure this is not the first time this has happened, although it's always embarrassing. We made a formal announcement this morning launching TUN3R, press release and all, and things started out pretty modestly.


Then, we got blogged on TechCrunch. I'll admit we were completely taken aback by this as TechCrunch is in many ways the "holy grail" of tech blogs. Well, okay, it's not as mainstream as Walt Mossberg or CNET, but in many regards TechCrunch is more influential. Don' believe me, check out this article in this month's Wired (the Transformer issue):
http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/15-07/ff_arrington
So, needless to say things have been a bit hectic, and admittedly this post, and the last post were a bit dry.


That said, starting with our next post, I'd like to get to something a bit more down-to-earth, and actually interesting to read about radio and music itself. So, this brings me to... James Wallace. I'm lucky to know Mr. Wallace, one of the biggest music geeks I've ever known. You've probably never heard of him, but the man is one of those walking encyclopedia's that never ceases to amaze me with his depth and breadth of knowledge of music. He also opened my mind to numerous bands, genres, and sub-genres, and has left me with a lasting interest for new music. However, having a healthy skepticism for all things corporate, he doesn't like to work for "the man", and is instead a respected middle school teacher, so I'm fortunate that he's agreed to write a blog post or two for us.


Stay TUN3D.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Day of Silence

More of an announcement than any news.
Tomorrow, June 26th, many internet radio broadcasters will be protesting the Copyright Ruling Board by holding a Day of Silence. TUN3R.com will be joining this protest by suspending our services.

On with the message (if you haven't already heard):

The future of Internet radio is in immediate danger. Royalty rates for webcasters have been drastically increased by a recent ruling and are due to go into effect on July 15 (retroactive to Jan 1, 2006!). To protest these rates and encourage you to take action and contact your Congressional representatives, we are taking part in the Day of Silence, by silencing our programming for today. We ask that you excuse the interruption of our normal programming, and ask that you take action to help ensure this silence is not permanent.
Please call your Congressional Representatives today.
Click the link below
http://www3.capwiz.com/saveinternetradio/issues/alert/?alertid=9738601 for instructions how.
Thank you.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

CBS buys Last.fm: Analysis

You may have read recently that CBS has bought Last.fm for $280 million. The stated rationale being:

"$280 Million Acquisition Gives CBS One of the Largest Social Platforms with More Than 15 Million Active Users In More than 200 Countries."

Reading through the various press release, and related articles, I was expecting to hear something about The Copyright Royalty Board, but nothing. I also find it interesting that this deal closed now, and didn't wait a couple months to see the dust settle. That said, I have no doubt CBS did its due diligence and is aware of these threats. The deal emphasizes the social networking aspect of last.fm, and understandably so.

So, is this deal about radio, social networking, or both? Although it would appear to be about both, I don't hear much business banter about internet radio. What has hit a fevered pitch is social networking. Facebook is going crazy right now, and based on some of the API services their running now, this is the platform to beat (forget MySpace: Google, MSN, and Yahoo! watch your back). In fact, I just heard about this morning about a new service called iLike.com which is using the Facebook platform to help people find others with similar music tastes, based primarily on users iTunes library. It's a cool idea, and I wish them the best - same goes for Last.fm

But how relevant is social networking to radio? This has yet to be determined. For me, when it comes to radio, social networking still takes a back seat to the broadcasters and deejays themselves. Simply put, radio is a very very passive medium. It's not like collecting music where you're reading liner notes, and making decisions about what to buy, and how to organize it. It's not even all that much like television which is also pretty passive, where you can talk about an interesting episode of Lost, or who's going to get voted off of Idol.

For me (and according to most statistics I've read), radio is for the most part a pleasant distraction while we work, drive, exercise, go for a walk, or wake up in the morning. I've got my favourite stations, and yes I'll go out and look for others from time to time (thank you TUN3R.com ;) ). Of course friends can recommend good stations, and that no doubt will be something to watch for.

Maybe you'll see TUN3R.com on Facebook, in the very near future...

Stay TUN3D.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

TUN3R now allows you to search Playlists

It's been a good week!
We've launched the radio playlist search feature at TUN3R.com, and will continue to expand on this. If you haven't had a chance to try it yet, go NOW! I can't tell you how many great stations I've been able to find with just this feature alone, and it's really really improved the audio browsing experience.

Basically, I can now enter the name of an artist and/or song title and the TUN3R Dial lights up all stations that play those tracks. When you move to that station on The Dial you can now see a large sample of tracks played over the few days, in addition to hearing a live audio sample from the station itself. In my opinion, this really separates the "wheat from the chafe". It's one thing to say you play "pop" or "alternative", but different people have vastly different views of what this means.

Now, if you just take a look at the playlist you can get a pretty clear idea of what the broadcaster is really all about, just by see the past played tracks, as well as hearing the audio sample. I've been literally spending hours on this thing and continue to find gold nuggets. I'm also amazed at how eclectic and varied Internet radio is compared to terrestrial FM radio.

For the first time, in a long time, I'm discovering music I actually like. I've always known that these awesome DJs are out there, but TUN3R has allowed me to pinpoint them.

Now, I should state my bias: I've always been a bit dissatisfied with the other "music discovery" services out there. Services like Pandora, Last.Fm, and Yahoo! Launch have failed to keep me hooked, and in a nutshell here's why:

  1. I feel like I've got to constantly "teach" these services what I like. But when I'm listening to radio, I just want to kick back and relax. If a bad song comes on, I feel like I need to act quickly and tell the system that this is not what I want, otherwise the neural nets and genetic algorithms might get the wrong idea and God forbid, think I'm indifferent to the song. To stressful!
  2. These systems haven't been able to find really really fresh new catchy material that I crave. Hey, I'm a sucker for a great pop hook, but I don't see how a computer algorithm can really differentiate between a genuinely awesome pop hook, and a kids tune from Miffy the Sweet Little Bunny. To be fair, I know that these systems use "the wisdom of the crowds" (also known as "the tyranny of the masses") to recommend music. That said, a cutting edge DJ will always be one step ahead of the crowds. I believe the technical term for what a good DJ is, is Opinion Leader.
  3. Sometimes I like a bit of repetition in my radio. Sure it's nice to hear new stuff, but there are also those new songs that hit the market you're just craving to hear more of. Real DJs seem to get this intuitively.
  4. I like the shared experience of listening to a broadcast and knowing that others are also partaking. It's the same reason I like going to movie theaters, live concerts, and even live sports (okay I'm not a huge sports fan). Super customized radio just doesn't give me that feeling, and there's nobody to talk about it with.
  5. I simply like the idea of a real person spinning tunes, in the same way that I prefer playing video games with real people. For me it feels like there is more of a soul behind music. I see DJing as much of an art as it is a science.

We're still working on lots of improvements which you'll to wait to see, but so far I think TUN3R is practically everything I've wanted out of a radio search engine.

Since I love talking about music, feel free to drop me an e-mail at: neil@tun3r.com, and tell me what you think, and what stations you've found since playing with the newly upgraded Dial.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tim Westergren of Pandora and John Simpson of SoundExchange face off in live debate

I was fortunate enough last night to have caught the live debate on Attack of the Show between Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, and John Simpson, executive director of SoundExchange. The debate of course was about the fairness of the Copyright Ruling Board's ruling, and the future of internet radio.

Before I get into the analysis of what was said, I'll give you my basic impressions: Both speakers came off as civil, and articulate, and rarely spoke over each other or raised their voices. The moderator, Kevin Pereira, also did a good job of presenting questions from both sides (including questions solicited over the web from viewers). It's funny to note that most debates on CNN and other major media outlets are rarely this civil, so it's a breath of fresh air to hear a debate and then be able to weigh the arguments themselves as opposed to getting caught up in a juvenile shout-fest.

Now onto what was said, and my analysis:
Westergren framed the debate around the question of parity. He stated that satellite radio only pays 5% of their revenues to SoundExchange, but Pandora would have to pay at least %60 to %70 of their revenues. Simpson did not directly rebut this (and seemed to agree, but pointed out that satellite broadcasters would have to pay a larger percentage as their listenership increased), but brought up the fact that the judges involved in making the decision had poured over the financial records of numerous internet broadcasters, but due to the sensitive nature of these finances were obliged to keep this analysis protected, and therefore it's impossible to truly debate the numbers. I will repeat this in case you missed it: According to SoundExchange, the royalty payments that will possibly shut down internet radio are based on information that is a secret. While I'm sure the internet radio stations that were being scrutinized don't want their books exposed, would it not be possible to talk about numbers in aggregate? If there is no transparency to the underlying numbers, how can we be sure that the judges know how to correctly interpret them? This is disturbing, but also makes me wonder if the rest of the world would ever go along with this legislation based on current perceptions surrounding the Bush administration.

That notwithstanding, Simpson did bring up the valid point that internet radio plays fewer commercials, and overall simply has a lower revenue stream, so even though the percentages are higher, the overall revenue would be more on par. Okay, I think this is probably the best argument put forth, and does have merit. To be sure, a lot of internet radio stations are being run by enthusiasts with a genuine love of music who aren't looking to build the next media empire. In the eyes of RIAA, these folks are taking a free ride and must pay up. Okay, that's fine, but in order to fairly assess what the rates should be, shouldn't we have all the numbers on the table in some form?!? But of course that's all a secret, and we're back to square one.

When Simpson was asked about terrestrial radio's ridiculously low royalty payments, compared to both satellite radio and internet radio, Simpson agreed that they too should be taken to task, and should start paying their fair share. Uh huh. Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see what secret numbers come up. Oh, and don't forget that terrestrial radio has been around longer than the recording industry, and likely has some pretty strong legal precedents. Folks: It ain't gonna happen.

On the topic of artist payments, Westergren pointed out that Pandora plays music from over 35,000 artists, of which 34,000 of those artists don't get airplay on mainstream terrestrial radio. Simpson retorted by pointing out that SoundExchange pays over 20,000 members across 2,500 labels. Ahh, now we get some numbers. So consider this: At the very best case, all of those 20,000 artists are on Pandora, and are getting some kind of compensation. What about the other 15,000 artists on Pandora that aren't? This just tells me that SoundExchange is not scaling to meet the needs of the industry. But I digress. The main point Westergren was making, is that for the true indie artists out there, internet radio is the only viable medium for getting heard, and I think that's hard to counter. Think about it: Satellite radio currently has about 100 stations. I figure FM radio can fit in 30 stations, and AM radio, another 20 stations. Given that we'll be going back to at most 200 stations, and realistically something like 20 stations to choose from, a major revenue stream for indie artists will be yanked away.

Which brings me to another point that Simpson made. Namely, Simpson stated that terrestrial radio, satellite radio, and internet radio are all different businesses and should therefore be treated differently. This is a pure rubbish argument which I'll address in more detail in a later post.

I was hoping to come away with a better understanding of the rationale behind the Copyright Ruling Board's payment rates, and certainly feel I'm better informed. However, what I learned about the secrecy of the process disturbed me. That said, I'm incredulous that this really is the case, so I'm going to keep digging.

I'll keep you posted.
-Neil.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Pandora battons down the hatches, Copyright Board delays fee collection

I was hoping to blog about why I think internet radio day has yet to come, but am instead writing about some interesting developments in Internet Radio news today.

Yesterday CNET news reported that the Copyright Payment Board will delay its collection of fees, pushing the date back to July 15th. In the meantime, the SaveNetRadio lobby will be working like gangbusters to change the legislation to create a more level playing field.

I'll be honest, I haven't read the full text of the rulings, so I'm not able to argue the finer points yet. Most of what I read about the legislation is coming from protesters (hey, I'll toss my hat into that crowd). What is clear to me is that traditional radio is being protected, and new net radio is being screwed with prohibitively high royalty fees. What is not clear to me is the reasoning behind this. Is this for political reasons (e.g. traditional radio runs a more effective lobby), or is there evidence that net radio and piracy are inextricably linked, and so net radio must pay the piper? I'd like to get to the bottom of these questions, and find out if the ruling is truly fact-based, or if this is just grandstanding at work. I'm also wondering if there are any loopholes to this ruling: On one side the prices are exorbant. However, on the other side, if I take the concept of internet radio to an extreme, could I not just in theory pay per-listen as opposed to per-song. In other words, instead of paying $0.99 to "buy" an iTunes song (which I'll probably have to buy all over again eventually due to changing formats). I could instead just buy 1,237 listens, or fewer? I have no idea.

Moving, on. Just today, CNET published this report that Pandora is shutting off access to non-US users. Well, users that know how to get around IP geolocation will still be able to access this service, but for the rest of us that don't live in the US of A (I'm in Canada), Pandora will be gone.

This represents the first major casualty of the [delayed] Copyright Payment Board ruling. I'm stunned by this announcement, but also wonder if it's a brave tactic to send a wake-up call to the CPB, that America's ability to compete internationally in the arena of internet radio has been greatly hobbled. There is also evidence of this in Michael Geist's (columnist for The Toronto Star) blog here. Where there's crisis, there's opportunity I guess.

As for Pandora itself. I will miss it. It's a great service, and does what it does very well. I don't really see it as a replacement to traditional DJ-centric radio, but it certainly fills a purpose.

For now though, our best bet is to push on, and try to bring some sanity to the CRB. If you live in the US, I urge you to contact your Member of Congress, and show your support for Internet Radio.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

First Post: Give me Radio or Give me Death

This is the first blog entry for the new TUN3R.com blog.
And there was much rejoicing!!!
Before I get started, I wanted to introduce myself, and TUN3R.com.

About myself (Neil): Well, here at TUN3R, I’m the senior VP of worldwide marketing … and janitor.
Outside of TUN3R, I’m basically an internet radio buff.
I started listening to mp3 tracks back in 1997 – hard to believe it’s been 10 years already. Back then, and still now, I mainly use Winamp. I bought my first hardware mp3 player in 1998 while on vacation in Singapore. It was the Rio PMP300, and came with 32 MB of flash RAM (and it still works better than the Sony 2GB player I bought last year). Ah, the good ole’ days before DRM…

When Nullsoft added Shoutcast streaming radio to their player, I was a quick convert, and much preferred its quick buffering and easy browsing of stations over the competing RealMedia streaming audio. But most of all I liked it because anyone could set-up a Shoutcast server for practically nothing, and there was just a lot more variety. Plus a lot of it seemed kind of underground and subversive. Mind you – there was, and still is a lot of crap out there.

To this day, I still love Winamp, but got involved with TUN3R as it struck me as a nice balance between the complete anarchy (but good selection) of the Winamp world, and the lack of variety (but decent consistency) in most commercial radio portals.

About TUN3R: Well, if you haven’t already guessed, TUN3R is an internet radio portal. Right now, it mostly features Shoutcast/Winamp broadcasters, but in actual fact can support any kind of streaming audio (e.g. Real, Windows Media, even FM radio if you want). Our aim with TUN3R is to create an environment where it is fun to browse around and check out stations and DJs you weren’t necessarily looking for, but without overwhelming you with billions of crap stations. We want to eventually fill the TUN3R board with paying broadcasters. The monthly fee for a broadcaster is nominal, and is actually a fraction of typical hosting costs. So even if you’re a small garage operation with 50 listeners, this service should be affordable to you. We think this is a win-win situation because the more services you pay for, the more likely it is you’ll be found, but at the same time, the better portal itself becomes. But there is also another reason why it’s good to have paying broadcasters: It provides assurances to listeners visiting the site that the broadcasters and DJs are serious about what they’re doing, and are worth checking out.

TUN3R is still going through some major changes, which we hope to have finished within the coming weeks. While I can’t say these new features will change the world as we know it, there will be some search features that I have never seen before, but which I think will give internet radio a shot in the arm.

Next post: I’ll be blogging about the iPod, and why in actual fact it’s not a radio killer. Folks: The golden age of radio is just around the corner (in spite of all this Copyright Payment BS), and I’ll tell you specifically why.

n.