RadioActivity: Logging, playlisting and reporting software - Blog blog Blog - 2008 posts

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My comments to the CRB on its 'Notice of Proposed Rulemaking'

Here are my official comments on the CRB's Proposed Census Reporting And Actual Total Performances, in PDF format.

If you want the summary: In these comments, I argue that census reporting is too burdensome of a process for stations, would result in bad data collection, ATP is an extremely poor metric for a wide host of reasons, and SoundExchange is poorly equipped to handle any more technical responsibilities let alone create and offer a recordkeeping service to stations.

See also: On the CRB's Proposed Census Reporting And Actual Total Performances

Merry Christmas from the CRB

The Copyright Royalty Board - (aka CRB) - just published a "Notice of proposed rulemaking" on the Notice and Recordkeeping for Use of Sound Recordings Under Statutory License that, among other things:

  • argues to supersede the 2-week-per-quarter recordkeeping and replace it with census (all plays, all the time) reporting
  • argues to completely do away with ATH and replace it with Actual Total Performances - i.e. how many listeners heard each specific song
  • asks "What, if any, commercially available software has become available since the promulgation of the interim regulation in 2006 that could be used to compile records of use?"
  • asks "Is it more efficient for the Collective to develop a system to report and deliver the records of use and make that system available to the Services?"
  • The always awesome David Oxenford over at Broadcast Law Blog did a pretty straightforward writeup on this, but I have my own comments to add here, and I can guarantee more are coming in the next week or so.

    Let's tackle each one of these points:

    a) Is practically impossible. Asking for a census reporting now, at this stage in the game, is raising the 'compliance bar' to unfair heights.
    b) Is extremely difficult. It essentially triples the workload on the station's end to tie their streaming data into their playlist data
    c), guys, and you're looking at it. I'm one of about 4 solutions out there that I know of. And because of the nature of the beast, so to speak, you're never going to find a one-size-fits-all solution.
    d) Is laughable, because it essentially is the CRB asking "Could we get SoundExchange to run an online playlist reporting system?" And after watching SE cripple their own website into an unusable flash-based mess, I have to ask the CRB if they're serious about this. (I'd also like to point out that the $100k figure SE is tossing around as the sample website development cost for this particular item comes from the land of Oz. I did it with spare time and two servers I bought off of Ebay, guys, come on.)

    I've spent the last several years helping stations comply with the already onerous recordkeeping requirements, often at great expense and time that stations can hardly afford - especially now that our economy has dried up funding and donations for many of these stations. In working with these stations on this issue, I know for a fact that you'll never find a group on the planet that is more supportive and helpful to artists and bands than these stations and the DJ's that spin their music.

    So hear me, CRB, when I say that asking to raise these reporting requirements to the 'census' level at this point in the process is stupid. Moronic. Disasterous.

    Stations are already trying to comply, at their own rate and as their resources allow them, with little or no outside help from the organizations in charge of the process. If you drastically up the recordkeeping requirements, you're going to lose them. All of them. They'll simply skip the compliance part - because you have made it impossible to comply - and continue broadcasting.

    And if this means they drop their streams, or are forced to drop their streams, it'll only confirm what everybody suspected in the first place - that the parties on the other side of the bargaining table were only ever interested in killing off webcasting in the first place. And in the process you'll lose the reporting, the revenue, and internet streaming as a whole.

    Several people have pointed out that SoundExchange acts as if it can hardly handle the current trickle of recordkeeping as it is. They still don't have an FTP drop set up, and they still refuse to acknowledge receipt of reports despite the fact that acknowledgement is in their own guidelines.

    And stations, artists, copyright holders and managers are still unhappy about their collection and disbursement ratios, to say nothing of royalty forfeiture. And don't forget the little experiment that I ran on this whole 'missing artists' list, which shows how stupidly easy it is to locate a majority of these artists.

    As per the CRB's request for comments, people are mobilizing on this already. I'm one of them, and I expect I'll be hearing from some other interested parties soon. I could go on, but let's end with this little gem from the CRB's own notice:

    The failure to report the full actual number of performances of a sound recording is at odds with the purpose of the recordkeeping requirement(s) ... many sound recordings are under-compensated or not compensated at all from the section 114 and 112 royalties" (emphasis mine)

    Hey CRB - it's not the sound recordings being under-compensated here - it is the artists and copyright holders. And until you start paying attention to that fact it seems pretty goddamn silly to talk about increased recordkeeping requirements. Clean up the system and methodologies you've already put in place before you shoot yourselves in the foot with census reporting.

    Also, I'd like to point out that there some interesting IP ranges looking at these days. Both the left hand and the right, as it were.

    10.26.2008 - More Stations Doing Neat Things With Their Playlists

    As I've said before, I have a to-do list for about a mile long. There are lots of great ideas floating around, but sometimes the best I can do is put the basic tools out there and see what happens.

    Right now I'm glad to highlight a couple of things: KKFI has recently tied their playlists into Amazon and iTunes sales, which means they're going to be pushing more people to purchase the great music they play. And our newest LPFM station - Portsmouth Community Radio, aka WSCA-FM, just got their "recently played" listings up on their homepage (using the same quick iFrame method that WTUL uses.) I think they'll be surprised how many listeners use that in the upcoming months.

    I'll also give a quick shout to Tom Flanary's (of WIKD/ fledgling discussion board. It is just getting off the ground but it looks like it's shaping up to be a good place for radio and broadcast folks to bounce ideas off of one another.

    (And while I'm throwing out links, here's one to, since I've been listening to their sets while I code. Good stuff.)

    08.21.2008 - More shots across the bow ...

    I've been talking to lots of stations and customers recently regarding the thing, and it has taken a while for everybody to react and form a reaction to this one ...

    Today Kurt Hanson nails it.

    And just for good measure, Levi Weaver drives it home as well.

    In short:

    Question: Why do the powers that be want to price out of existence?
  • Conflicting interests inside SoundExchange
  • Internet radio is good for musicians, bad for big labels
  • Record industry lawyers are running the process. That = fail.
  • These are the same lawyers that missed chance with Napster
  • These are the same lawyers running the RIAA's "Let's just sue everybody" programs
  • Fear of the new, unless they can control it
  • Just more Copyright abuse, writ large
  • Big labels would rather maintain all the control
  • Squeezing internet radio is a testbed for squeezing broadcast radio
  • Obviously Kurt's article expands on that in a much, much more eloquent and direct manner, but it's the first article I've seen that really ties a lot of different threads and discussions on this subject into one tight analysis.

    On a more personal level: even my mom uses It has led her to go out and buy new CD's or the first time in probably five or six years. If SX can't see the advantage in a service that has made that many inroads into the general CD-buying music populace then they're only going to deserve the failure and ruin that its demise brings.

    See also:

  • Will Pandora Play 'The End' Soon? Royalty Rate Hikes Could Be Its Demise
  • Pandora Could Be First Major Casualty of New Royalty Rates
  • Internet radio booming but threatened
  • Music Biz *Still* Trying to Kill Web Radio
  • Pandora: on the brink of closing down
  • Open letter to the RIAA on Pandora
  • 07.14.2008 - First of many shots across the bow

    It looks like has been putting CBS's money to good use. They recently announced their "Artist Royalty Program" which lets artists played on earn royalties - aka money - for those plays. There's a word most artists haven't heard in a while - money.

    For those of you unfamiliar with artists and labels upload their music to offers a nice social and suggestion-based layer on top and then plays music in-browser. And makes some profit from the ads that appear on their web pages. Now has announced they will track and split this money with the artists - Rates vary according to how and where they are played in the site but the point is, there's that word again: money. Cashish. Duckets. Jing.

    While it looks like is still working on the payment details, there are some key points that make their program raise some hopes:

    One: This kind of direct-to-the-artist-payment is insanely interesting (if you're into that kind of thing) because it potentially replaces royalty collections middlemen. This is a Good Thing.

    Two: It also represents an interesting move away from paying people based on spot samples - just a couple weeks of data, in some cases - and moves towards a fully accounted "actual usage" model. Kudos to for realizing that their online music delivery system offers much better methods for royalty accounting, because they literally can tell how many people listen to each track. (So: Terrestrial, meet online. Also, you're fired. Clean out your desk.)

    Three: launched this program with a huge F.A.Q., artist tools and several discussion threads for users and artists to bounce questions off one another. It is EXACTLY this kind of transparency that builds good faith between artists, services, and listeners. And it is EXACTLY this kind of thing that sets's royalty program apart from the existing royalty agencies. As WIRED put it - some people we know play this game in a much more underhanded manner, neé bad faith - preferring to basically tell artists 'don't worry, we're paying you correctly. You just can't see our books or the logic we used to cut your checks'.

    I'm interested to see what actually shows the users, what kind of 'dashboard' is going to be available. They have the potential to give artists some really interesting data if they want to - Think something like Google Analytics, but for individual plays.

    All this is why I don't get this news about Merlin Opposing the Program. The gist is that Merlin is unhappy about's prior use of music - and that it potentially screws up Merlin's own deal it was trying to make with on behalf of the folks it represents.

    Stop and reread that last bit: an agency representing independent labels and artists is against the idea of these labels and artists doing deals directly with services like

    Someone - I think it was William Gibson - once wrote that "a middleman's job is to make himself a necessary evil" - and to me Merlin's argument smacks of more of the same. The good news is that direct licensing like this is gaining traction, and there's not a single thing a lot of the existing middlemen can do about it.

    04.29.2008 - Finding 'Lost' SoundExchange Artists On The Cheap

    Many of you may have heard of the 'SoundExchange lost artist list' - it's the list of recording artists SoundExchange has collected money for but can't seem to find. SoundExchange publishes this list in the hopes that people will find them and let them know they have a check waiting for them.

    Historically SoundExchange has always caught flak for this, and it's easy to see why. Many of these artists are 'hiding' in plain sight - what with their websites, Facebook, and Myspace pages - and SoundExchange appears to do very little to actually 'find' these people. They always miss high-profile names, too, artists like: Urge Overkill, Public Enemy, Loverboy and so on.

    There's already a lot of opinion written about this phenomenon, so I won't re-hash it here, but the current 'lost artist' list stands at something like 7700+ 'missing' artists. There is speculation that this list may be much, much longer.

    Why I am interested in this - and why you should be, too

    Personally I'm interested in this list because RadioActivity is one of the data sources that helps drive this whole process. Stations always ask me Why do we have to do this? Why are we reporting to SoundExchange? Why should we even bother?. And I always tell them: Because by doing so, in some very small way, you're actually helping pay the artists you play. And if they're indie artists not getting much airplay, this is a Good Thing.

    ... and then a long list of embarrassingly-easy-to-find 'lost' artists like this comes out and completely murders that rationale.

    So let's just say I'm interested in actually finding some artists and getting them paid.

    This is what geeks do when they're bored:

    Last night I crowdsourced this task out on Amazon's Mechanical Turk. I found 94 of these artists for $40 in about 4 hours. To me, it's a total no-brainer, but I wanted to see what kind of success rate I could hit.

    What I did:

    I took the first 5 listings by name (A-E) from the missing artists list, turned them into individual text files, and posted this as a task on Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Here's a copy of the job I posted:

    Help find lost artists online
    This is a sample list of many 'missing' recording artists. We are trying to 'find' 
    them using the web. 
    All of these people are 'lost' - so I need you folks to 'find' them, using Google, 
    MySpace, or whatever methods you want. Just pick one of these lists at random and 
    spend the specified time to "find" as many of these people as you can on that list.
    "Finding" an artist means providing one (or more) of the following, in order of 
    'best' to 'worst':
    - Finding a contact email
    - Finding the artist's or band's website
    - Finding URL for their Facebook or MySpace page
    - Finding an email, website, or MySpace/Facebook for their **manager or recording 
    label**. (You can often do this by finding a CD from the artist and looking it up on 
    Amazon, CDDB, or MusicBrainz)
    Compile the list of the ones you 'find' and send it to me as a text file with the 
    'found' information underneath their names. If you spend more than 5 minutes on 
    someone and can't find them, just write "Could not find any info for this entry" 
    instead and move on.

    Wrapping it up and releasing it into the wild:

    I set this up for a maximum of 5 participants at $8 each, and fired this off around 11pm. I picked up the completed tasks in the morning, but they had all been completed in about 4 hours after I sent them off. So the Mechanical Turk turnaround time's pretty good.

    The Results

    5 people completed these tasks:

    Person 1: Processed 27 artists, found 27, missed 0.
    Person 2: Processed 24 artists, found 13, missed 11.
    Person 3: Processed 24 artists, found 20, missed 4.
    Person 4: Processed 24 artists, found 24, missed 0.
    Person 5: Processed 10 artists, found 10, missed 0.

    Total artists processed: 109
    Total artists found: 94
    Total artists missed: 15
    Total money spent: $40.

    My Conclusions

    It's easy to find these artists. It's fairly cheap to find these artists - I found them for about ~42 cents per artist. At this rate I could eat that whole 7,874 missing-artist list for about ~$3,300. (Anyone want to write me a grant?)

    Actually, I bet I could get that down to 20-25cents/artist. I chose that $8/task amount completely at random, but a cursory look at other Mechanical Turk tasks makes me think I could get this done for much, much cheaper.

    Also, as you can see from the results, some of these 'Turkers are fantastic - they provided contact emails, addresses, and multiple URL's for some of the artists they found. So, yes, crowdsourcing this task is fast, easy, and cheap enough that somebody like me can bang it out in short order using really basic farm-it-out web services like Mechanical Turk, and get pretty stellar results.

    Basically I've just blown a few hours and $40 confirming what everybody already knows.

    Final Comments

    I haven't contacted any of the artists on this list, because I'm not on Facebook or MySpace, so I asked the folks on to take care of it for me.

    Also - you would think SoundExchange would include a little more data with this missing artist list to help the process. Missing-artist entries like "Vert", "Zao", "Tank" and "702" are almost useless unless some of the associated song data is included as well.

  • Props to for this!
  • Props to's Listening Post for this!
  • - bhance, 04.29.2008 8am

    06.01.2008 - Why hello there, 2000th DJ

    Just a quick note that Dinah, with WTUL in New Orleans, is RadioActivity's 2000th registered DJ.

    (3000 here we come!)

    04.07.2008 - Hello Canada!

    Hiya! I'm proud to announce RadioActivity now has a demo running for Canadian stations!

    I've spoken with a number of Canadian stations recently and it served as an excellent reason to go examine Canada's playlist recordkeeping laws. Honestly, it was nice to take a break and delve into Canada's CRTC and SOCAN regulations. If that doesn't underscore how boring programming is, I'm not sure what does.

    Right now it is a private demo, but if you're interested in the demo, drop me a line. We're looking for a few more beta testers, and we'd really like to hear from you.

    Unrelated, but I can't resist: I have to point everybody towards a new customer, WRUV (stream) in Burlington VT. I've been listening to their stream for a solid week now and I have yet to hear a) something I don't like b) something I recognize. Give them a listen.

    03.30.2008 - SoundExchange Audits

    Davis, Wright & Tremaine's always-excellent Broadcast Law Blog was the first place I read this alarming tidbit:

    SoundExchange to Audit Internet Radio Royalty Payments of Last.FM:
    What is the Value of Music?

    The Copyright Royalty Board has just announced that SoundExchange has decided to audit Last.FM. Based on a number of public statements, SoundExchange has been citing Last.FM as an example of problems with royalties - contending that Last.FM had paid royalties of only a couple of thousand dollars a year, under the Small Webcasters Settlement Act, just before selling out to CBS for over $200 million. Given SoundExchange's tough talk about Last.FM, this notice of an audit is not surprising.

    Surprising? No. Alarming to a lot of folks? Yes. Is that the point? Probably. Does it even merit a mention on the blog? Nope. (Or their forums, for that matter ...)

    As Broadcast Law Blog adroitly points out, SoundExchange's beef here is that they see services like building a business around music, and then selling out to people like CBS for three-digit millions - money the record labels never see.

    The thing is, webcasters have been arguing over this matter (see also: percentage of revenue royalty arguments) with SoundExchange for years, and privately a lot of them welcome an audit. Why? Because SoundExchange is going to pay for an audit that will only prove the webcaster's point: that services like (and Pandora and iMeem etc.) have blown through millions of dollars of other people's money just to bring these great new services online, and that any royalty that doesn't take the whole economic equation into consideration is flawed.

    There's also the fact that struck individual deals with major labels - so there might not be a whole lot there for SoundExchange to audit in the first place. Combine these factors, as one webcaster put it, and any audit is going to show 'exactly why services have paid (SoundExchange) so little.'

    I'll admit I'm on the service's side here. This audit comes at a time when:

  • Webcasters have seen nothing but setback after setback from the CRB
  • Pandora had to cut its international streams over royalty fights
  • Terrestrial radio sucks so badly that it would do us all a huge favor if it just threw itself under a bus
  • SoundExchange and musicFIRST are busily trying to nail the (already-sucky) terrestrial radio stations with performance fees (née 'taxes', depending on who you talk to)
  • As the NYT recently put it, music's future lies with the internet
  • So this audit, to myself and others, originates from the same entities that place hurdles, shackles and obstacles in the way of pioneers, people who are single-handedly creating the new delivery platforms that consumers want. And creating new platforms is something that the old guard has failed at - miserably.

    No matter which way it goes, many folks are keeping an eye on this story. I look forward to hearing what has to say about the matter.

    03.15.2008 - Automation rules the nation

    Let's talk about automation.

    Unless a station is lucky enough to be staffed 24-7, they usually switch to an 'automation' system during their off hours.

    The problem is, there's about a million methods of 'automation' out there - ranging from plugging a giant CD jukebox into the mixing board to using something like Winamp set on autopilot.

    Once a new station's DJ's are familiar with RadioActivity, the next logical step is often to get the station's automation system logging to us as well. Because there are many, many automation setups out there, this means I've cooked up a lot of custom code.

    Right now I have code that plays well with:

  • MegaSeg
  • Direttore
  • A BSI/SimpleCast mix
  • Winamp
  • Each one of these has its own issues, but here's a general rule: if the application generates logfiles, they can be parsed and sent to RadioActivity. It often takes some creative scripting and local-machine configuration, but fortunately that's kind of my thing.

    If your station uses another automation system and would like to explore its ability to 'talk' to, drop me a line. I'd be happy to talk with you.

    01.09.2008 - 'The Gas Pipe Networks'

    I spent part of the holiday break in Portland, where I visited Powell's Books for the first time - and picked up a copy of The Gas Pipe Networks: A History Of College Radio 1936-1946. Written (and apparently published) by Louis Bloch Jr., The Gas Pipe Networks chronicles the author's undergraduate experience at Brown - which he credits as the birthplace of college radio.

    The title comes from the fact that most college radio stations in those days were literally broadcasting via their building plumbing. Instead of using antennas (and having to get licensed by the FCC) they were coupling their transmitters directly to the building plumbing, and using the water and gas pipes as their 'antenna'. As long as listeners were within 50 or so feet to a pipe, they could pick up the station.

    What brought a smile to my face was this: in the interest of expanding their broadcasting area, students did a lot of old-school physical hacking, stringing up unsanctioned transmission lines across roofs and in steam tunnels in order to tie buildings together where the 'gas pipe' networks left gaps. The book also chronicles the various battles 'The Brown Network' as it was called fought over the years - many of which were handled with similar ingenuity and creativity.

    This book brought a much needed perspective to some of my work. Every week it feels as if a new and intentionally complex barrier has been erected for stations to deal with. At times it seems nothing more than a thinly-veiled effort to deliberately hamstring independent streaming - all via the guise of 'compliance', and with no help from the Copyright Royalty Board. After picking up The Gas Pipe Networks, however, I'm reminded of college (and independent) radio's roots, and the simple truth that dedication and ingenuity always finds a way. See an obstacle in the path? Then it's time to string some lines where we're not supposed to. Problem solved, case closed.

    Rather than blather on, I'll share a couple of excerpts:

    At first the 'Brown System' consisted of wire lines connected to the radios of ... students on campus and this complicated arrangement required a crew to string lines, make the connections, and maintain the system. Dave was in charge of everything involved ... and soon had a crew of forty students helping him. It was difficult for the college administration to comprehend what was going on and they only had a vague idea of what (we) were up to.

    Our new president, while walking on campus, once inquired as to what all of those students were doing on the roofs of the buildings and when was informed that they were stringing and repairing lines for 'The Brown Network' he continued his walk without any further questions ...

    'The Brown Network' became recognized as an extra-curricular activity ... and a new transmission system was developed using low power ... programs were carried over 30,000 feet of wire strung through steam tunnels and over the roofs of buildings into the dorms and fraternities. Since the network did not radiate beyond the buildings, it needed no license. In some cases the transmitter was coupled to the heating system, or the electric light system, or in other cases a small remote transmitter in some of the buildings...

    Absolutely fantastic. My inner geek salutes all these fine folks.

    Some cursory Googling brings up some articles on 'The Brown Network' (Not to mention a fantastic series of podcasts on the subject as well) and if anyone is interested, Amazon has a few used copies of The Gas Pipe Networks kicking around.