We were discussing with my beloved JBQ during Sunday’s lunch about how can Creative Commons-licensed (CC) music can be played on the radio and eventually become a “more indie than indie” popcult. We both agreed that in USA, Satellite Radio would be a great idea to have a 1-hour show per day/week to play such CC material. You see, people who pay for Satellite Radio are people who are more receptive into new ideas and/or alternative music. More over, Satellite Radio can give you nationwide access, while FM radio usually can’t (especially the kinds of stations that would be receptive to such audio material).
And here is where the problem lies. Licensing CC music to play on commercial radio seems to be pretty impossible to do so in any practical way. There are a gazillion CC artists out there, but the producer of a radio show today must hunt them one by one and email them and ask for a licensing agreement (which he is possibly not going to get because such freelance artists don’t have the legal means to create invoices and such). And even for CC labels like Magnatune, licensing music for the radio is a pain in the rear. Instead of offering licensing of many of their songs (or just their hits), Magnatune can only license individual songs of an album, which means that it costs $270 per song. They don’t have a “bulk” radio license scheme, not even a special radio license that licenses some hits for free just so it can hook up the listeners to them. If you have a 1-hour show, the current rate will cost you about $3000 to just license the music. And that’s without counting the satellite airtime, DJ, technician fees. Overall, it might cost about $5000 per show to produce such a CC-based 1-hour show per week. This is actually a pretty high price per show considering the “non-evil” nature of CC “Free music”.
This is where the CC consortium and/or CC labels must join-in, and create a legal/invoice department that makes it easy for all CC artists to license their music (for versions of the license that is free only for non-commercial playback, that is). There must exist a common database library about such music. Different rates can of course be set for different labels (e.g. Magnatune can have its own rates, but the important thing is to submit its music to the common library so the radio producers can easily find that music). It must become easy to be able to license such material. The radio producer must NOT hunt down manually these artists. Instead, there should be a centralized place where a quote is given for either individual songs, or individual albums, or the whole library of a label or artist — and at logical rates. A CC licensing broker if you like…
Sure, it might even sound like “creating the equivelant of RIAA” for CC music, but you know, RIAA was created in the first place because there was a business and market need for it. Having a non-evil equivelant of RIAA is not a bad idea. Just like with nuclear technology, it’s how you use it.
Right now, it’s almost impossible to market CC music to normal, non-geek people. Radio would have been the best way to do that, but the current disorganization of the whole CC idea kills it down IMHO. Until the CreativeCommons people offer a centralized access point to their music, such music will never take off with the general public because the forces that bring it to the public just won’t bother. It doesn’t worth it from their business point of view.
Update: If I was a CC label, I would offer three licensing schemes, specifically for radio *shows*:
1. Completely free airing of the label’s music as long as the label, artist, song and album is mentioned prior or after the airing. I would keep this up until CC music becomes more well known (and requested), and then I would start charge normally.
2. $50 per song for partial mentioning of a song’s credits (e.g. artist name and song name).
3. $260 (current price) for no mentioning.
There would also be a “bulk” licensing, radio station-specific, for all songs of that label.
Radio is a special case in the licensing arena. It’s a “tool” where labels can get their products (hits) known. Major labels sometimes even pay radio stations to air specific new hits, but as CC labels don’t have the budget to do that, a more relaxed licensing scheme is required on their part. CC labels & artists: Use the radio for your [future] benefit, don’t drive it away with high licensing prices!