Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Music Genome Project

If all goes well, tomorrow Adam Conner will be posting an MP3 audio interview that he put together and I participated in with Tim Westergren, the founder of the Pandora Internet radio service, on the Copyright Royalty Board's recently announced royalty rate hikes. Pandora is, in a word, awesome. And the Music Genome Project, what powers the backend of Pandora, is doubly-awesome.

As powered by the Music Genome Project, Pandora is a freakishly innovative way to (1) connect listeners to new music and (2) promote popular major-label artists in the very same way as artists recording on GarageBand from home. Tim, a musician himself, has been building the Music Genome Project since 2000. The way it works is this. Each song that comes into the project is treated blindly, meaning that it matters little whether the artist is well known or not or what musical genre label with which they're usually tagged. Fifty or so actual humans -- many of them musicians -- sit down in an office in Oakland and evaluate each song, one by one. What they're listening for is any number of some 400 or so musical "genes." Once a song's genes are mapped, it's entered into the Pandora system.

Then a music lover, me for example, hops over to Say I happen at the moment to be enamored with the Beyonce song "Irreplaceable." (It might be time to admit that while I do love music, I have seriously limited tastes. This is exactly why I need Pandora!) I enter that song in the magic Pandora interface, and the system says, "Irreplaceable," hmm, what we've got here is a track that features distinctive musical genes, including: modern R&B stylings, acoustic sonority, extensive vamping, major key tonality, acoustic rhythm guitars, and vocal harmonies. Already, I'm a more educated music consumer. What's more, Pandora searches through its database, identifies a song with similar genes, and plays it for me. First up is Stacie Orrico's "Beautiful Awakening." Who is Stacie Orrico? I have no idea. And Pandora doesn't care if she's a major label artist or a singer who submitted her own CD to the Music Genome Project. If she's registered with SoundExchange, she's paid royalty fees. And if I like her music enough, with a couple clicks, I can buy it right through iTunes or Amazon.

In the interview, Tim talks about how he's been thrilled so far to pay SoundExchange fair rates for music -- it helps streamline the licensing process for digital broadcasters like Pandora. But the Copyright Royalty Board's recently announced royalty hikes will make it impossible for Pandora to continue operating, which will in turn prevent the public from reaping the benefits of the Music Genome Project. Our copyright regime is intended to encourage innovation. That's not me talking, that's the founding fathers in the United States Constitution: the goal is to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts."

There's legislation in the House, H.R. 2060 -- the Internet Radio Equality Act, introduced by Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Don Manzullo, that would vacate the Copyright Royalty Board's decision and establish more reasonable royalty rates. H.R. 2060 already has 42 co-sponsors but could certainly use a lot more.

Tags: Copyright Royalty Board, H.R. 2060, Internet Radio Equality Act, internet radio (all tags)



Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi

You don't know Stacie Orrico?

Her song "more to Life" was everywhere about 2-3 years ago.

by MNPundit 2007-05-05 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi
Yeah, seriously, I know very little about music, post 1998 or so. I'm not sure why. I like a lot of things, but I just never really got into discovering new artists and the like.
by Nancy Scola 2007-05-05 09:02AM | 0 recs
Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi

I listen to Pandora almost every day at work. It's an amazing service and it actually does get me into new bands. I like mostly punk and other related genres, and Pandora does offer up a lot of small/unknown bands on independent labels.

by LandStander 2007-05-05 09:42AM | 0 recs
Jay Inslee for President

Go look at Jay, our Washington hero. He looks like a president, acts like an environmentalist, is a friend of science and technology and Joe Wilson! What could be better?

And he's as down to earth as John Edwards - in an elevator to all of us, "How do you like the new jacket Trudy bought me?"

by mrobinsong 2007-05-05 10:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi

Stacie Orrico is a cross-over contemporary Christian R&B singer.

by Anthony de Jesus 2007-05-05 12:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi

I think the idea is fascinating, but doesn't the algorithm actually reduce your musical "biodiversity" as opposed to increasing it, that is, if it's looking for music that fits your current taste, how is it expanding your horizons other than giving you more artists that sound like the artists you already have heard?  Maybe I'm being too critical, but perhaps it should throw in a "mutation" here and there just to stir the pot...

by tegrat 2007-05-05 01:09PM | 0 recs
Interesting point
But I think a couple things help to stir the pot, as you say. One is that, as far as I know, there is a partial match of genes -- meaning that a song that's picked for you will have some subset of characteristics that the key song has. One song with extensive vamping and acoustic rhythm guitars might pull up another from a different part of the musical universe that you might not otherwise explore or know you might like. Another is that it exposes you to younger artists who might build on a certain style but evolve it in new ways -- Pandora can sorta track musical influence, I'd imagine. I do think, though, that it's probably not going to turn a folk fan into a hip hop lover, no.

Those are just some thoughts. I'd love to ask Tim about it, though.
by Nancy Scola 2007-05-05 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi

Nancy is right, it seems to offer up songs that match some of the characteristics of what you have told it you like. You can also give it multiple songs/artists on a single 'channel', which can create a fairly broad mix.

And expanding your horizons seems relative with music. Listing to a top 40 radio station would expand my horizons, because I never listen to that music. I just don't think that it would necessarily enrich my tastes :)

by LandStander 2007-05-05 06:45PM | 0 recs
I was listening to Pandora when I was this piece!

by Progressive American Patriot 2007-05-05 01:16PM | 0 recs
Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi

The thing I don't understand is, if you heard Stacie Orrico on KXFM, she wouldn't be getting any royalties at all from that. Why does Pandora have to pay? Apart from, oooh scary, it's the intartubes...

(Not that she's likely seeing any actual money anyway - half of what's collected by Sound Exchange goes to their 'overhead'.)

by tatere 2007-05-05 11:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi
You're onto something with "oooh, scary, it's the intartubes."

That digital songs can be exact and perfect copies of the original recording (once it's gone digital) is intensely frightening to the RIAA, and couple that with the wicked easy and difficult-to-control distribution models introduced by the Internet -- RIAA argued that digital audio broadcasting created a "perfect storm" for their industry. I wasn't around then, but from what I gather the argument was made that performance rights for artists was one way to compensate for this increased risk. Congress bought the argument with the Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act in 1995 and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

Beyond that, you can look at the digital performance rights for artists as just the first step that the RIAA was able to take when it had Congress worked up about threat posed by the Internet. They'd certainly like to expand the same royalty model to terrestrial radio:

The digital performance right in the U.S. was a good beginning, but the next step is to secure a full performance right ... A full performance right also will ensure a level playing field for music services in the U.S., where currently certain digital services like XM and SIRIUS satellite radio and webcasters like Live 365, AOL and MSN must pay royalties, but other broadcasters, like traditional radio and television stations are allowed to earn huge profits from playing recordings without compensating artists and labels.
by Nancy Scola 2007-05-06 08:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Internet Radio Royalty Hikes Threaten the Musi

whereas we all know that a 68k stream is hardly exact or perfect - digital FM is probably higher sound quality. and if i add a tuner card i can capture an FM broadcast just as easily as i could a stream. but, that's reality, not politics ...

by tatere 2007-05-06 01:48PM | 0 recs
New report on Internet Radio

I thought you might be interested in this, given your coverage of online radio.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) just released a report on Internet Radio and Copyright Royalties at an event on Capitol Hill on May 10.  In the report, we describe problems with the current copyright royalty system for Internet Radio, and what steps Congress should take to reform this system.  Specifically, we say that Congress should grant the same performance copyright to all broadcast technologies; modify the statutory license to allow copyright owners to specific separate rates for each sound recording; and allow copyright owners to assign separate rates to small and non-commercial webcasters.

The report is available on our website at - pdf

by dcastro 2007-05-11 05:48AM | 0 recs


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