Segarini: When Radio and Records Ruled the World Part 16 – What happened, and The Epilogue.

Part 15 can be found here

In March of 1994, having just returned to Toronto from California with no money (actually, I made it back with just 100 dollars in my pocket) I stayed first with old friend Kim Everest in Forest Hill, and then, after wearing out my welcome, moved in with the man that had launched my solo career in the late ‘70’s, Wolfgang Spegg. For the second time, Wolf was about to change my life, and expose me to a world that at first, was as confusing and a intimidating as any I had ever known, and what he introduced me to would eventually change those previous worlds, the worlds of music, radio, and records, for all time.

Wolf and his lovely wife Cathy lived in what can only be described as a mansion on Lowther Avenue in the Annex section of Toronto. Wolf had started out as a young immigrant from Germany selling pots and pans door to door in Boston, became the owner of a great source of music called PJ Imports in Toronto which, as the name indicates, imported records from Europe and Japan into Canada and supplied the thriving record stores in Toronto and elsewhere with albums that were generally unavailable in North America.

Using PJ Imports, Wolf and his business partner, Phil Lubman, started Bomb Records, signed me, and released my first solo LP, Gotta Have Pop. We have been friends since the day we met, in the summer of 1977.

Now, the record and import business behind him, Wolf had parlayed his latest business, selling and servicing Telex machines, into a company that built and installed computers and networks for businesses like TV Guide and other companies. The beautiful home on Lowther doubled as his office, and there were computer components in the basement and working computers in the living room and elsewhere.

One day I came home and found a computer sitting on a desk in my room.

“What’s this for?” I asked him.

“Learn to use it” was his answer “It will change your life”

He was right.

It did.

I spent the next month or so running downstairs and asking the same questions over and over. The answer to the most asked question was “C:\” That was how you got into the computer, which ran on DOS. The first OS or operating system from Windows followed, which made it a hell of a lot easier to navigate the computer, but DOS was still used to install programs, etc. At first, the most fun you could have on a computer were simple games that had no graphics. Games like Zork, played in DOS, that drew you into a fantasy world with the words “You are standing in an open field in front of a white house with a boarded front door.”

Here’s a little background from Gamasutra: “Zork began life in much the same way as many of the early computer games; that is, as a fruitful, informal collaboration by starry-eyed, college students. Indeed, it’s easy (if, perhaps, a bit misleading) to compare the development of Zork with that of another classic computer game, Spacewar!. Zork was developed by four members of the MIT’s Dynamic Modeling Group, whereas Spacewar! was developed by members of MIT’s Tech Model Railroad Club. Both teams were excited about the possibility of computer games, and both were fueled by the adrenaline-rush of successful hacks and making a habit out of doing what others felt couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be done. However, the authors of Zork had a much different vision of the future of computer games than the hackers responsible for Spacewar!. For, although Spacewar! paved the way for graphical “twitch” games, Zork was a game for folks who preferred prose to pyrotechnics.”

Zork was being played in some circles in 1983, I tackled it in 1994, and learned the basics of using a computer, but the game that got me comfortable with ‘puters was Doom.

The follow-up to a revolutionary 1st person game called Castle Wolfenstein, Doom was the first game that created a sensation in home computer circles. I would play it days at a time, not sleeping, not knowing what time it was. It was as addictive as any drug I had ever experienced. It also made me familiar with the keyboard and commands necessary to fully utilize this wonderful gift Wolfgang had put in my room.

Over the next couple of months, Wolf turned me onto something called The Internet, and an internet browser called Mosaic. Mosaic was developed in 1992 and released to the public in 1993. It enabled the general public to access and browse the Internet, complete with graphics if they were available. At first, there wasn’t much to see, but soon there was everything to see. A whole new world, or more accurately, the world we lived in at your fingertips. I rarely left my room. By the middle of 1995, I was not only hooked on exploring the internet and playing RPG’s (Role Playing Games) and other interactive amusements that were being released for Windows 3 and the new Windows 95, but using my new email address to bug Wolf (who was just downstairs in the living room) instead of walking down the stairs to talk to him. Within 2 years, I was spending most of my time online listening to .mp3’s, small audio files you listened to with an application called a winamp mp3 player. The music files took forever to load, but they were well worth the wait, even though the quality was dodgy at best. Records…music…on the internet. Amazing.

What Happened Number One…

Music on the internet. Since 1997 and even before, you could listen to music on your computer and on the net. Cool. More and more people started to do it. As the quality improved, so did the rush to search out and find music on the web. People began to send songs to one another on the internet much like friends that had swapped records and made mix tapes. Music became sharable with the click of a mouse, and people who loved music embraced this development in droves. An added incentive? CD’s, which were much cheaper to produce than vinyl records, were more expensive to buy than the records they replaced. Music fans, looking for the latest recordings and songs that hadn’t yet been made available on CD, found that they could find the music they were looking for or were curious about, by poking around on the net for the material, and asking for a copy, or getting new material from someone who had already bought it, and had loaded it into his or her home computer. It was exactly like sharing music had always been, except now, you got to keep a copy of a recording instead of just borrowing it to tape, or taping it off the radio. It was a natural progression of existing behavior, and most people that were doing it didn’t think anything of it. The process of sharing music was different, but the practice was a familiar once to the music loving community. By the end of the century, it was no longer unusual to ‘burn’ a CD, or download music from the internet. In fact, to everyone with computer skills who loved music, it was just another way to hear the music they loved, and to hear the new releases before buying them. You no longer had to listen to the radio to hear new releases or wait for an old favourite, and you didn’t necessarily have to buy a CD or record to own the music. And with the advent of Napster in 1999, the floodgate of music was thrown open. You could now search for songs on millions of peoples computers to find new releases and out of print oldies. This led to one of the biggest CD sales periods in the history of the medium. 2000-2002 saw record numbers of CD’s sold, much of it driven by being able to sample the music on the Internet, and even though some people took the music from Napster and other sources didn’t buy a hard copy, many more went out and bought the CD or vinyl if they could find it. As CD sales boomed, radio was experiencing some troubled times. Their tight playlists and heavy commercial load were causing music lovers to tune out, and casual listeners were being catered to more and more, the stations repeating currently popular songs more often, and keeping the music familiar for their new audience, who valued popularity and nostalgia for what had gone before over music discovery and lesser artists’ past hits.

What Happened Number Two…

In 1996, The Telecommunications Act was passed in the United States and was quickly adopted in Canada and other parts of the world. It allowed broadcasters to own more than two radio stations in any given market and started a sweeping period of consolidation. Over a few short years, just a handful of Corporations bought up and now owned the majority of radio stations, instead of a large and diverse group of individuals. Stations owned by the same parent company were molded into a uniform sound, the content identical in every market. The same songs, image, and formats to stamp the stations as a brand, where you knew what to expect when you tuned in. Radio stations priority changed from entertainment and music discovery to creating profit for their shareholders and executives. Cost cutting began that continues to this day. Local artists, a mainstay on rock stations and where the majority of new music came from, were shut out of the new order and many (if not all) turned to the internet to be heard. On-air personalities found themselves voice tracking shows for more than one station and many were ‘downsized’ or replaced with syndicated radio programs that ran on hundreds of stations across the individual networks. By 2005 radio was well on its way to being independent of musical content that challenged existing formats, and instead strove to play product made specifically for their formats by the record companies that adhered to certain parameters based on the previous popularity of a handful of artists and genres. Not to say that some fantastic records weren’t borne out of this strategy, but production and technology were the clear winners over creativity and raw talent. You no longer had 3 or 4 or 5 albums to build an audience. You stuck to the wall the first time out, or you were gone. Music lovers retreated further from radio as the casual listeners and celebrity obsessed crowd became the dictators of what content they most wanted to hear on the radio and radio, happy to accommodate this new, broader audience, complied, as did the record companies. They had found a formula that worked, was easily replicated and tweaked, and most importantly, controlled by the labels, managers, and support system that fed radios desire for more accessible product to keep their new audience’s (and advertiser’s) attention.

The gap left open by radio’s tight playlists and the major label’s signing policies drove artists to create their own labels, sign with smaller independent labels, and release their music over the internet and on mail order websites like CD Baby in order to reach an audience. Mobile devices like iPods and mp3 players and even cell phones were filled by music made available on the internet or ripped from already owned CD’s. Internet radio stations sprang up, playing thousands of songs unplayed by terrestrial radio, and for the first couple of years, Satellite radio had deep playlists and niche channels that catered to just about every taste. The music lovers abandoned by radio had found a galaxy of alternatives and rarely return to the place that fueled their original love of music.

What Happened Number Three…

December 7, 1999 7:45 PM PST

Recording industry sues music start-up, cites black market

By Courtney Macavinta
Staff Writer, CNET News

Major record studios sued a five-month-old music company today, claiming that its software creates a black market for illegal copies of digital music.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Northern California, the Recording Industry Association of America charges start-up Napster with violating federal and state laws through “contributory and vicarious copyright infringement,” because it has created a forum that lets online users trade unauthorized music files directly from their PCs.

“We love the idea of using technology to build artist communities, but that’s not what Napster is all about,” Cary Sherman, senior executive vice president and general counsel of the RIAA, said in a statement. “Napster is about facilitating piracy and trying to build a business on the backs of artists and copyright owners.”

The association, which represents the major U.S. record companies, is seeking up to $100,000 in damages for each copyright-protected song allegedly exchanged illegally using Napster software.

Napster insists that its software was developed for legitimate use by music enthusiasts who would otherwise have to wade through droves of sites on the Net to find particular artists.

“This came as a surprise; we’ve been spending so much time trying to figure out ways to work with the RIAA,” Napster CEO Eileen Richardson said.

The lawsuit is the latest front in what has become a quicksand-like terrain for the music industry, which has been aggressively fighting to maintain control over their copyrighted material as the Web and related technologies increasingly threaten to undermine their security. In the case of Napster, it could be an uphill battle: At least two federal laws protect content “providers” from being held responsible for illegal activity over their networks.

Moreover, Napster is but one of many companies or organizations accused of contributing to the spread of illicitly obtained music. The RIAA has previously threatened to sue Web portal Lycos, and many other sites have been pursued for allegedly carrying copyrighted songs that can be downloaded free of charge.

But Napster says it does not host any content and only provides free software that its “music community” uses to easily search through an ever-growing network of computers that contain tracks encoded in the popular MP3 format. The tracks can be listened to using players by companies such as RealNetworks or via portable devices.

No music trades actually take place on computers owned by Napster. Nor does the company monitor users to see whether they are trading copyrighted material, although it does warn users that MP3 files could be illegally copied and that distributing such material is illegal.

The lawsuit could stifle a budding revenue model for Napster, which contends that it didn’t go into business to aid copyright infringements.

Napster has said that its future business model relies on hooking artists up with music lovers by making it a cinch to find tracks on the Net. The company envisions getting a cut of music sales for driving interest and traffic to MP3s.

“We’re this tiny company caught between two industries: the Net and music industry,” Richardson added. “We look forward to working with the RIAA to create laws for the good of artists and music lovers.”

The RIAA argues, however, that Napster is making it possible for Net users to collect an array of hits from CDs by top-selling artists such as Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion, the Backstreet Boys and Shania Twain–without ever paying a dime to an artist or record company. Other sites also let digital music collectors share tracks with fellow online users, such as Spinfrenzy.com, Abe’s MP3, iMesh and CuteMX.

“It is the single most insidious Web site I’ve ever seen–it’s like a burglar’s tool,” Ron Stone, a representative from artists’ agency Gold Mountain Management, said in a statement.

The “Big Five” record companies–Warner Music, Sony Music, Universal Music, BMG and EMI–want to get a piece of the action from digital music. But they want to do it their way, with safeguards in place to curb piracy. The companies are working with the RIAA and various technology firms on the so-called Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), an effort to set up specifications for secure music downloads online and onto portable devices such as Diamond Multimedia’s Rio.

But SDMI has run into a number of roadblacks, with internal debates over technology such as watermarking and other issues causing the group to miss some key deadlines, such as having SDMI-compliant portable devices on store shelves for the holiday season.

Meanwhile, music online both legally and illegally continues to proliferate, and the demand has spawned tools such as Napster. Still, the market for digital music sales is relatively small, as most computer users are used to the free nature of MP3 files, which have fueled the growth of the Net music sector. And many artists, from gold-record seller Ice T to unknown garage bands, are starting to voluntarily encode their music in MP3 for free distribution through sites such as MP3.com or to sell through digital music vendors such as EMusic and CDNow.

Legal experts say the case against Napster is not cut-and-dried.

For example, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed last year, creates a safe harbor for sites and services that remove copyright-infringing material upon notice. And the Telecommunications Act of 1996 states that Net service providers cannot be held responsible for illegal acts committed by third parties over their networks.

However, the DMCA also outlawed distributed copyright-cracking technologies, marking lawmakers’ sympathy with intellectual property owners’ efforts to protect their material. In addition, the Motion Picture Association of America has successfully cited that provision of the law to get sites to take down copies of a DVD security cracker that was circulating online.

Napster is not facilitating people breaking copyright-protection technologies, however; it is helping online users create a forum to exchange music and to chat online. Just because users may be breaking the law doesn’t mean Napster will automatically be held liable.

“The law has basically shielded ISPs from liability for acts of copyright infringement by users in the past,” said Jon Grossman, an intellectual property lawyer at Dickstein, Shapiro, Morin and Oshinsky.

“A liberal reading of the law could shield Napster, and that will definitely be discussed by the court and whether you can call Napster an ISP,” he added. “If there is some involvement on the part of the Net provider–that they are in some way involved in exercising this exchange–courts are more comfortable in finding them contributory liable, though.”

Notice the date, only 5 months after the launch of Napster. This was the single biggest mistake that the record companies could have made. The source of music discovery that was fast replacing radio as the place to hear music and was the next step in radio and records evolution was already becoming wildly popular and selling CD’s to music lovers world wide, but unlike all the new delivery systems that had preceded it, records, 8-tracks, cassettes, television, walkmans, discmans, etc, and of course, radio, instead of embracing it, instead of accepting it as the new preferred delivery system and monetizing it like they did radio, they destroyed it, losing their credibility, many loyal consumers, and control over  the music and its fans. Why…music fans asked, was it all right to tape songs off the radio or copy friends music to tape or disc, paying a tax to cover the music’s creators (most of which usually ended up staying with the music’s owners) and not all right to hear the music over the internet and decide whether to purchase it or not?

In the 1920’s, Prohibition created criminals and law breakers out of ordinary citizens by denying them access to something that had been perfectly legal, but made illegal through well intentioned error. This act by the RIAA was no different, and like prohibition, only created animosity, mistrust, and resistance in the music loving public, and ended forever the Major Label’s reputation of being where the best music was to be found. At this point in time, even major music stars are moving away from them, fleeing as soon as their contracts are up…and the Major Labels are no longer “The Big Five”…they are the Downsized 2 and a half

What’s next…

Radio is approaching a crossroads and could go any number of ways. Some are trying to accommodate and win back a certain segment of the music lovers whohad left them for other sources of music. Some are being sold back to seasoned broadcasters by the struggling Consolidators, broadcasters who wish to remain independent and bring back some classic ideas to radio. Some will be auctioned off or sold, their frequencies used for other purposes, including internet bandwidth. Some will enter into bankruptcy and remain in the hands of banks and money lenders who have no background in broadcasting. Others will thrive, supplying familiar sounding productions and celebrity fueled news for those whose entertainment needs have been molded and serviced by the radio formula and formats that now exist. Some may even make the internet their ‘hub’ and make an effort to bring back music lovers with a mix of new, carefully culled music and deeper playlists of older material, regardless of format

Record companies are already taking some independent labels under their wings for distribution, and are even helping some fledgling artists and small labels get on their feet. Like radio, the people in the trenches who love music are starting to be heard to a degree, and some bad decisions have been reversed lately to address the spreading use of the internet, specifically You Tube, as a way to promote new acts. Sadly, others have shut that avenue of exposure down, sometimes at the behest of their artists or their managers, sometimes, against their wishes. The failure to monetize the internet at the outset, back in 1999 may turn out to be irreversible, as no one can seem to agree on a way to monetize it now.

Music is healthier than it has ever been. It is everywhere, and there is a huge amount of material to choose from, literally something for everyone.

Tragically, the great arbiters of taste, the men and women of radio and records who listened for us and chose the music we were exposed to, are no longer in place to help us separate the wheat from the chaff, the good, from the bad, and the ugly. These long respected and trusted ears are no longer there, and current dictates from on high to assure a consistent and familiar sound relies more on focus groups, computer analysis, and format restrictions. Even the voices of the fans no longer reach the ears of the people in charge, and the ears that did listen to the listeners have been sadly (and wrongly) dismissed.

The legacy and import of radio and records will always be remembered fondly by those of us that grew up with them, but I am doubtful if it will ever rise to those heights again. Even so, there may be surprises ahead.

Only time will tell.

Next Sunday: Chapter 1 of The Art of Touring

Segarini’s column appears here every Monday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

Bob “The Iceman” Segarini was in the bands The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Dudes, and The Segarini Band and nominated for a Juno for production in 1978. He also hosted “Late Great Movies” on CITY TV, was a producer of Much Music, and an on-air personality on CHUM FM, Q107, SIRIUS Sat/Rad’s Iceberg 95, (now 85), and now provides content for radiothatdoesntsuck.com with RadioZombie, The Iceage, and PsychShack. Along with the love of his life, Jade (Pie) Dunlop, (who hosts and writes “I’ve Heard That Song Before” on RTDS), continues to write, make music, and record.

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