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on the front lines of a new medium…
How a start-up like EVR can gain a toehold in an industry that for decades has been unfriendly to the little guy can be summed up by a slight tweak to the illuminated sign hanging in the booth: In place of the familiar “ON AIR” is a sign that reads “ONLINE.”
“Clear Channel” – the multibillion-dollar radio conglomerate – “kicked out a lot of people wherever they could, and just beamed in from another city,” says Wareham. “Now, with the Internet, you don’t have to have this huge transmitter.”
With more than 1 million listeners a month, EVR is at the forefront of this emerging medium. In addition to fostering more independent voices and breaking underground acts, EVR has become a must-visit for big-label stars like Wareham and, more recently, Big Boi of the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling hip-hop group Outkast.
You’d think the sky might be the limit for an organically grown station such as EVR deftly leveraging street cred, an easy relationship with artists, and the identity of a bohemian counterculture neighborhood into a burgeoning Internet audience. But EVR general manager Peter Ferraro has to be very careful when it comes to growing his business. The way the current performance-royalty pay structure is set up for webcasters, if EVR’s audience numbers do in fact reach the sky, so, too, do their operating costs.
Under the Congressional Digital Music Copyright Act of 1998, Internet broadcasters are required to pay a digital performance royalty for each and every listener, making it very difficult to scale up their business. By contrast, their terrestrial counterparts benefit from a flat royalty rate: As their audience grows, the cost per listener falls.
“The very existence of EVR in the current royalty climate is pretty punk rock,” says Mr. Ferraro, who is trying to avoid the same fate as WOXY, an independent rock webcaster that was forced to shut down earlier this year for ostensibly becoming too popular.
Unlike WOXY, Ferraro is going to great lengths to make sure EVR’s revenues – a mix of Web advertising, show sponsorships, and events with corporate sponsors – keep pace with their growing music-licensing costs. As of now, 30 percent of EVR’s annual operating costs goes to paying performance royalties. As their audience grows, theoretically that percentage will increase until EVR is potentially snuffed out.
But there is hope: Pending legislation in Congress (the Performance Rights Act) would compensate artists when their performances are played on terrestrial radio (currently, only the composer and music publisher are paid), and offer fixed, discounted royalty rates to small terrestrial broadcasters. Last year, at a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the bill, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California said she believed “strongly that parity and fairness require that we provide the same discounts for small webcasters.”
Currently, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Record Industry Association of America are negotiating the terms of the proposed legislation. Though a Senate Judiciary Committee source told the Monitor that webcasters shouldn’t rely on the NAB to carry their water, the source did say that Senator Feinstein remains committed to webcasters.
If webcasters are included in the bill, Ferraro says there might be a “small business explosion” in the Internet radio space, “a sector that will pay royalties and expose people to music that is often characterized as existing in the ‘long tail.’ “
in the 1950s, Duke Vin and Count Suckle emigrated to London stowed away on a boat, bringing with them that Jamaican sound…
“Duke Vin and the Birth of Ska” by Gus Berger, tells the story of Duke Vin, the man who built the UK’s very first sound system in 1956, and who, alongside DJs Count Suckle and Daddy Vego, helped popularize Ska in the UK and make it one of the most influential musical styles, the effects of which can still be heard today. The documentary shows the rise of this unique music: music which evolved from speeded up American R&B covers to brass heavy songs that spoke of freedom and independence.
Leila Hawkins: What is it about ska that made you want to pick up a camera?
Gus Berger: It was a combination of my love of the music and its origins, and my fascination with the original Jamaican record shops in London, which, being from Melbourne, I wasn’t used to. My original plan was to tell the story of the development of Jamaican music through the eyes of the Jamaican record shop owners – however, the stores were closing so quickly that I knew that I needed to pick up a camera and start talking to these guys and hearing their stories and their view on the impact of Jamaican music, particularly in London.
LH: How did you get involved with the main contributor, Duke Vin?
GB: I got to know Duke Vin personally, initially though Gaz Mayall who runs the famous Soho club, Gaz’s Rockin Blues. Once I had met Duke and seen him DJ numerous times, it occurred to me to change the focus of the story away from the record shops and more towards Duke himself. It seemed like a much more positive angle: the shops were closing yet Duke was still playing records – 50 years on!
LH: There’s a moving scene of some archive footage depicting a young, suited black man trying to find a room to rent, but is turned away by numerous hostel owners because of the color of his skin. Did you feel it was important to add a political element to the documentary?
GB: Yes, for two reasons. Firstly, I felt that politics and music have always been intertwined in the Jamaican music scene so it wouldn’t have been unusual to include a political element. The second reason, and I guess more importantly from the film’s perspective was that I felt it was necessary to illustrate the obstacles that the West Indian community faced when they came to Britain. In particular, the original sound men like Duke Vin and Count Suckle, and others, were up against tremendous barriers and for these guys to not only take these on, but to do so in such a positive fashion I thought was incredibly inspiring.
LH: You recount Duke Vin’s creation of the UK’s first ever sound system. What are the other seminal moments in the history of ska for you?
GB: Duke Vin and others before him (like Sir Coxsone and Duke Reid) provided the inspiration for others that they could do the same, but in their style. So the growth and development of the sound system culture in the UK was a huge turning point. In terms of the sound of ska, it evolved into other styles, such as rocksteady and reggae.In the UK, ska was reinvented by bands such as The Specials, The Beat and Madness. These bands inspired their fans to discover what their records were actually based upon, which was Jamaican ska. So all of a sudden, people started buying all these classic Jamaican records, some 20 years after they were originally produced. I think the longevity and popularity of these UK bands is a real testament to the amazing sound that was created by the Jamaican musicians back in the early 60’s.
LH: The film premiered at a trade union meeting (SERTUC film club). Where you would like it to go next?
GB: I would love this film to be seen by wider audience as I don’t think people truly appreciate the positive impact that Jamaican music has had upon British culture in general. I am entering this film into various film festivals in Europe and the US and from this effort I would love the film to be picked up and shown by a TV network. A distributor would definitely help me as I would also like to clear the rights for the film to be sold as a DVD.
“DUKE VIN AND THE BIRTH OF SKA” 2008 directed by Gus Berger