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Just when it seemed that free, unreconstituted music programming might soon be Clear Channeled out of existence, tech nerds save the day.
The phenomenon, called “podcasting,” is enabled by iPodder, an application devised in fall 2004 by ex–MTV VJ (and former hair farmer) Adam Curry and software developer Dave Winer. Anyone with a computer, a microphone, and a few other pieces of equipment can create his own Web broadcast (or “feed”) that automatically downloads onto subscribers’ computers. A subscriber can then transfer the feed onto an iPod or other MP3 player. To date, thousands of people all over the world have grasped this new opportunity to spread their thoughts, opinions, and tastes to the masses.
“[W]e get to be kind of the tastemakers, just like in the olden days when radio was starting out,” says Chris MacDonald, creator of Indiefeed, a Web site offering up independent-music podcasts in genres such as alternative/modern rock, blues/funk, and Latin. “[Back then, you] had personalities, and people would go to the personality because they trusted that person….We’re hoping that is gonna happen [with Indiefeed] as well.”
The 37-year-old MacDonald, an attorney and media consultant who lives on Capitol Hill, contacted Curry’s group at iPodder late last October with his idea. He got the go-ahead and support for Indiefeed, and in turn he volunteers as manager of the independent-music portion of iPodder.org’s directory.
The podcasts at Indiefeed are conducted by three main podcasters (including MacDonald himself) and a few other contributors from as far away as the West Coast. Each feed comprises a brief intro from the podcaster, a selected track, and an outro explaining how to obtain more information about the band. Several contributors also have their own, separate podcasting shows, but as of yet, none are being paid for their efforts. “Right now, it’s really a bunch of people just doing it for fun,” says MacDonald.
But MacDonald envisions profitability somewhere down the road. After a podcast developed a steady listener base, he says, companies could target specific demographics by sponsoring various shows. “It’s certainly not my direction to charge the listeners for anything,” says MacDonald—a difference that would set Indiefeed apart from such services as XM Satellite Radio.
Despite these possibilities, MacDonald values podcasting’s specificity more for its quality-of-life potential than for any commercial purposes. “The concept behind Indiefeed is that…there’s a lot of music out there that is…supported and litigated by the RIAA, the Recording Industry Association of America. The problem with that, of course, is that only so much music gets out there. And then you get the Clear Channels…they figure the lowest common denominator of music is what they need to send to the mass audience.”
Indiefeed’s selections are all non-RIAA-affiliated. The chosen bands are either unsigned or signed to small, independent labels; MacDonald’s group obtains permission for every podcast. While many other podcasts do feature RIAA music, MacDonald stresses the risks involved: “If [the RIAA is] going to sue that 14-year-old girl…in Pasadena to cough up $4,000 because she was on Kazaa, don’t think they won’t come after you.”
Besides, it’s the DIY nature of podcasting that appeals to MacDonald most. He recently added an “artist self-serve” function to the Indiefeed site, whereby musicians can podcast their own tracks.
“The hope is that we get these local bands to just submit and submit,” he says. “And then we pick the ones that we think are great, and they go out and they get to self-market themselves. Which is really what they’re doing anyway when they’re going out and playing music.”—Anne Marson