Can we listen to full songs on podcasts?


Podcasting remains a popular form of broadcasting.

Growing from an audience of approximately 12 percent of people aged 12 and up in 2013 to over 31 percent today. In Sweden, the figure is still at least 47 percent. In Canada it is around 34%; that number further increases to 46 percent for Canadians aged 18 to 49.

More than 500 million people (23.5% of all Internet users) listen to podcasts from the approximately 4.3 million programs available regularly, with many listening to half a dozen or more weekly. Comedy is the biggest category followed by news, true crime, and health and fitness.

And a little further down the list, you’ll find music, an extremely popular genre. Approximately half a million podcasts are dedicated in some way to music, which means there are millions of episodes on this topic. However, virtually none of them feature complete songs.

Why? As the headline says, it’s complicated.

Story continues below advertisement

When an artist signs a contract with a publisher, that publisher owns a section of the artist’s material and has a statement about how it will be used. In exchange for tracking this use and paying royalties, the publisher has a right to 50% of the revenue generated.

A deal with a major record label gives that company the individual right to share that particular artist’s music and also a cut of those profits.

Over the years, the usual ways of listening to music, such as listening to the radio, streaming music online or buying a CD, have led to systems that pay  publishers, artists and record labels. These systems were developed a long time ago, decades before podcasts became part of our daily information diet.

When the military handed over radio broadcasting to the public in the years following World War I, the industry exploded. Many stations began broadcasting music, making it the first time in history that the public was able to enjoy large and important performances for free in their homes. And this was not so accepted by  music publishers, record companies, composers and musicians. Why would anyone buy your records if the public could enjoy this music for forgiveness? The recording industry fought hard against the use of its products on radio.

And continuing a protracted struggle, human rights organizations (PROs) proved to be the solution. Instead of each radio station requesting permission to play every record in its library, stations simply reported which songs they played to the PROs (SOCAN in Canada, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC in the US, PRS in the UK, and similar companies in countries in worldwide) and they would determine how much in over-the-air royalties a station owed. The PROs collected the amount and then distributed it to their members.

Story continues below advertisement

This is called a “universal license” and it allows radio stations to play whatever they want, as long as they report it and then pay the associated royalties.

And so it was for decades. Before we got into computer music tracking, I remember having to deal with SOCAN weeks several times a year. This meant filling out special playlists detailing the song title, artist, and composer of each song we played during our shifts, 24/7, for four to seven days (we’ve already had to do this for 14 days? I can’t remember).

All those sheets of paper with our bad handwriting were therefore sent to SOCAN so that they could sort everything out. It was tiring and difficult manual work. Today, PRO reports are archived electronically at the push of a button.

In America, only songwriters get paid.

(By the way, Canadian radio stations pay fees equal to a certain percentage of their pre-tax income to SOCAN and some other PROs for the privilege of playing music as part of our standard business. If an artist releases a cover , exclusively the composer or composers of the song receive airplay royalties and not the performers of that cover. This has been a sore point for the American music industry, but I digress.)

Music streaming services operate under similar conditions. Because of the way their music is delivered, they each know exactly which songs are played and how many times they are streamed. At the end of the month, they send this data to the PROs (along with the required amount) for distribution to the rights holders.

Story continues below advertisement

Returning to podcasts, there is no universal PRO-type system for tracking and stemming music usage. Furthermore, I am not aware of any organization anywhere in the world, national or international, where a conscientious podcaster can seek permission to use a song and be compensated for that use, unless you separately contract with a private music settlement house. . . The only real exception is Spotify, which has a system called Anchor that allows podcasters to embed music from Spotify’s library into podcasts. But in doing so, the podcast is tied to Spotify forever and Anchor hasn’t had the expected success.

Even if it existed, licensing music for podcasts would be much more difficult than for radio. Not only would the songwriter, publisher and record label have to be compensated in some way, but we would also enter the multifaceted world of mechanics and master recording rights. Identifying songs in podcasts for tracking purposes is also extremely difficult, but let’s not go down that rabbit hole because your eyes will glaze over.

But if a solution could be found, a lot of money could be of benefit. Imagine being able to shrink a complete Top 40 countdown to listen to whenever you want. Or a full concert.

The music industry is looking to license music for formats other than radio, TV, films, video games and commercials. Allow podcasters to use – and pay! — because music could break the floodgates and be worth more money to creators and rights holders. But how can this be done?

Story continues below advertisement

There are organizations trying to make this work, but there is still a long way to go. There are so many stakeholders involved that – a lot, fortune with it. But something has to give eventually. One day.

Source: globalnews