Fixing Podcasting’s Music Problem

When I speak to audiences of podcasters, I often joke that if you feature licensed music on your podcast, a lawyer will shoot you in the face. Well, this week I got to speak in front of a room full of the people that ordered the hit: music industry executives. I was given the honor of keynoting the Podcasting Track at this year’s MusicBiz 2018 in Nashville. Given how little these two universes intersect in practice, I felt like I was giving a keynote extolling the virtues of beef to VeganCon 2018.

Now, there have always been music podcasts; they’re just difficult. I started listening to music podcasts all the way back in 2005, with Brian Ibbott’s Coverville and my friend Chris McDonald’s Indiefeed . In their cases, they had to individually clear the rights of every song. Today, there are some very popular music podcasts–but they often come directly from labels or artists who can successfully clear and/or monetize licensed music. I listen to Group Therapy and Anjunadeep Editions every single week, which are shows produced by the labels that own much of the music featured. Music podcasts could and should be successful–-according to Edison’s quarterly Share of Ear® research, we spend 77% of our time listening to music, and 23% to spoken word audio. But there is no clear path for the average podcast producer to include licensed music on podcasts.

There is still a lot of confusion out there amongst podcasters about using licensed music. Nearly every day in the various Facebook podcasting groups I belong to, I see someone claiming that it’s OK to include that Imagine Dragons song in their show, because it’s “fair use.” Fair Use is a legal term, not a general sense of fairness, and let me tell you–there is almost NOTHING you can think of in terms of podcasting licensed music that is considered Fair Use. For clarity on these matters, I always rely on the sound legal judgement of my friend David Oxenford, who summarizes the main issues succinctly here. TL;DR–see “Face, Shooting in the.”

Here’s the thing: back when podcasting was a Rube Goldbergian system of pulleys and gears to download a file and sync it with your Shuffle, podcasting music was essentially like printing your own CD’s–which means paying every royalty you could think of. But things have changed, both in music and in podcasting. Spotify Mobile lets you cache songs, which is functionally like downloading them, since you can “keep” them as long as you are a subscriber. More importantly, Both Spotify and Pandora are ramping up their podcast content, and Spotify is already claiming a spot as one of the leading podcast clients after the Apple ecosystem. There’s nothing “downloaded” about a podcast from Pandora and Spotify–it’s functionally streamed, just like the music. There’s not much that makes a show on these streaming services a “podcast” other than saying it is a podcast. Tech has changed, and with it so has the relevance of some of the various rights and licenses surrounding the performance of music.

Given those changes, it’s time for the music industry to change, too. With a simple, blanket license for podcasting that isn’t too onerous, the labels could print free money. If that isn’t impetus enough, consider the stat I posted earlier that we spend 77% of our time listening to music, and 23% spoken word. If the streaming services become more and more important to the podcasting space (and I believe they will), that means the labels will theoretically take a 23% haircut from the royalties the streaming services pay them, as some of the time formerly spent listening to licensed music shifts to podcasts. And that is if we believe that 77/23 is static. In four years, Podcasting has doubled its Share of Ear from 2% of all audio consumed to 4%. That is remarkable growth. To date, that growth has come from a shifting of the spoken word pie, but it’s not hard to see time spent with podcasts encroaching on music as well.

What all of this means is that figuring out a simple way to license music for podcasts is a win-win for everyone involved. Lowering the barriers here will result in more music, more royalties, and better podcasts! I can tell you from experience–doing a music podcast without actually being able to play music is like ordering the tasting menu at Gotham and spending the rest of the night having the dishes described to you in detail but not actually served.

And for my fellow podcasters, you want this to happen. Being legally impaired against frictionless use of music in podcasts locks you out of the earbuds of millions of Americans. Fix this, and watch podcasting explode. I was encouraged by the reception I got at MusicBiz on the topic. Let’s find a way in the next few years to stop the shootings.

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The Podcast Consumer 2018

The Podcast Consumer 2018, the latest in Edison’s annual study of the medium, contains all new data on podcast users in America, derived from the Infinite Dial 2018 study (conducted in partnership with Triton Digital), The Smart Audio Report from NPR and Edison, and the latest from Edison’s Share of Ear® research. This report charts the rise of podcasting over the past decade, and also includes new, unreleased information on the following:

  • Demographics
  • Podcast Consumption
  • Device Usage
  • Social Media Behaviors
  • Smart Speakers and Podcasting
  • The updated Share of Ear® for podcasting

Findings of this report include the following:

  • Podcasting is growing: monthly listeners grew from 24% of Americans 12+ to 26% year over  year.
  • Podcast listeners are more likely to own a smart speaker.
  • Listening in vehicles is growing.
  • Podcasting’s Share of Ear has doubled in four years.
  • Podcasts are the number one audio source by time of consumption among podcast listeners

Watch The Podcast Consumer 2018

 

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Podcasting’s “Rock Stars”

The Wall Street Journal today published an interesting article on the growing popularity of live events that feature the hosts of podcasts (and even live recordings of those podcasts.)  Public broadcasters have been engaging in this strategy for years (the live tapings of shows like “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” for example) but now commercial podcasters are also getting into the act.

This development is intriguing, and important to the space for a number of reasons. First of all, events are yet another way to monetize podcasting. The more revenue streams the medium generates, from direct response and brand advertising to listener-supported models and branded podcasts, the healthier the industry will be.

But there is another way in which these events are not only important, but maybe even critical to the health of podcasting. Podcasting, to date, has been a solitary experience—an intimate connection between the earbuds. But there is no reason why it can’t be a shared experience, especially with the rise of Smart Speakers like Google Home and the Amazon Alexa suite of products encouraging a new wave of “social audio.” Plus, it provides an even deeper level of engagement between host and audience, which in turn might spread what podcasting really needs: ambassadors. For more on our Smart Speaker research, visit http://NPR.org/smartaudio, and to learn more about the latest in Podcasting, register for The Podcast Consumer 2018, coming April 19th.

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Save The Date For The Podcast Consumer 2018

The Podcast Consumer 2018, the latest in an annual series of studies from Edison, will debut in a free webinar at 2PM on Thursday, April 19th. Hosted by Edison VP of Strategy, Tom Webster, this 30-minute presentation will combine data from The Infinite Dial, Edison’s annual study of consumer habits presented in conjunction with Triton Digital, as well as new data from Edison’s Share of Ear® research.

To register for this event and receive a free copy of the report when it is published, click here.