One thing that really impressed me, of all the things I discovered about online media in the hands of the Dutch, is how seriously they treat their past.
Like Radio Caroline and Radio Hauraki, Veronica started life as a pirate radio ship at sea. These days, apart from being known as the former stomping ground of podfather Adam Curry, it’s a bit of a multimedia empire: a film and radio school, a TV network, a couple of radio stations and the single largest circulation magazine in the Netherlands.
And in their offices in Hilversum, there is a project underway to collect, digitise and organise that 48 year history for the benefit of the public, and also, I think, for their own sense of place in the world. It’s called the Veronica Story.
As well as the archives of old material, audience members are submitting their own recordings, clippings, photographs and memories, and these are being dated, scanned, and collated into the growing library of media history that can tell the Dutch people a large part of their own stories.
Even though the original broadcast tapes were recycled and reused, some of the original transmissions survive thanks to the ‘piracy’ of enthusiastic fans. There may be a lesson in there somewhere.
I also met the new head of digital for Universal. His name’s Jeroen Bouwman and he takes up post in London from the beginning of November. He confirmed for me something I’d been told by another Universal executive just a year or so back: less than 2% of all the music that they have ever released is currently available for sale in any form.
To his credit, Jeroen supports a project of retrieval and reissue. Not, perhaps, to the same cultural and social ends as the staff working at Veronica (you can tell that for them, it’s a real mission). But all the same, he can see the value in the lost catalogue.
But the problem is far more widespread than that. There are so many deleted recordings, labels that have closed, albums that have never been issued on CD – even early recordings by current artists that just can’t be bought or found for love nor money. There is, by my estimation something of the order of twenty, possibly up to fifty times as much money to be made in the retrieval and reissue of lost gems as there is in releasing new recordings by new artists.
If you can find those things, or you can give old and forgotten recordings new life, there is a market for them. In this globalised and niche-centric long tail world, somebody will buy anything that you can release. Especially if you polish it up, put it in context, give some detailed information about it and make it part of a narrative that will allow people to connect it to their own understandings of music, and their own relationship with it.
Your history is interesting, and there is no reason not to make it available.