In the three or so years that podcasting has been in existence, it has been plagued by two problems: music rights, and profitability. Sort one out, and you can fix the other.
Sony recently announced that they will license their music to an organisation called Rock River Communications for use in podcasts. They’re a company that makes promotional mix CDs for major organisations like Chrysler, The Gap, Verizon and others — and they want to start making promotional podcasts.
The deal they’ve signed will allow the use of Sony’s music in a podcast, regardless of the number of downloads. By major label standards, this is an absolute breakthrough — and no doubt a very lucrative one.
It was not so long ago that record labels simply wanted podcasting to go away — but it strikes me that as far as profit motive goes, record companies actually have the best reason of all to start podcasting.
Of course, first they have to learn the “digital giveaway does not equal lost sale” rule, and the equally important “people hear music, then they like music, then they buy music” rule.
But once you have that straight in your head, podcasting is pretty much a no-brainer.
Your typical record label has a roster of artists with certain elements in common. These may be genre-based, or more broadly arranged around a set of aesthetic, political or lifestyle ideals. For that reason, major labels aside for a moment, people who buy one recording from a particular record label stand a reasonable chance of enjoying (or appreciating) something else from that same label.
Traditional methods of getting existing purchasers to sample more widely from the catalogue include an actual printed catalogue and the giveaway (or cheap) compilation sampler. Some labels even cross promote within a CD’s printed artwork.
These traditional methods tend to work at the point of sale, but have diminishing returns over time, particularly where new releases are concerned. If you bring out a new record, then it won’t have a track in the last sampler disc, nor appear in the printed card you painstakingly inserted into each one of the last releases.
Podcasting, on the other hand, is a subscription methodology. When people subscribe to your podcast, they not only want to hear a range of music that you currently have available to them — they have elected to be notified with new releases as and when they become available.
Remember: these aren’t radio shows. You don’t necessarily need somebody saying ‘that was… this is…’ between tracks, though you may wish to do so. There are labels who simply podcast a song every day or two, so that their subscribers are regularly listening to a selection from their archives.
Others make a full production out of it. They interview the artists, talk about the music, give previews of forthcoming releases, and invite interaction from their audience by way of email and text, for inclusion into the next episode.
Yet others don’t just limit themselves to their own catalogue — nor their own talent. By involving DJs that play the kind of music represented on their label, but allowing them to cast the net more widely, labels like Ropeadope are able to contextualise their own releases in a wider body of music.
Of course, the best thing about podcasts is the fact that it is based on the technology of RSS, which I always try to explain in terms of magazine subscription: listeners make one request to be subscribed, and from that point on, whenever you have something for them, it will just arrive in their house. They don’t have to remember to come back to your website, or fill in any forms.
Strangely, quite a few of them have gone out of their way to hide the fact that they are podcasting. There are dozens more that I found in a quick search who have podcasts available in iTunes — but no mention of it on their website.
There’s more to be said about this that I can fit in a single blog post — and although podcasts are not radio shows, there is a great deal the podcaster can learn from the radio professional — so this is a topic that I will be returning to.
However, if you’re keen to get started, I can be persuaded to do a spot of consultancy in this area. My background is radio programme production and presentation, and I have a track record of success in podcasting (including one of The Guardian’s top picks), so I can at least get you started.
But my advice: if you run a record label, and particularly if you plan to make a significant proportion of your income out of repeat business rather than new business, then you might want to start thinking about podcasting.
A quick Google will get you started along the path.