Some developments in technology can take you by surprise a little. In it’s latest version of iTunes, Apple included a facility to use the iTunes program to subscribe to podcasts. Now, don’t panic, this blog was only intended for a substitute for e-mails to my friends and relatives – I am NOT about to start podcasting any time soon. Having said that, I am about to have a soapbox moment so please excuse me.
In case you don’t know what podcasting is, I’m not going to get too technical here but it’s like a radio show MP3 which updates itself. The BBC (and many other radio stations who operate websites) let you stream audio in real time, but doing this the audio is only actually inside your computer long enough to be played and then it’s gone again. With podcasts you have an MP3 which updates itself when new episodes become available, so you can play the radio program whenever you like (and if you have an MP3 player, wherever you like).
In use, you get a very big list of podcasts which are available, and you can subscribe to any number of them you like. ITunes starts your subscription generally by downloading whatever the latest episode is and showing you a list of all the previous available episodes. So then you synchronise with your MP3 player (it doesn’t have to be an iPod, the term Podcast is just something a guy called Adam Curry came up with) and listen to these radio shows in your car, on the train, walking about in a forest, wherever. Then later that month/week/day your computer will automatically download subsequent episodes as they become available.
It’s neat, and there is a lot of stuff available to listen to. You aren’t going to get podcasts of music shows because the licensing for such things would be nightmare-ish, so an little industry of (mostly independent) musicians now make “podsafe” music, that is music which isn’t owned by a record company and can be used almost freely in podcasts. As someone interested in audio, it’s not really a good idea to pay too much attention to the sound quality of some of the average podcast, they are mostly being recorded on headset microphones, there might be a noise gate or compressor involved, there will often be background noise and the ads will usually have enough treatments on the voices to make the speech un-intelligible. But it feels like the start of something that might be important later on.
The interesting spin on this is that advertisers are not happy - with people listening to music and radio as MP3s, all their radio advertising isn’t being heard. So now some rather large advertising agencies are looking at doing what A&R people and record companies used to do – looking at getting new music talent, attaching brands to “hot new music” and possibly even mentioning brands in song lyrics. The idea being that if the advertising is part of the song, or part of the underground music movement featured on a podcast then it’ll get through.
If that sounds far-fetched, consider the major Diesel-U-Music competition; it started off as a hunt for underground, new, exciting music, (finding, amongst other things, Mylo and DJ Yoda*) and is about to become an international talent competition. Then you get odd companies either setting up or being major sponsors of music festivals…
Ideally, this would then make record companies nervous and encourage them to go and find hotter new talent before the brand labels do, but it looks like they are happy for anyone to go make an artist famous so that the label can swoop in at the last minute and offer them a deal on the back of a wave of free publicity. The album would already be recorded in their garage or whatever, the brand they are working with do advertising with the bands music and tighten up the band’s image, all the record company have to do is release it in the shops and possibly arrange to make a video (with clothes/whatever provided by the brand of course). Now, that is worrying…
*if you don’t know, then don’t ask, just google or something.