Learning a Lot of New Songs

Early this spring I went to the Post Office in a small town near my family farm. While shipping some books I noticed the song playing on the radio. I commented to the young woman behind the counter about the song. She responded “I don’t get a lot of stations to come in here, but this one is great! I’m learning a lot of new songs.” I responded “That song isn’t new, I was riding the school bus when it came out and we heard it on the AM radio.”

Go ahead, point it out. She was young compared to me. The nice part about being over the hill is you get more shade on this side of the hill.

A few days later I was helping with spring tillage for planting season and played a bit of radio roulette trying to find an FM station which was strong enough to come in both ways. I stumbled on to the station she had been listening to. No, I don’t remember its call sign, just that it was out of Pontiac, IL. Let me tell you, the stuff they were playing was on Oldies stations when I was a kid. The only thing missing was the voice of Dick Biondi.

Given all of the Internet radio stuff going on out there, I’m kind of surprised someone hasn’t paid Dick Biondi to record intros to every oldies song in the archive and set the entire archive up on some kind of shuffle playlist software. I mean, that is what Pandora does, but without announcers. I might actually get some paid subscription to Pandora if they had a channel with all of those old songs and Dick Biondi intros to them. Having grown up on Chicago radio stations strong enough to reach rural America, it just isn’t an oldies station if it doesn’t have his voice.

Someone once told me there are only two kinds of DJs, those who are freshly fired and those who are on their way to being fired. It is the rare personality that has a multi-year stint at a station in this market. Driving into Chicago I was pleasantly surprised to see a billboard with marketing for Eric & Cathy on it. Those two have been on the air a long time.

This train wreck of thought brings up a point I’ve heard others make in various forms. I was lucky growing up during the early 70s before radio stations had genres. The MOR (Middle of the Road) radio stations really did play anything then. As long as a tune was good, they didn’t care if it was rock, country, folk, etc., the tune got air time.

In a post Internet world though, this creates a problem for both musicians and authors. A catalog never goes out of scope. Back in the day of record stores and albums, once something went out of print, it left the store shelves and, to large part, the airwaves. Oldies stations started cropping up in the late 70s or early 80s. They played a lot of 50s and 60s stuff and were “different.” Now many oldies stations are playing the stuff from the 80s and 90s…sigh.

New artists and authors have a much larger uphill battle. They aren’t just competing against everything which came out the year they released. Now they have to compete against everything which was ever released. Artists have made some news lately pulling tunes from Spotify, or whatever it was, as well as forming their own Internet radio stations, but the larger problem isn’t going away.

Each individual has only so many hours to spend on visual entertainment each week. This means that books are not only competing with television and video games, but the growing number of low budget cable/satellite channels which are leasing/buying all of those television shows which were either current or in re-run mode when I was a child. Judging from their proliferation they are finding an audience. In large part I can understand this. Most of the content creators today wouldn’t dare put out something like “All in the Family,” “Maude,” or “The Jeffersons.” Let alone something like “Barney Miller.” In today’s politically correct world, those shows wouldn’t make it past a document in a word processor as new shows. As Oldies though, they get re-aired. What is really sad is that most of the social issues they commented on are still with us today, largely unchanged.

While it is cool to expose young minds to the music and shows their parents and grand parents watched, there is a darker side. Many of the musicians and actors are deceased today. I highly doubt their contracts covered syndication fees/royalties this far out. Once the content has been converted to digital form, it never stops earning money for the corporation which created it, but, regrettably, it does stop earning money for the people who physically created it. I suspect any syndication fees are going straight to the bottom line of the corporation and the actors estates are left twisting in the breeze.

Think about it from an author perspective, or, I should say, a gullible author perspective. There are any number of online “services” where a wanna be author can hurl anything they want up for sale. Some put their work in only one market, such as Amazon. What happens after the author passes? If their heirs do not maintain the bank account where payments are wired does the vendor just keep the money?

Most people are stupid. They use one of these services and hope to be “discovered.” It rarely happens. We can debate for months on end as to the reasons they never get discovered, but that is not the point of this discussion.

Think about Vincent van Gogh. No, I’m not a fan of art. I watched “The Doctors Finest” the other night and saw the episode about him. Today his paintings sell for a fortune and are cherished, yet while he created them he was basically impoverished. The same possibility exists for any creative work. Years after the creator of the work has expired, it may find a market. If it never earned any money while they were alive, their heirs may not think to keep the payment channels alive which will lead to many corporations making money off dead people.