2:00pm – Piracy is the New Radio!
As far as WCBN DJs were concerned, this was one of the most anticipated panels of the day. Anna Troberg (Leader of the Swedish Pirate Party), Alexa Clay (The Misfit Economy), and Rebecca Gates who came to Radiovision last year if you remember, all talked about internet piracy, and what pirates can teach us about the internet. This panel was packed with so many ideas that I’m not sure I can articulate them all, but I want to get across the impact that this made for me, and why I think this is important for radio.
My favorite note from this panel was this: pirate sites are more like libraries, and pirates are the librarians. Piracy sites are like giant archives of knowledge from users who have created a community around whatever their mode of piracy they choose. Anna Troberg, the leader of the infamous Swedish Pirate Party, gave some interesting perspectives about piracy. She originally worked for a publishing company, and eventually realized that the pirate party just wanted to be understood, and that they weren’t actually after free movies and music. The Pirate Party strives for privacy and equality in everything they do. A major protector of internet rights, they were completely against SOPA and PIPA, and understand these policies very clearly, unlike most politicians. Something interesting about the pirate party is that they actually have chairs in the Swedish parliament now, and are a legitimate political party. Not just a bunch of boys in a basement on computers. They stand for integrity, privacy, freedom of speech, and democracy above all else, and are a more fully fleshed out party than you might originally think.
Alexa Clay, who I mentioned in the last post, had a lot to say about what we can learn about government and democracy from pirates, and how that can improve our economics. While researching her book, The Misfit Economy, she investigated the history of literal pirates, and how they pioneered forms of self-governance, had real profit-sharing models, and created articles of governance that predated constitutional democracies in the west. Pirates could help us reform things like patents and information, especially in regards to thinking about collaborative efforts between companies, such as in the music industry.
A major idea that came up was the idea of doing it together (DIT) that Mark Frauenfelder talked about in the keynote presentation. 100 years ago we were forced to work together to create things, and successfully developed things together as a community. Despite how technology has improved our lives, we need to call back to that time, and work together to create a better-functioning society. In the same vein, Anna talked about how the music industry is stuck in an old model that doesn’t collaborate, and so they don’t know how to solve internet piracy. If they let go of their egos and worked together, they could do amazing things. She used Lady Gaga as a model or social innovation and authenticity. Gaga has found a way to connect with her fan-base in a way that no one has done before. She has created a social network called Little Monsters, and makes you feel like you are the only person that matters on the planet.
The ending thought to this panel was the idea that there are a lot of public resources that are pre-competitive. We can all agree that certain things need to be made, and the open source community on the internet has that right. You can create revenue by customization.
3:00pm – Coffee Break
3:15pm – Tricia Wang
Story time! Tricia Wang told a story about a boy named Han who stood up to Fang Binxing (FBX) by throwing his shoe at his chest. Apparently Han was part of a Twitter community that was against the idea that the internet in China should be restricted (go figure). When he went to a protest in his college town, he ended up throwing his shoe at FBX and ran from the police. You’d think that the police would have killed him, but they didn’t. They “took him out to tea,” but that was about it. The reason? Because the Chinese government didn’t know who was in charge.
Han surveyed, from what I can tell, because of these idea trees:
Shared interests –> Shared identity –> Shared responsibility
Information –> Ideas –> Behaviors
Networks like Anonymous, Wikipedia, and Twitter are unpredictable, and are more powerful than anything with a single leader. These communities band together to create an unbreakable bond, and give the power back to the individuals involved in the communities. Han felt a responsibility to his Twitter community to throw his shoe, and he was applauded. It worked because of a self-healing meshwork. The other people in his group failed to embarrass FBX, so Han logically was handed the responsibility. It was an adaptive trust of the collective.
Ending thought for this was: dancing with handcuffs is better than not dancing at all.
3:30pm – Tube Dreams: The Almost Realized Promise of Internet Radio
This panel with Ken Freedman (WFMU) and Sylvain Gire (ARTE Radio) was one of the most powerful panels of the day, and stuck with the better part of the attendees of Radiovision. Sylvain had an amazing perspective on radio, coming from a very artistic vision of what radio should be. What Sylvain deals with at ARTE Radio is pure beauty and art. It doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. It sticks in your ear like a worm. It is free of any format, and is looking towards the future. Sylvain’s image of radio is exactly the kind of thing that I personally strive for at WCBN, and is something I think a lot of DJs here would agree with. The difference is that ARTE Radio is static, and WCBN and WFMU are living and being created in the moment. Both have their merits, and they are both beautiful. It takes dedication and attention, and doesn’t have an immediate response. It’s another way of listening that’s closer to reading than watching TV. You use your imagination in a way that allows you to build images in your head based on silences and space. Radio is an art that leaves a lot to the listener.
As Sylvain said, “Radio teaches you about humanity.” Nothing truer has ever been spoken in regards to radio. Something I can see in all radio people is that we are looking for a deep connection to humans, and we want to get to the root of what makes us human. Nothing is more beautiful to me. One way that Sylvain said ARTE Radio is finding ways to do that is through animation, similar to what Story Corps has done in the past.
What Ken had to say was very interesting, and not what I expected. He talked a lot about how the internet has changed radio for the better, and that radio is slower. The internet allows us to republish ideas, and enhance them. For example, Ken explained how he uses .gif animations along with his playlist to entertain his listeners and “non-listening listeners” as he likes to call them. Ken also mentioned that he likes radio as a foreground form of entertainment, with visuals as a background. His .gif experiment is a perfect example of that, and I’m excited to see where the radio world takes this idea.
Ending thought of this panel by Sylvain: don’t compromise on content, but always on distribution.
4:30pm – Break
4:45pm – Maria Popova
This was an unexpectedly refreshing presentation from Maria Popova of Brain Pickings. She had a lot of things to say about radio, although she doesn’t do radio herself. She wanted to get across the idea that the more colors we have to play with, the more interesting things are. She used the analogy of Legos specifically. The more colors of Legos there are the better, and it’s always going to be more interesting than different sizes. She also mentioned and dissected that most useful things were not trying to be useful. Radio was one of these things. Although Maria doesn’t do radio, she is most definitely a storyteller, and dear to a radio person’s heart. Storytelling is one of the most human modes of engaging, and it compels you to see through it. Above all, it fuels the human curiosity.
5:00pm – New Voices, New Formats, New Business Models
This was one of the most anticipated panels, and for very good reason. Each panelist has made a name for himself in the business is very different ways, and each had a very unique perspective on making a radio career lucrative. This panel was moderated by the wonderful assistant manager of WFMU, Liz Berg.
Jesse Thorn (Maximum Fun) signed up with PRI (Public Radio International) when he was in his mid-twenties, but unfortunately it just didn’t make enough for him to survive on, so he started podcasting, and eventually put his financial eggs in a completely different basket: a podcasting network. Maximum Fun runs on a public radio model, and provides a full-time living for him. Jesse wasn’t happy with how young people were presented on public radio, and wanted to make a change. He talked specifically about how NPR goes for a very specific audience; they target an audience that can pay them, which is educated and white. Because of this, NPR has no incentive to take risks, or change a show. They would rather play re-runs of a previous show their audience liked.
Glynn Washington (Snap Judgement) basically said that he won a contest, which afterward forced him to create an app, stage show, and a radio show all in the same month. Although that’s obviously absurd, that’s how public media works, and that’s what they had to do. Glynn talked a lot about the vocabulary of storytelling. Ira completely changed that vocabulary, and he does it very well, but that’s not how everyone can or should do radio. Another problem that Glynn talked about with public media is that it doesn’t allow for too much diversity. A common complaint that Glynn got was that he had an “urban accent,” which was not what NPR listeners were used to. A major point that Glynn made was that with both radio shows and podcasts, it needs to be like a warm cup of tea for a listener. They need to be able to identify with it, and feel comfortable coming back week after week for more. They don’t want too much change, and they want something familiar. This is how NPR has survived and hooked people so well, and that’s how good podcasts need to work. It is essential to create a community that cares about your program, and also believe that you have the best show on the planet.
Roman Mars (99% Invisible) is pretty different from the first two panelists in that he doesn’t get funding in a traditional way for his podcast. Every year he has to do a Kickstarter to raise enough funds to create a podcast. The reason that he did a podcast instead of something else is because the internet calls for it. That’s where people will pay for it, especially with a Kickstarter. Roman talked specifically about how he needed a leg-up when he started, and was not self-sufficient. This may sound scary, but it’s an important step for radio and podcasting. For someone to pay you, they need to take a pretty big leap of faith that you’re going to be successful, and that listeners are going to like you. You need to do the best you can to prove that you can do it. He mentioned also that although the system can be a bit evil sometimes, it helps us get by, and without it we might not know what to do, and we would have to work together a lot more to sustain ourselves.
The fortune cookie wisdom of this panel? Fail early and fail often.
Thanks for reading, and I hope that some small nugget of this conference has inspired you to become involved with radio, whether it’s listening, DJing, making a podcast, blogging, whatever. If you have a passion, make something of it. Radio people are some of the most warm, giving, and friendly people I have ever met, and I can’t wait to go back to Radiovision next year.