Oxford, baby! What can I say?! My first time in the U.K was a real mind opener! I’m just totally blown away by Oxford, particularly by the world famous SAE Institute!
I was invited to Oxford earlier on this year by my dear audio-adoring friend, Lee Fitzpatrick who I know from my previous life in Ballyfermot Music Production. He is a student at the SAE Institute and wanted to show me what his amazing college has to offer.
Straight off the train after arriving from Birmingham International, we walked through the beautiful main streets of Oxford city, Lee drawing my attention to the pub where Tolkien wrote the Lord of The Rings. I was struck by the gorgeous sandy colored buildings, the architecture was indeed very beautiful.
Onwards to the SAE Institute! We wasted no time in getting there! I was trembling at the excitement of finally visiting this amazing place I had heard so much about!
And I was not disappointed. Audio Heaven. A fast paced tour of the building with its endless secret stairwells, glassy corridors and many, many doors leading to various media-related treasures left me breathless. Every room was filled with the very best of audio gear I have only imagined in my dreams. The building was quiet and had a very relaxed, creative atmosphere, it was a Bank Holiday so there were no classes that day. Students were indeed hard at work on their day off, I had the pleasure of listening to projects and watching students at home in their creative academic environment. They were so friendly and warm hearted, delighted to hear I was from Ireland studying Music Production also. The overall vibe was one of disciplined hard work with a relaxed atmosphere.
After being introduced to the fabulous Neve studio (the one I have been waiting for!) and the 7 other studios, we went to the cosy SSL studio and mixed one of my personal projects. Every Mac computer in the building (and there are MANY!) is fitted with the latest versions of every digital audio workstation known to man, and my Logic Pro 9 project worked like a dream. Logic Pro and Pro Tools are both taught in the institute, something which really impressed me as a Logic fan. I was among kindred spirits who had the same passion for the intuitiveness of my favourite DAW. I felt right at home!
Later in the evening we set forth, back to the Neve studio where Lee had booked a long session to continue one of his projects. There we spent an intense few hours recording vocals and overdubs, again working with Logic Pro 9. I have a tendency to be shy of studios and especially top of the range gear, I was honored to be assisting Lee and watching how he worked.
Taking a break, Lee introduced me to the magnificent Steinway grand piano in the main live room.
After wrapping up the session some hours later, we made our way to the film department and set up for a shoot, another one of Lee’s many projects! The popular Nerd Vs World series on YouTube. I was delighted to watch the visual set-up and delighted to help with the audio end of it. Something I never did before. The session ended pretty late in the night (or should I say early in the morning?!) and that was my first day in Oxford.
My second day was fun also, a proper school day, Lee attended his morning classes as I worked on my own project in the Practical Room, a room full of Macs and mixing desks, racks of equipment and controller interfaces. Everything I was permitted to use, thanks to my BCFE qualification, even though I felt like I shouldn’t even breathe near the stuff! I was assured I was most welcome to use anything I wished.
Later in the evening, after meeting the kind staff of SAE, I was invited to attend the guest lecture which was due to take place that day. The building was abuzz all day, the lecturers walking through the corridors, nabbing students, reminding them that a very special guest would be attending and not to miss out.
The very special guest was the very, very mind-blowing, beatjazz master, Onyx Ashanti. Onyx is the creator of a futuristic, improvisation based technology which involves live looping with software synths created (not triggered mind you, everything is live) by devices attached to his hands and mouth. Hard to explain, which is why I’m leaving a link here: Onyx Ashanti: This is beatjazz | Video on TED.com. I enjoyed his two hour lecture, despite being highly aware I was the only girl in the room (and the only non SAE student hahaha!). Onyx passed around the various parts which make his technology work, explaining in fine detail his technology, pure data and what inspires him to do this music. I was truly honored to be in his presence and I am very grateful to have been permitted to attend this lecture.
Exhausted from so much information, we chilled out with friends and remembered that we are Irish and Oxford has fantastic night clubs, it would have been a shame to pass up a dubstep night out! In Irish style, we partied in Oxford city centre until the small hours, enjoying wonderful music through the safety of ear plugs- never leave home without them!
And so was my experience of Oxford! A truly wonderful place with wonderful people. Oxford was every bit as exciting and educational as I thought it would be. I am left with a great desire to attend this wonderful college to pursue my own studies but alas, I am already 1/4 of my way through my current degree programme! I will surely come back to Oxford in the very near future and further explore the city, see my friends and exchange more music ideas and thoughts!
Thanks so much for the invite Lee and thanks to the kind people of Oxford 🙂 Until we meet again 🙂
Electronic media broadcasting plays a humble yet imperative role in the music industry: simply bringing music to the masses.
The aim of this blog post is to research and discuss one aspect of music technology of particular personal interest. I have chosen to look deeper into the media side of the music world and discuss one technological aspect of electronic media broadcasting- radio in its analog and digital format, in context of its impact on the music listening consumer and ultimately, the recorded music industry.
Firstly the development of music radio from pirate to Internet and digital broadcasting is explained. This blog also discusses the impact of traditional radio play on record sales, investigating the symbiotic relationship between the two industries. Finally, the subject of the impact of the iPod/MP3 player on the radio industry is raised and discussed.
Introduction; The Beginnings Of Electronic Broadcasting and the Fathers Of Radio.
Electronic broadcasting began in 1881 with telephone broadcasting as a result of the invention of the Théâtrophone (“Theatre Phone”) system. French electrical innovator Clément Ader invented the telephone-based distribution system, which transmitted live opera and theatre performances in stereo over telephone lines to subscribers located more than two miles away.
It developed into a system, which not only played music but also news bulletins and entertainment and was widely popular in Paris until 1932, when the théâtrophone officially succumbed to the rising popularity of radio transmissions and the phonograph.
A similar telephone-distributed audio system called the Electrophone was popular in London from 1895 until 1926. According to an article by British Telephones online (2010), the service was provided in the listener’s home at £5 a year. Alternatively listeners could pay via a coin-in-the-slot machine. Because the electrophone was technically complex with its hard-wired system, radio was called “The Wireless” for many years.
Although no man alone can claim the title of the founding father of radio, it is generally accepted that Nikola Tesla, Guglielmo Marconi, Alex Armstrong, Lee deForest, Reginald Fessenden, Edwin Armstrong contributed to the invention and development of radio.
While the theatre telephone communications were popular, radio frequency energy was born as a result of experiments being carried out by Nikola Tesla. Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi built a wireless system capable of transmitting long distance signals and in 1901, the first successful transatlantic communication was conducted.
Fundamental improvements enabling clearer and stronger transmission quality were made slowly to this early radio technology. These included Ernst Alexanderson’s high frequency alternator and Lee deForest’s three-element vacuum tube, called the Audion, which amplified signals and generated oscillations.
On Christmas Eve 1906 Reginald Fessenden made the first AM radio broadcast where he made a short speech and played the first music ever heard on communication equipment. Ships at sea heard a rendition of “O Holy Night” which he played on his violin and a reading from the Bible.
With good quality, wireless long-distance transmission now invented, the radio was ready for commercial broadcasting.
The Development of British Music Radio
The Golden Age of Radio (1920’s to 1950’s)
In the beginning of commercial and public radio, AM (amplitude modulation) broadcasting was the first means of delivering sound on a radio signal.
Independent commercial company, the BBC (British Broadcasting Company,) began its licensed radio services in 1922 and this new way of delivering news bulletins and music was exciting and revolutionary at the time. Andrew explains online that:
In 1920, the idea of plucking a voice or music out of the air from hundreds or even thousands of miles away had a magical quality that is difficult for us to imagine given the technological advances since then. . .Never had anything caught the imagination of the science-oriented youth the way AM/FM radio did. Recently we saw the same type of enthusiasm take hold with the proliferation of personal computers and the Internet. Back then AM/FM radio was just as radical to most people as the computer may have been to the older generation recently. (Andrew, 2012)
Radio became popular quickly and programming became very important. Scottish engineer John Reith became Managing Director of the BBC in 1923 and he proposed the BBC’s mission must be “to enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain” (BBC, 2012).
On December 31st 1926 the BBC’s license expired and the company was replaced with a public authority, becoming the British Broadcasting Corporation with the granting of its first 10 year Royal Charter. The BBC continued to broadcast talks, varieties and concerts but it was not allowed transmit news bulletins until after 7pm (after the newspapers of the day had been sold), in an effort to save newspaper sales.
During the 1930’s no other broadcasting organization was licensed in the UK but the BBC did face serious competition from the IBC (International Broadcasting Company) who bought blocks of airtime from radio stations based in mainland Europe. These stations followed the American format of broadcasting which was much more focused on entertainment and commercialism than the BBC.
All of the stations except for Radio Luxembourg, were muted during World War Two and the BBC had to adapt its programming to suit the situation. News bulletins about the war and debates were given priority and classical music was broadcast in the evenings. Anne Frank commented in her diary of the effect of radio music on her when in hiding:
There was a beautiful Mozart concert on the radio from six to seven-fifteen; I especially enjoyed the Kleine Nachtmusik. I can hardly bear to listen to in the kitchen, since beautiful music stirs me to the very depths of my soul. (Frank, 1944 p. 250)
In 1964 rebellion broke out in the radio industry. The BBC held a monopoly on the industry and was not threatened by any competition; therefore it aired whatever it felt appropriate. In doing this it didn’t provide for one particularly important sector of the music loving public – teenagers. One type of music it didn’t playlist was the new, exciting and radical sounds of rock-and-roll. British veteran DJ Johnnie Walker recalls the effect of rock-and-roll on him as a teenager in his autobiography:
The fantastic noise pumping out into the night air showed me a way to break from conformity. It almost hypnotized me with its promises of freedom and self-expression. And I wasn’t the only one. The seed of sixties’ revolution were being sowed right here, through the eager ears and into the minds of young people, with music as the driving force. (Walker, 2007 p. 16)
The only station within the BBC network that provided some popular music was the Light Programme and it aired contemporary music show “Pick of the Pops” only once a week. It’s important to mention here that the Light Programme was the first station to broadcast using FM (frequency modulation) in 1955 and that this new method of broadcasting offered higher sound quality.
Because the demand for rock-and-roll was so great, businessmen set up radio stations in old, converted boats, docked just outside of Britain’s territorial waters (to escape prosecution). These rebel stations made profits from advertising and were hugely popular. Two famous examples are Radio Caroline and Radio London. Interestingly, Radio Caroline was established by Irish entrepreneur, Ronan O’Rahilly in Dundalk’s Greenore port. Caroline played music all day and therefore was a huge hit in both England and Ireland.
Although the pirate stations continued to survive until the nineties, privately owned radio stations obtained licenses to broadcast in the seventies and the number of these commercial stations increased with every decade. The BBC took note of listener’s demands for popular music and adapted their programming to cater for their audience.
FM became the dominant broadcasting method because of its high fidelity and great signal strength, AM broadcasting took a back seat, typically being used for talk and news programming.
The Internet has more recently become an important means of transmitting audio. Internet radio shows are streamed and these are also known as webcasts. These streaming webcasts are like traditional radio because they cannot be paused or replayed and should not be confused with podcasts which are downloaded. Internet shows are usually available to listen to from anywhere in the world.
The very first Internet broadcast took place in 1994 and the first legalized American Internet radio station was created by Edward Lyman which broadcast live on Sonicwave.com 24 hours a day. The sound quality compared to that of AM radio.
The success of Sonicwave.com attracted investment and media attention in the late nineties and Internet radio became very popular. According to an article online, Yahoo! Bought Broadcast.com for $5.7 billion in 1999 (Searls, 2002).
Internet broadcasting is closely linked with traditional radio stations these days, broadcasting their shows in real time via their website and using social media websites to keep in touch with listeners. I recently interviewed local DJ Andy Clarke of LMFM Radio and asked him about the place of social media in today’s radio industry.
I think you’d be stupid not to use the likes of Facebook and Twitter social media now. It used to be, all those years ago, you’d ring the local station and you’d get your request on, you’d get your name on the radio. The texts came along and free texts which is quite handy. But now, I see it myself, you wouldn’t get as many texts as everyone’s now on Facebook . . . it’s instant though which is very, very, very, very good. You can stick up what you’re thinking, you can nearly pre-plan what you’re going to talk about in the next I suppose talk break or link. So if I was thinking “Aw, I’m hungry, what’s good to eat?” I can nearly stick that up on Facebook, it doesn’t go on air, get peoples opinions and then you could air the good comments out of that . . . it’s a lazy prep service for you in a way, but it’s very good to interact with the listeners. . . It’s an extra dimension. (Caffrey, 2012).
Digital audio broadcasting (DAB) is the future of radio broadcasting. It is a new technology and is mainly used in Europe at this point in time. The UK embraced this technology and over 50 BBC services were made available in this format in 2001.
DAB can offer more stations with better reception quality to its listeners that live well within its coverage area and it is more cost efficient than FM. On the flipside, DAB uses digital signal processing which causes an overall delay. This means DAB radios are not in time with live events and can cause a confusing mixture of sound if a user is listening to a broadcast using a combination of analog and digital radios in their house.
Andy Clarke shared his view on DAB in Ireland during my recent interview with him:
I suppose digital in Ireland hasn’t kicked off just yet and it probably won’t do for another year, if not longer. The UK has kicked off and they really are pushing it over there. In Ireland, they did try to do it a couple of years ago and some of the local stations went for it as a trial basis but then, it didn’t seem to be doing anything for them. People aren’t ready yet for digital radio and we still have analog in cars. Very few, well a lot of people would have digital sets, I have a digital set at home but I’m into the scene so, I suppose it’s an interest but a lot of people have yet to buy and it’s going to cost them money to do so, you know. (Caffrey, 2012)
In a world already hooked on the Internet, the digital platform is ideal for the next generation of radio consumption.
The Symbiotic Relationship
In the 1920’s the popularity of radio initially had a negative effect on the music industry, crippling record sales and putting companies out of business. Morton (2000) explains on page 26:
Record companies welcomed the subsequent transfer of electrical technology from radio and motion pictures to the phonograph industry, but hated the effect these two new forms of entertainment had on the record business. Radio was the biggest threat. On the eve of broadcasting’s debut, between 1914 and 1921, record sales had doubled, largely because of sales of popular music. With the inauguration of network radio in the middle 1920s, the market for popular recordings collapsed, resulting in a number of companies leaving the field or changing ownership. (Morton, 2000)
Because record companies wouldn’t allow the broadcasting of pre-recorded material, musicians were brought in to radio stations and performed music live. Radio stations spent huge amounts of money in an effort to better the production of the original record.
This wasn’t the only reason records were not played much on the radio during this time. The BBC employed its own orchestra and these musicians were part of the Musician’s Union who imposed a ‘needle-time restriction’, decreasing the number of minutes recorded music was allowed air weekly. This sustained the need for live musicians providing them with better job security.
It was in the 1930’s that the relationship between recorded music and radio began to improve, this was due to improvements in radio technology, such as devices that acted as gramophones and radios, but more so because the rise of the disc jockey. DJ’s would introduce the song they were playing and give information about the artist and record. Radio stations had to keep a huge supply of records to keep up with the popular artists and this in itself helped keep record sales steady.
Playing the records on air gave free advertising and promotion to artists and record labels and this in turn generated listenership loyalty for the station. Because of this symbiotic relationship, radio stations did not have to pay royalties to artists when their music was played on the air.
When record companies noticed radio play influencing sales, they struck up illegal deals with radio stations and DJ’s called payolas. These illegal deals involved the record company paying for repeated play of the music they wished to sell. The more time a song was repeated on the radio, the more popular it became and the more records it sold.
In his study on the symbiotic relation of the two industries, Stan Liebowitz (2004) argues that this means of practice benefited the promoted artists and took sales away from others.
Why Do People Listen to the Radio?
Radio provides a more personal, intimate and thought provoking experience to the individual than other media outlets. Television combines audio with visual, feeding imagery directly to our minds, so we merely just absorb what the director wants us to absorb. Radio just provides the audio and leaves the imagery making to us, whether a DJ is interviewing a band, plugging a concert, describing the weather, reading the news or talking about the current state of affairs in our daily lives. Radio travels with us easily, we can listen on the move, driving a car, going for a run, even cleaning the house. We can listen and still carry out our lives tasks, whereas when we watch television, we have to give it our 100% undivided attention or risk crashing the car, running onto the wrong side of the road or knocking over that expensive vase!
The relationship the listener has with radio is unlike that with any other media. Radio is almost like a friend. It can be there burbling in the background when you are busy and wherever you are busy but when you get those rare moments alone when you can ease your shoulders just a bit, radio softly turns up its volume inside you and your mind can be transported elsewhere for a few moments while carrying on with your life. (Penwald, 2012)
There are two different types of listening when it comes down to the music consumer tuning in the radio to their favorite station. The first type is listening for pleasure, where the music fan listens in purely for enjoyment, having confidence in their station of choice that will play music they enjoy. According to his paper in 2004:
The fact that individuals spend, on average, almost three hours per day listening to the radio would seem to imply that there is in fact a rather important consumption element in radio listening. (Liebowitz, 2004)
This may be viewed as being harmful to the recorded industry because in this case, radio replaces or substitutes the need for buying the original recording. Why would the casual music fan pay hard-earned cash for a full-length album, when the two or possibly three songs they enjoy most on that particular album are available on the air for free listening?
The second type is listening for purchase, where the music fan listens in to discover new music to add to their personal record collection. Liebowitz calls this the exposure effect and states:
Note that the exposure effect doesn’t necessarily have an impact different than the substitution effect. Learning more about a product prior to purchase may allow consumers to derive great utility from any single purchase. At any given price, however, they may purchase fewer units because they become quickly satisfied. Producers, therefore, may discover that their revenues fall when consumers can better sample the products. (Liebowitz, 2004, p 97)
Obtaining updated and reliable figures to provide evidence for the effect of radio on the music industry in the UK has proven difficult and expensive so I will use Liebowitz’s graph from his paper to demonstrate record sales in US dollars for the first half of the 20th century as seen below.
Is the iPod Killing the Radio?
We’ve seen in my previous paragraphs that music and radio have a positive symbiotic relationship but a new development in music technology is said to threaten the radio industry-the iPod/MP3 player.
Most of us own one of these devices and use it on a daily basis. It’s the control element of the iPod that threatens the radio business- ordinary people can choose the media they wish to consume in a handy, pocket-sized device. Advertisements can be blitzed and undesirable songs can be skipped. This idea of user control must have radio corporates shaking in their boots.
The latest iPod Nano includes a built-in FM receiver which allows the user to pause, and rewind live radio- great for FM and commercial radio but what about DAB? This attribute is a big disadvantage and works against the next chapter of radio history instead of with it. After all, FM radio is expected to be removed by 2015, leaving DAB as the main means of radio consumption.
It’s not easy to tell whether radio has a positive or negative impact on the record industry due to lack of statistics and research. Despite the initial decline in record sales in the 1930’s, record sales have gone strength to strength since. The music industry is currently threatened by a bigger force; illegal file sharing, but this has little to do with the subject at hand.
The future looks bright for radio and music. Radio has ever been the unseen companion to the music listener and with the world consuming social media websites on a daily basis, discussing their favorite music, digital is the obvious path for radio to turn to next. As long as the radio continues to generate positive messages to the public and interact, there is no reason why either industry should be threatened by the digital format.
Liebowitz, S. J, (2004). Record Sales in 1983 Dollars The Elusive Symbiosis: The Impact Of Radio On The Record Industry, EBook PP [online] available: http://www.serci.org/docs/liebowitz.pdf p. 105, illus
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Signet Books.
Morton, D. (2002). Off the Record: The Technology and Culture of Sound Recording in America. New Jersey: Rugters University Press.
Ala-Fossi, M., Lax, S., O’Neill, B., Jauert, P., Shaw, H. (2008). The Future of Radio is Still Digital-But Which One? Expert Perspectives and Future Scenarios for Radio Media in 2015. Journal of Radio and Audio Media. 15:1, p. 4-25.
Liebowitz, S. J, (2004). Record Sales in 1983 Dollars The Elusive Symbiosis: The Impact Of Radio On The Record Industry, EBook PP [online] available: http://www.serci.org/docs/liebowitz.pdf p. 105, illus.
McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Signet Books.
Meisel J, B., Sullivan, T, S. (2002). The Impact of the Internet on the Law and Economics of the Music Industry, Vol. 4 Iss: 2 pp. 16 – 22, Illinois, Department of Economics and Finace, Southern Illinois University, Illimois, USA.