Ongoing History of New Music

The Reason You Can’t Find Ongoing History of New Music Shows Online for On-Demand Listening or Podcasts

I’m about to start writing the 733rd episode of The Ongoing History of New Music, the radio documentary I’ve hosted almost continuously since 1993. Each program requires anywhere from 10 to 14 hours to research, write, record, and produce. And after an episode goes to air on stations across North America, it disappears.

Vanishes. Evaporates. Archived to a network hard drive. And it stays gone until we’re able to run a repeat during the holidays or through the summer.

Can past episodes of The Ongoing History of New Music be accessed for on-demand listening? No. Can past episodes be made available as podcasts? Nope. Can anyone get caught up with the audio of older shows anywhere online? Uh-uh.

Why? Insurmountable legal issues surrounding the music embedded in the show.

It’s perfectly legal for music-based radio shows like mine to be broadcast over-the-air–the legal framework for that goes back to the 1920s–but the moment anyone wants to make the shows downloadable, podcast-able, or even stream-able, a whole new set of rules come into play. These rules are so onerous that we just can’t make it work. If we tried, we’d get sued to death. And the music industry isn’t interested in helping to change the situation.

This is complicated, but since I get dozens of emails on the subject every week, let me give it a try.

When it comes to over-the-air broadcasts, Canadian radio stations pay a series of performing rights fees for the privilege of playing music as part of their commercial business. The amount of money paid out depends on a station’s pre-tax revenues. The more money you make, the more it pays out on a percentage basis. Fees go-to composers, musicians, and various rights holders. It’s a built-in cost of doing business. Perfectly legit, fair, and cool. No issues.

But things change drastically when it comes to broadcasting music online.

A real-time stream of a station’s programming (i.e. a simulcast stream of the same programming that’s currently going out from the terrestrial transmitter) is grandfathered into the old performing rights deals; there are no extra charges or fees. This is why just about every radio station on the planet is able to offer a simulcast stream of their on-air programming.

Where it gets weird is with on-demand listening, podcasts, and downloads.

Spoken word isn’t an issue; it’s music. It’s tracking what songs are played when they’re played and how many people listened to each song when it was played. This is relatively easy when we’re dealing with a streaming music service like Rdio or Spotify; each song is a discrete file that can be tracked and reported individually.

However, a program like The Ongoing History of New Music is produced with songs embedded into much larger files. In the case of this show, it’s put together in four audio file chunks: three main segments and an epilogue. Music–anywhere from eight to a dozen songs per episode–is woven into the spoken word pieces in segments one, two, and three. Rob, my long-suffering producer, layers my voice-over music to create a pleasing flow of audio.

This is fine for over-the-air broadcasts because music rights are paid with blanket licenses.  But no such licenses exists for non-simulcast online audio. Such licenses are not available from anyone or anything.

Here’s where the insanity begins.

To make the show stream-able online, we would have to UNproduce the entire show into its constituent parts: all the spoken word segments (a dozen or so) would each require a separate audio file as would each individual song (again 8-12 per show). That careful layering of audio would disappear.

We’d then have to load everything into a player that ran all the segments–up to two dozen of them–in exactly the right order every time. From that, we’d be able to draw data on which songs were heard when and by whom.

This is technically possible. A massive pain in the ass and very error-prone, but possible. We once tried something like this by loading up spoken word pieces that led into YouTube streams of the songs (thereby substituting legal streams for the songs we’d embedded), but loading a single program took the better part of a day and inevitably, the order of the files somehow got jumbled. So we gave up. Besides, it wasn’t a duct-tape-and-bubble-gum solution at best.

Ideally, we want to make the on-demand online show exactly the same as the over-the-air show. However, the law, as written, makes that pretty much impossible.

In order for us to play the full songs embedded within the show, we’d have to go to every single record label and rights holder for each individual song in every single show and ask permission. Then we’d have to individually negotiate how much of an advance they’d want against the play of each song. Then we’d have to pay this advance (in the tens of thousands of dollars to each rights holder). Each month, we’d have to comb through each individual stream of each individual song to see how many individual people listened to each song. And then we’d have to write cheques. A bunch of them.

Labour intensive? Insanely so. Expensive? Hideously.  That’s why it’s just not possible to make full The Ongoing History of New Music shows available for streaming.

It gets even weirder when we start talking about podcasts and downloads because they involve the reproduction of music files. We’re not allowed to copy/duplicate copyrighted music for redistribution without compensating the rights holders. Again, there is no such thing as a podcast license or mechanism for this sort of thing. No flat fee, no rev-share, no nothing. No way for us to make a frictionless payment.

The only real option to make The Ongoing History of New Music episodes available is to edit out most of the music from each show. Legal opinions vary (we’re still working on it), but it seems that we can use 29 seconds of a song under a “fair use” proviso. And given that the show does have an educational component (at least I like to think it does), we should–should–be free from being on the hook for royalties, fees, and tracking requirements.

But like I said, opinions vary. We need more time to sort this out. And despite asking for help, no one from the industry seems to be able to give us (or want to give us) a straight answer.

But say we can make those edits.  Will people listen to shows with the bare minimum of music? How long will it take to re-edit all these shows? Will it be worth the time and effort? If we manage to monetize this effort–and we’d have to to make it worthwhile–would anyone come back at us asking for money? I guess we won’t know until we try.

Meanwhile, The Ongoing History of New Music continues to be recorded and placed on torrents by persons unknown. I don’t get paid. My producer doesn’t get paid. The radio station doesn’t get paid. And none of the rights holders of any of the music contained within these shows gets paid. The result is copyright infringement, theft, piracy, and lots and lots and lots of money left on the table.

Super-stupid, right? Yeah, I thought so.

I’ve tried–really, really tried–to get key members of the industry to understand how crazy this situation is but no one seems interested in working towards a solution. None of them even seem to talk to each other. The only answer I get back is “Well, if you pay us you can do it.” Others say “Good question. Let me get back to you.” Then things go nowhere.

This is puzzling. You’d think that the recording industry would be happy to explore all potential new revenue streams. Hell, we’d be happy to pay for the privilege of using music this way, just not in the ways and the amounts current rules dictate. It’s a total non-starter. Forever.

And it’s not just my show. Every other music-based terrestrial radio show is in the same boat. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to access a station’s weekly countdown program on demand? Can’t do it. How about full podcast of your favourite morning show? Can’t do it unless you edit out all the music. Then there’s that Saturday night mix show. Wouldn’t that be great for grooving to in the car on a long commute? Illegal.

There are tiny exceptions to the above rules (so-called podcast-friendly music, special licenses for certain apps, etc.), but when it comes to old-fashioned radio wanting to make its music programming available to audiences in ways they’ve come to expect in the age of the Internet? Forget it.

So what do the hardcore faithful do? Steal.

This is madness. It’s got to change.

If you want to learn more, read this article from Radio World called “So You Want to Podcast Legally? Good Luck!

UPDATE: I have a meeting with the CMRRA scheduled for January 12, 2016. I’ll plead my case and see what they have to say. Wish me luck.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38324 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

59 thoughts on “The Reason You Can’t Find Ongoing History of New Music Shows Online for On-Demand Listening or Podcasts

  • What if you packaged them together as an educational course on iTunes university. And then get someone like Humber college to offer a bird course on it thus making it a purely educational endeavour.

  • Hi Allen, did you consider posting the Ongoing history of new music spoken parts on YouTube as a Playlist that then links to the actual music videos and then back to your spoken parts? You shouldn’t run into legal trouble with that I wouldn’t think. Keep up the good work!

  • Can you get a satellite radio channel dedicated to OHoNM? It would be the only one I’d listen to. Love you, Alan! <3

  • I’d just love a transcript version. The music in many of the shows just kills time while I’m waiting to listen to more of your great stories. I was listening to one last night but was in my truck in a bad radio reception area so I missed some of it. It was in my plan today to google the show and see if there was a way to listen to it elsewhere. My Dad is a musician, so I get the music rights thing. Back in the day, cassettes of music from friends were not allowed in my house. Good Luck! 😉

  • Yes I would pay for an online station that only plays the On going History- like internet radio. You at the station, pick the episodes and track what songs get played because hell even the bands I care nothing about, you make interesting! That way it’s not necessarily “on demand”, but available.

    • That’s cool! Thanks. There are still issues with what you suggest, but it’s an interesting thing to consider.

  • Transcript versions – and you can hire me to do this starting 2016 April. Let’s talk.

    • We thought about that. It works on one level but doesn’t solve the problem of people who want to listen on smartphones or in their cars.

      • I used to listen to your show back when I lived in Buffalo, and I often wondered why it wasn’t on a podcast – it’s such a perfect show for podcasting. Back then, my friends and I used to just drive around aimlessly for hours listening to the show because we didn’t want to get out of the car (that was also the days of sub $1 gas, so I’m dating myself a bit). As a New York City resident now, it’s hard for me to obviously find the time to tune in to the stream, and and I don’t condone torrenting, so I’ve been bereft for years. Thank your for explaining what had been, until now, the inexplicable-to-me (and my Toronto-born boss!) reason why the show couldn’t be podcast.

        I don’t know if the potential Canadian licensing schema would work for us US-ians, but please know that you have nostalgic fans south of the border as well!!

        and…while I am not an IP/copyright lawyer, I believe fair use down here does include a certain amount of sampling, but *also* allows use for criticism, commentary, and the like – you’d need a US copyright expert (maybe get in touch with the EFF for some guidance on this one) to get some more specific guidance on this one.

  • It’s not “super stupid.” it’s just that it doesn’t happen to be designed just to benefit you and your situation. If musicians / rightsholders wanted to give you these rights, without getting compensated, so you could take the the work that they normally sell and make it downloadable for free to anyone forever, they would/could.

    “Super not easy for me” would be more accurate.

    • You TOTALLY missed my point.

      We WANT to pay. We AGREE that musicians and all rights holders should be paid. We WANT to avoid piracy for everyone involved. The stupid part is that the industry doesn’t have any mechanism for helping everyone in the equation.

      We can’t afford all the time and effort to negotiate deals with every individual song we want to use. And we can’t afford to pay labels tens of thousands of dollars in advance EACH.

      Until the industry makes it possible for terrestrial radio to negotiate reasonable deals, the only option the public has is piracy. And isn’t that “super stupid?”

      • In computers, we have a thing called a “kludge”. It’s a quick and dirty solution to a problem to use until you can go back and do a proper job of creating a solution. The current music rights regimen is really just kludge upon kludge upon kludge. And kludges for problems from the dawn of recorded music are still in full force in these days of iPods and streaming music.

        Eventually there has to be a total reworking of the music rights regimen, because technology has advanced faster than the licensing has, and those with the most money have influenced what changes had been made to the rules to their advantage, so you get stupid things like each play being worth only a faction of a cent on streaming services, while it becomes prohibitively for a Podcaster to include a non-creative commons/public domain/freely copyable song in their broadcast, never mind multiple songs!

        • That’s exactly what we’ve been doing. None of these “solutions” are of any real long-term value so we need a full review of the situation.

    • The “super stupid” comment, I think, is referring to the ongoing presence of torrents being created and released on-line and *nobody* getting paid…

  • I never listened tot he show to hear the music tracks, it was more to hear the stories behind it.
    It would actually be nicer to have shorter tracks every time to identify which songs you are talking about. You can always add a list of tracks referred in the show for people to find and buy.

    • As a kid growing up in the 90s, I think I was the exact target for Ongoing History — I missed so much of that music the first time around, so it was an amazing introduction. Fortunately I had a brother lending me lots of earlier stuff like New Order, Stone Roses, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, etc, but he wasn’t a fan of EVERYTHING.

      I remember hearing Only Shallow by My Bloody Valentine on Ongoing History for the first time, and being so completely blown away that I skipped class to buy the album and listen.

      …but now as an adult, I’m quite familiar with all/most of the music, it’s easier to obtain, and would be more than happy with just a spoken-word version.

  • Alan,
    I seem to recall quite a few years back that episodes of the show could be streamed on a radio station website (the name of which escapes me). I vividly remember streaming them, in fact.
    There were four chunks, just as you describe, and usually an ad from the station or one of it’s sponsors played between the chunks, kinda like when you watch a TV show on CBC streaming or something.

    What made it possible then, that is no longer possible now?

  • Why not start a crowdfunding campaign to gauge interest in whether or not fans would be interested in paying for/listening to a spoken word only version of each episode? The resulting funds could then go towards offsetting the cost of re-production. I certainly would be interested in the spoken word versions of each show. With services like Spotify and Apple Music available in Canada, I can easily grab the song you’re talking about.

    Love what you do, Alan!

    • First, thanks for the compliment. I do appreciate the support.

      We can afford to create a spoken word version of the show and we’ll probably just go ahead with it to see what happens.

  • In an ideal world, there would be a way to have it all and podcast the whole show in its entirety. But, I’d be more than happy to at least be able to get the podcast of an OH show where the music is edited out and with links provided for as to be able to get the music that played in the radio version. Luckily for me, I live in the Ottawa area and can listen to OH live on Live 88,5.

  • Weren’t they on the edge website?

    • They were, but then the labels started demanding money and tracking. We were forced to take them down.

  • Hey Alan! There is a way to pay royalties on a full stream of your show in Canada. You can register with CMRRA-SODRAC Inc to report the songs in the streams, then CMRRA would invoice you every quarter per the amount of streams. Please visit their website (link is in my profile) to learn more!

  • I agree with Avishai. I listen to the show mostly for the stories. The music, I can get anytime.

    For podcast, etc..25 to 30 seconds of a song will leave the listener with the full context of the discussion. If said song intrigues the listener, they can go buy it, stream it or what ever suits them. It would also shorten the length of the show considerably, which could be seen as an added bonus

  • MOOC online courses about the history of music are affected similarly. You take a course about the Beatles or Rolling Stones but have to find your own music because the institution cannot supply it. Sucks

    • Another case of the law not catching up with reality.

  • The pure spoken word option is good, but it really loses something without the music and the overlays you mention. I bought your cd’s some years ago, and while it was great to listen to and really informative, I really missed the full production and music.

    • I know what you mean. It would be brilliant to have all the music in place, but…

  • Can you leave an audible watermark over the songs to protect them in a way? Maybe say you’re listening to ‘show title’ in the middle of the song?

  • I’m confused. Once a radio station airs your show, this show goes off into oblivion and is never seen or heard again… Until the summer where reruns are run?! Right now I am streaming an episode called 9 Things About Your Brain And Music. I have no idea when this originally aired but I am listening to it sitting on my couch in my underwear. I never listen to your show when the radio airs it. I always stream it later from the radio’s website because you’re not aired on any station here so I have to listen to you from a station one province over where they are an hour ahead us; in order to catch your show I would have to be up before noon on a Sunday morning. Nope. That’s not going to happen. I can listen to you whenever I want… That reminds me; I should go listen to the show from Sunday.

    Love the show by the way. I wanted to be you when I grew up. But then I grew up and it was too late…

    • Yep. That’s how it’s supposed to work–legally, anyway. However you’re able to do this is a mystery to me.

  • If you end up separating the vocal parts out anyway, is being uploaded to the streaming services as an artist an option? Then playlists could be created too, mixing the spoken-word with the music… Would be surprised if Rdio or Spotify weren’t interested in partnering or working with you officially even as a value-add for their services.

  • ajbeaty, thanks… those shows have now been removed…

    Allan, I love the show, I prefer to hear it with music. However If I can’t catch it live, I’m ok streaming without the music. It’s your tremendous research and knowledge that makes the show what it is.

  • Hey! So just caught part of your David Bowie episode tonight and let me tell you- it was fantastic! However, I had missed the first part and wanted to hear the full thing. Basically, I just want to say that I totally agree with the comments above. The music in the show is a nice touch and definitely works for the radio, but the main reason I stayed and listened to the show was your stories, not the music. I can listen to Bowie any time I want, but I can’t do that with your show. You have a captivating way of telling/teaching. I just really want to hear the full show for Bowie, but also to listen to other episodes. That would be awesome. It’s easy to miss things or not get the full episode on the radio.

    • I have meetings this week on the whole matter. Fingers crossed…

      • Our collective fingers are crossed!

  • Every finger and every toe…

  • Is there any update on any of this? I know you had a meeting back in February. It’s October (almost November) now. I also agree that I mostly listen to hear you talk so copies without the music or just tiny clips of the songs would be fine with me.

  • This makes me sad… Say Alan, is there a tip jar I could slip a few bucks in somewhere if I were to–I don’t know–find some files online labeled OHNM that may or may not be legally questionable?

  • The NPR All Songs Considered Podcast talks about music and plays the tracks. Is this a US/Canada issue or do they have the resources to track and pay the licensing fees?

    • They have a special licensing deal unavailable to us.

  • Pingback: Alan Cross’ Ongoing History – The Business of Music II

  • I’ve been listening to your show on and off for 20 years, it got me through some long nights at University. Yes I would absolutely pay for your back catalogue. I still remember the episode on the craziest stories involving drugs and alcohol…something about Duff from GnR having so much alcohol in his system that his stomach exploded and alcohol was escaping as vapour when the cut him open (did I remember any of that correctly?) I am happy that I can get some in Podcast form but it would be a dream to go back and hear all of these gems from the past.

    • You did. His spleen exploded, sending burning enzymes all through his stomach cavity. That one hasn’t been turned into a podcast yet, but we’ll put it on the list!

  • Not sure if things have changed since this blog, but how about a simple Spotify playlist for the “missing” music in the podcast? Until the record industry works it out at least.

  • I would gladly pay for a course via Mohawk college on Music History which would include OH with 29 second samples of the songs. Since it is educational fair use should apply. Really wish there was a way to listen to the back catalogue. I guess the podcast is the best for now.

  • I discovered your podcast only recently and absolutely love it. I’d give part of my liver away to be able to listen to the old episodes. Honestly, I totally wouldn’t mind if you just cut out the music and leave small snippets like you do in the new episodes. I understand it’s a lot of work but this is better than not being able to listen to the old episodes at all!
    (And I would totally pay to listen to this podcast)

    Otherwise, thank you for this gem of a podcast!


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