What to call them. Podboots? Notcasts? Vice has run a fascinating piece on the Trojan horse world of podcasts on Spotify that are smuggling unlicensed music onto the platform. Vice has trawled Spotify’s music podcasts category and found a range of shows, with names like idk im high, boyband nostalgia and the less i know the circle better, that collect tracks from different genres. The one thing in common: they’re not licensed.
This doesn’t appear to (yet!) be a crafty scam to smash and grab streaming royalties – remember, podcasts don’t get any royalties for their streams – but instead is more about young fans collecting and sharing the music that they love. We suspect that most of them have very little knowledge of copyright law, let alone licensing models. As Spotify makes clear in the piece, when it finds or is alerted to this kind of thing, it removes the shows from its platform (and, no doubt, many simply start up under another name).
Why not just do this as playlists rather than podcasts? Well, a lot of the music featured appears to be remixes and rarities and bootlegs – the kind of thing you could curate into a playlist on user-generated content platforms like YouTube and SoundCloud, but not on Spotify where a lot of this music hasn’t been made available. But here’s another angle on the podboots (we’re running with this) situation: perhaps it shows a demand for podcasts constructed mainly of music, which Spotify might ultimately have the power to do something about.
Well, and the music industry too. At the podcasting event Music Ally held with the BPI in London last year, Chris Baughen from radio group Global suggested that “we need to get to the point where there’s a blanket licence like TV has” [for using music], adding that he had been pressing the UK collecting societies to set something up. Moves are already underway in various parts of the world to crack this nut, and explore blanket licensing for music in podcasts – not that this would necessarily be used by the teenage podbooters (see how natural it sounds already!) who are the subject of Vice’s article.
We’ve seen attempts already to figure out a hybrid model of podcasts and licensed music. A decade ago, people were experimenting with Spotify playlists blending spoken-word intros and music tracks – see our stories on Playdio (from 2010) and Billy Bragg (from 2014) for examples. See also Pandora’s ‘stories’ feature, designed for artists to record spoken-word commentary between tracks on their own playlists. Plus see what startup Stationhead has been up to with its user-hosted live radio platform, which gets listeners to sign in to Spotify or Apple Music so every track broadcast is licensed (and generating a stream from each listener). And of course, Mixcloud is a service made (and licensed for) music-heavy radio shows too.
Spotify might be the DSP that can do something powerful here: note its ownership of podcast-recording app Anchor too. If the company puts some thought and resources into how Anchor’s community of podcasters could include music in their shows; and how that music and those shows could generate proper royalties for rightsholders, artists and songwriters, it could be really interesting.
A new podcast format where music is truly front and centre; where podcasters don’t need to know about licensing or copyright; but where the creators of that music *are* rewarded. And given some of the anxiety among labels about what Spotify’s push into podcasts might mean for music, it could be a positive step on that front too…