Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Podcast Planet
You ever get tired of the same old crap on TV every day? Reruns of Friends and crappy game shows aren't my idea of quality programming, and I'm guessing they're not yours, either.
The fact of the matter is, the mass media today is controlled by a handful of immense corporations that couldn't give a damn about what's truly quality. Look at the FOX network, for example. This is the monolithic beast that cancelled the The Ben Stiller Show. which won an Emmy for Best Comedy Series after it had been off the air for months . They cancelled Family Guy and then resurrected it after cable proved it was far more popular than their myopic Neilsens indicated. And they cancelled critical darling Arrested Development -- another Emmy laureate that just couldn't get a break. Personally, I despise FOX for cancelling Firefly (one of the best sci-fi shows in recent memory) and Wonderfalls (simply put, the most insanely creative and witty show in recent memory). Their track record for destroying only the best of their programming is astounding. How The Simpsons ever lasted is beyond me.
But, it's not just FOX that I hate. I can't stand ABC, NBC, CBS, UPN or the WB. I'm tired of the blandness of it all. I've had it with television, with very few exceptions. As a person who now watches 2 hours of network television a week, I can't even excuse the expense of a cable bill.
Don't get me started on radio, either. The Clear Channel empire has signalled the death knell of the radio industry. Pre-packaged pap that's even less interesting than MTV (Do they even PLAY music any more?)? No thanks.
I refer you to a t-shirt from the 1970s:
"Corporate Rock Sucks".
It does. It's true.
And yet, people keep buying it, because it's all they're exposed to. The only reason that anyone knows, or gives a shit about, who Jon Bon Jovi is is because he was marketed and sold to them by a large corporation. Untalented trash like Britney Spears and Assley Simpson can be marketed, so they succeed.
Fuck, the whole American Idol thing is just a marketing scheme. Think about it -- you watch your favorite idol all season, and you're NOT gonna buy the inevitable CD they send down the pike? Or go to the American Idol Tour? Or buy the home game/karaoke machine? Right... The entire thing is a preparation by the network and Simon Cowell's record label to feed you a pre-packaged star. If the competition was really about talent, would PAULA FUCKING ABDUL be a qualified judge? I think not.
What happened to listening to artists with TALENT? What happened to good music at all? Well, big business happened, of course. It's a vicious cycle, really. The moment an independent artist or record label comes along that finds any kind of mainstream success outside of the corporate business model comes along, they do one of two things. 1) They buy out the artist/label or 2) They offer the artist/label a "distribution contract" that means that while the media itself is produced independently, the corporation owns the dissemination of it on a country-wide and sometimes world-wide basis.
It's good business sense for the massive corporation, because they get their greasy little paws into a market they haven't opened up yet. And it's good business sense for the artists and labels, because they can now reach an audience several thousand times larger than they could have before, often comes at the price of creative freedom. And even occasionally, at the expense of the artists' own intellectual property rights.
Sadly, it's the only way that independent artists of any kind have been able to work in the mainstream media. How many film directors out there can succeed without a major studio backing them? It's the same thing with music. Or any other media, up until recently. How many musicians can reach a global audience without selling out to Big Business? How many authors can get their book in libraries without a publishing company?

From the inception of the internet, people have crowed on about how it was going to change the way information was received by the common man. So far, all it's done is made it easier to find porn and bitch about movies you haven't seen. But, thanks to recent developments in web syndication, that's all about to change. Maybe.
Podcasting could well revolutionize modern media transmission. In fact, some podcasters aim to dismantle the current power structure of conventional media itself. Is it a realistic goal? Probably not. But, with luck, they can crack the hard stone surface of these conglomerate corporations and perhaps spark some change in the way that the mainstream responds to their audience -- and maybe even find some mainstream success on their own.

Wait. Did you just ask me, "What's a podcast?" ???
C'mon, now. Podcasts are essentially radio and video shows compressed to formats that are easily posted online, and syndicated by an RSS feed so that the audience can subscribe to them and automatically download new content.
Podcasting itself is a recent development, but it's exploded thanks to portable media players like the iPod.
I'm not going to detail the history of podcasting. First off, because it's just damn boring, unless you find coding REALLY fascinating. Second, because there's so damn much bickering about who exactly did what (check out the current controversy over the history of podcasting over at Wikipedia if you're into soap operas about computer geeks). Yes, that big-haired fag from MTV, Adam Curry, was one of the first ones. And I really do enjoy his Daily Source Code. But, he's still a big-haired fag.
It's an incredibly simple idea. Anyone can be a podcaster, so long as they have the means to record and upload their show. Isn't that cool? You could listen to the guy next door's podcast, or someone from Timbuktu's. Or both. Since these podcasters often have email, message boards and other means of feedback available, the public has an unprecedented amount of feedback with them. On some shows (The Dawn and Drew Show, that pesky DSC, etc) they even provide some of the show production -- theme songs, segment jingles and the like.
There's a podcast for pretty much every topic you can think of. There are music podcasts -- though flack from the RIAA and ASCAP/BMI has prevented podcasters from using licensed music, creating the term "podsafe" music (Music that the artist gives license for podcasters to use in their shows without fee.) and the necessity for a Podsafe Music Network. There are podcasts on tech news and support. Gardening. Parenting. Learning guitar. Mixology (the TikiBar TV podcast rules, by the way). You name it, it's out there.
There are even audio books available as podcasts -- termed "podio books" by one intrepid author. The LibriVox project is actually creating free podcasts of public-domain works. And there are several podcasts that do productions of Shakespeare plays.
We even have a podcaster in our wee NeuroTrash family (if you haven't noticed his constant mewling) -- Kevin is the cohost of ConstantColumbus, a damn fine show about the local music scene in sunny Central Ohio. Check his show out. If you don't, I'll pout. A lot. Really.

Anyone with a podcast aggregator (the program that reads those RSS feeds) can automatically download the new episodes of their favorite programs. And now that iTunes and WinAmp both support podcast feeds, it's easier than ever. If you're searching for a particular podcast, Yahoo's even stepped up to the plate with a podcast directory. I have better luck searching with Podcast Alley, but that's just me.
If you haven't listened to a podcast yet, you really should. The richness of the content out there, by the sheer number of alternatives available, is just astounding. I'm by no means an expert, but I can make a suggestion or two about how you should go about getting your podcasts.
For ease of use, the choice for many people is iTunes. It's simply the most intuitive, best-built audio player out there, and it's integration to the iTunes Music Store enables access to millions of songs at your fingertips. Even though they put the podcast capability in through the storefront, iTunes is probably the easiest way to subscribe to podcasts out there. One-button subscription is the way to go if you're not a tech geek. And, they DO have a lot of exclusive content, since they are the kings of portable media. Besides, I'm a Mac-using whore, so Steve Jobs is my pimp.
If you've got spotty internet service or you're still on dialup, you might wanna reconsider that. There are a number of freeware applications out there that work great for downloading podcasts. I'd personally recommend either Juice or iPodder Lemon (which are now pretty much identical). They're both cross-platform open-source programs that do the job and support download resumption, which can be an important factor when you're attempting to get indie podcasts and the poor sods can't afford the bandwidth for constant retries through iTunes. I've become an iPodder Lemon man recently and it's treating me pretty well.

Convinced you need 'em yet? Well, get out there and get yer pod on. Or, better yet, make your own. We have a unique opportunity here. People can control the media instead of the media controlling them. If that doesn't scare the shit out of the corporate world, nothing will.

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