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The language of release

August 30, 2011


I’ve just come back from a festival, where I had a chat with an old friend about the current music industry. This friend is involved with a community radio station and has been a music journalist for some decades. He has also worked for one of the major collecting agencies.

We got onto the subject of ‘what is a release?’. A broadcast radio station has to stay legal regarding copyrights and in years gone by that was easy enough. Releases that were safe to play were commercially available items in physical format.

Now things are a little more complex. Top quality recordings can be made on a PC at home and sent to a radio station, perhaps not in a physical format. The artist isn’t a member of a royalty collecting agency. Does the radio station know that the artist owns the legal rights to the song or any samples in it? Some send in tracks labelled as ‘demo’ – a term which means different things within different musical genres, to different age groups and on different sides of the Atlantic. Some artists send in mixtapes (which, once again, can mean different things). Rights to tracks used as beds to rap over, for example, can be impossible to know. Will the radio station be chased for payment or even sued by the avaricious lawyers representing an artist whose beats have been used in a mixtape? Then we have tracks released under a Creative Commons licence – the world of broadcast radio doesn’t appear to have caught on to this possibility. They are proper releases, with licences that specify quite precisely what can be done with the track but there are, of course, no collecting agencies involved.

We then got on to another area of terminology: if a release has five tracks, what do you call it? It’s a bit short to call it an album. There are too many tunes to call it a single. Some use the term EP but that is a hang-over term from the 1960s and is, in my view, anachronistic and inaccurate. I’m not sure I have an answer to this one but I do think we need to develop some new language in this new digital musical world.


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