RadioSpy.com

June 2000

Three NIN fans are using Net radio to move their fan sites to the next level

RadioSpy has long hoped that some enterprising music fan would see the value of adding an Internet radio station to their fan site. It just seems a logical extension of the comprehensive artist experience that fan sites -- make that good fan sites -- attempt to deliver. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the vast number of sites devoted to the group, we found exactly such a fan in Matt Dunphy, the ringleader behind TheNINHotline.net, one of the most complete and best-run Nine Inch Nails fan sites on the Web. >From first view to last post, Dunphy oversees a quality operation. Contributors from around the globe update the news daily, reporting on everything from recent and upcoming local appearances by the band to published articles and gossip. What's more, they provide viewers with a chat system and a growing collection of interviews, album reviews and concert reviews. When you visit The NIN Hotline, you can be sure that you'll pick up some valuable piece of information or entertainment relating to Trent Reznor.

Adding a Web radio station just seemed like the logical next step in the evolution of the site. And Dunphy took a clever approach to setting up his Webcast: first off, he pooled his resources with those of two other NIN fan site Webmasters, Yves Boudreau and Keith Duemling, giving the station the promotional power of three hotbeds of NIN fan activity. Next, he broadened his approach; the station shouldn't -- and, thanks to the provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, couldn't -- just play music by Nine Inch Nails. It could, however, play music on Trent Reznor's Nothing Records label, home to such diverse electronic music acts as Meat Beat Manifesto, Marilyn Manson and Squarepusher. After signing up to use Live365's EasyCast system, Nothing Radio was born. But the story doesn't stop there, as we found out when we caught up with Dunphy via e-mail for this week's DJ Spotlight.

RadioSpy: When and why did TheNinHotline.net decide to launch a Web radio station? And why did you choose to use Live365 as a vehicle for the station over some of the other Webcasting services out there?

Matt Dunphy: I had the idea to do Net radio before I got involved with doing a NIN news page, but I had no access to any kind of high-bandwidth server, no way to pump anything out of my bedroom. In my part of Pennsylvania, you're lucky if you've got a one-way cable modem connection, much less a T1 or T3.

When I hit college, Net radio became appealing to me as a listener. I had a half-decent ethernet connection at Penn State, so I started checking out different SHOUTcast stations. RealAudio never really did it for me, but streaming MP3 was real nice. By the time I started working full time, I noticed that a lot of these stations had [Live365.com] tagged in front of their station marquee. Worked like a charm -- I went to that page, and my radio station ideas were rekindled. So I bought the domain NothingRadio.net in January and set out to make the kind of station I would have liked to have heard out there when I was listening to stuff in school.

I picked Nothing Records because the stuff on that label really appealed to me, but it's hard to find some of this stuff, to listen to it before I order it at the local record shop. It's not like you can switch on the radio at work and listen to the latest from Squarepusher. Nothing Records has saved me a few bucks on import fees too ... I'm a big fan of Autechre and Squarepusher, and when I'd learned that Nothing had exclusive license to release these in the U.S., my wallet breathed a sigh of relief. On top of that, I've bought CDs solely because they're on the Nothing label, and rarely have I been disappointed. Because I had trouble finding these albums myself, I felt that by promoting the music, getting more people to take a listen, I'd help play my part in helping the label grow and bring out more of the stuff I like to listen to. Something I've come to respect from treading my local punk scene is that you should support the talents and music that you appreciate.

How did Nothing feel about this? Were they encouraging or discouraging? Have you had any run-ins with Interscope, Nothing's distributor?

Actually, things have been pretty smooth. Throughout development, I kept in check with Nothing Records' management. I'm still not entirely sure what the management thinks of our radio station. When I first told the publicist about NothingRadio.net, she talked about how they were planning a similar concept for the official Nothing Records Web site. Their plan was strikingly similar to what we had already been developing at the time -- Live365.com broadcasts at two different speeds, so both modem and high-bandwidth listeners could listen in. The main difference -- we were a week from going live, and they were over a month from implementing theirs. Mind you, this was in late January of this year. At first, the folks from Nothing offered any assistance and made offers to work together on the project.

Then we went live with banners on SmashedUpSanity.com, TheFragile.com and TheNINHotline.net, and opened NothingRadio.net to the public. A lot of kind, encouraging words turned into unreturned phone calls. The day after NothingRadio.net went live, someone had TheNinHotline.net shut down, incorrectly citing copyright violations. We only managed to put it back online after 36 hours of downtime -- our host's legal department was under serious pressure to have our site deleted outright. A few days after the Hotline came back online, I got an e-mail from Nothing Records' publicist. It read: "[Please] indicate if there is a time today when you can conduct a 5-minute phone call with myself and nothing records attorney." After sweating a little bit, conferring with Yves Boudreau and Keith Duemling (who worked together with me to develop NothingRadio.net), we agreed that, excepting the use of the Nothing Records logo on the site, there was nothing that we could possibly be in any legal trouble for. Everywhere on the site, we indicate that it's unofficial, run by fans, unaffiliated with Nothing Records, etc. I'd been using the Nothing Records and Nine Inch Nails logos on my Web sites for over five years and had never had a problem before. To be on the safe side, we eliminated any plain, unaffected occurrences of the logo and began strictly referring to the site as NothingRadio.net. After those minor changes, I made the phone call, under the circumstance that I could tape the three-way conversation.

Nothing Records' attorney was a nice fellow and said his main concern was that people would mistake the site as an official site, that our use of the Nothing logo was bordering on copping the likeness of an official Nothing entity. And he told me that broadcasting music solely from one record label might be a problem as well.

After he ran through the list of problem areas, I noted the disclaimer, the boldface "unofficial" on every page and in the broadcast marquee, the lack of Nothing Records' logo anywhere on the site, informed him about the [Digital Millennium Copyright Act], and in the end, the lawyer seemed a little confused as to why the publicist felt the phone call had to be made. Since then, I've heard nothing else from Nothing management with regard to NothingRadio.net. The offers to work together, the "Is there anything I can do to help?" attitude and -- thankfully -- the threat of legal action all fizzled out.

I'm not sure if I stepped on some of Nothing's toes by releasing a promotional monster a month before their official version came out. Every step along the development, I kept management informed of what was going on, and I kept in touch with [Trent Reznor], so that if anyone saw anything they didn't like, they could speak up before we went live with the site. The bands are cool about the station, but it really seems as though someone in promotions or management really wasn't keen on the idea. They had all my phone numbers and e-mail addresses though, and I asked several times along the way for them to let me know if I was doing anything to piss them off. *shrug*

You mentioned the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and that makes me curious: Does running a station focused solely on the bands from one label provide any problems with meeting the DMCA's restriction on the number of times that you can play songs by one band (an average of three songs by the same band or from the same compilation album in a three-hour time span)?

At first, that was a bit of a concern: Would we have enough content from a relatively small label to be able to broadcast in accordance with these laws? After uploading massive quantities of songs from each of the bands currently on the label, everything seemed to work out. There are a lot of remixes as well, which introduces even more bands into the mix, in a sort of gray way. Listening to a Coil remix of a Nine Inch Nails song, there's often a lot more of Coil in there than NIN. Guest tracks by Aphex Twin and Adrian Sherwood, as well as the myriad collection of artists on the Natural Born Killers and Lost Highway soundtracks [both arranged by Trent Reznor] also help to mix things up and keep everything compliant with the law. Besides, I don't want the listeners to have to listen to three remixes of "Radio Babylon" in the same hour or an hour of uninterrupted Einstürzende Neubauten. You've got to keep the mix interesting.

Along those same lines, have you had any encounters with the RIAA or any of the major licensing / publishing agencies (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC)? Even indirectly, through Live 365, which does its best to make sure its hosted Webcasts conform to the tenets of the DMCA and the wishes of the RIAA?

At this point, we haven't had any trouble of that sort. But we're still pretty new at this -- the station's all of four months old. Have you had any direct response from any of the bands whose music you're playing? Above and beyond what the record company thinks, do you think that the artists are generally excited about operations like Nothing Radio? Well, the Nine Inch Nails camp seems to appreciate the effort we're putting forth on this project. You can't really wrong with this -- if you like one or two acts on the Nothing label, there's a good chance you'll dig some of the other stuff on there.

The NIN Hotline and its sister sites (Smashed Up Sanity, TheFragile.com, etc.) are among the more successful fan sites on the Web. Has this success benefited Nothing Radio, i.e., have you any indication that people are finding their way to the station via the other Web sites?

NothingRadio.net would not have the traffic it gets today if it weren't for this collaborative support from Keith (SmashedUpSanity.com) and Yves (TheFragile.com). Nine Inch Nails has a lot of fan sites. But there's also a lot of redundancy. I wanted to get around that, and I wanted to bring some of the larger sites together on a neutral, collaborative project. I went with SmashedUpSanity.com because I've known Keith for years; he's a real hard worker, and the page is just immense. I've also been talking to Yves for a long time, and you just can't go wrong with TheFragile.com; a lot of fans have free e-mail there, and hell, it's the name of the new album. So when you bring a popular old-school NIN fan site together with a popular new spot on the "ninternet" [the informal name for this growing affiliation of highly trafficked Nine Inch Nails fan sites] and a daily Nine Inch Nails news page, put permanent links to the radio station on each front page, it's bound to generate some large-scale traffic. The three sites also receive a lot of hits from the links on NothingRadio.net, which works out rather nicely.

Tell us a little bit more about your Nothing Radio collaborators, Yves and Keith. Each of you operates from different areas of the United States and Canada. First of all, how difficult is it to maintain a Web radio station when not all of you live near one another?

Location isn't so difficult as much as work schedules and time zones, when it comes to working together on the Internet. I juggle more with the Hotline's staff. U.S., U.K., Germany, Canada, Japan, and Argentina -- we've got a lot of folks helping out from all of these places. So when it's just three people, it's not so bad. Between ICQ [instant messaging] and #nin99 [a NIN message board], we've always got someplace where we can get together and bang out ideas.

What do each contributor bring to the table? I mean, in listening to the station, it seems like you guys use Live365's EasyCast program, which allows you to set up a playlist and Webcast 24/7 without having to actually monitor or play too direct a hand in the station's administration.

We all have played a part in uploading songs from our own collections (we own a copy of every song we play on the radio; none of it comes from downloading off the Net) to the accompanying Web site design. Every part of this project has had all three sets of hands in it along every step of the way, and I think it turned out surprisingly well. Right now, things are in fact in EasyCast mode. I switch around programming from time to time, but things are real busy for everyone at the moment, and we aren't able to focus on the station as much as when we kicked it off. Yves is about to graduate from college; I just got back from catching my eighth NIN show; and Keith is always up to something. As soon as I have some kind of high-speed connection here at home, I definitely would like to engage in something more live and interactive. But at the moment, the EasyCast system is very convenient while we're all very busy.

What are some of your short-term and long-term plans for the station? Do you expect it to evolve into something resembling an actual radio station, with special programs and exclusive features, or do you think Nothing Radio serves enough of a purpose as an adjunct to the NIN Hotline?

I definitely want to make the station more interesting. There's some neat exclusive stuff I haven't gone live with because I'd like to organize something around it. I'm planning to get NothingRadio.net involved when NIN next tours North America; I think there's some real cool potential there. Again, it all comes back to time. Between working full time, maintaining a NIN news page, keeping in touch with people, writing my own music, eating and occasionally catching some Zs, it's hard to balance everything or to focus on one thing in particular. I'm looking to set aside time to really put together neat stuff for the station this summer. But I definitely do not want it to just sit idle, playing the same shuffled playlist all day long.

What aspect of running the station has been the most enjoyable for you? What aspect has been the least enjoyable?

The coolest thing that's come out of this station has been the response, I think. It's really cool to know that people are enjoying something you worked hard to get running. The only negative feedback we've gotten was when Nothing Records wanted us to talk to their lawyers. A lot of people seem to really enjoy what we've put together, and it's encouraging, and I want to make it even better. The least enjoyable aspect would have to be that I don't have hard-core bandwidth pumping into my bedroom so I can DJ live over the Internet. I'd really love to get more involved, but where I live and with the money I have, it's just not a real possibility at this time.

Finally, any interesting anecdotes from your adventures in running Nothing Radio?

I think the most interesting thing was the reaction from Nothing Records' management. When I first presented the idea, they tell me they're doing the same thing but that I should keep at what I'm doing and that they'd like to work together with me on it. When we went live with the station, the constant contact turned into an iron curtain, and one of the supporting site's hosts gets threatened with legal action and turns off one of the major promotional links to the radio. The Official Nothing Radio [the label's competing broadcast] shows up on the SHOUTcast listings for a brief time. When I'm finally contacted again by the label, it's "Our lawyer wants to have a word with you." But when I talked to the lawyer, it turns out he was misinformed, and in fact, our station was totally legit. The phone call ends with a "Keep in touch; we still want to work together with you on this," and I never hear another thing about it again. This thing that serves to basically help the label grow instead sparks off an odd sequence of ass-kissing, followed by a FUD [that's Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt] campaign, some confusing phone calls, empty promises, and then we're finally left alone. It's a long, strange story, but as you can see by this point, I've already written a hell of a lot as it is.

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Nine Inch Nails
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This article is provided courtesy Keith Duemling and Tracy Thompson from the collection previously located at SUS.