Jazz and Justice: A Look Inside Online Radio

March 17, 2016

By Casey Ek

WASHINGTON—Katea Stitt, the interim program director at the District’s WPFW online radio station has close ties to the world of music royalties, both professionally and personally.

As the station’s liaison between artists, royalties companies, and what goes out on the internet airwaves, Stitt is responsible for negotiating the increasingly nuanced world of internet music publishing, but her roots in music run deep, so deep, in fact, that they proceed her birth.

Daughter to D.C. legend Sonny Stitt, Stitt has been immersed in the struggle musicians face to get recognition for the work they produce, she said.

“From my very early memory, I’ve been surrounded by artists who always felt like the more they did for themselves…the better off they were,” Stitt said.
Now as the interim program director, she is responsible for ensuring her music programmers, those responsible for playing programs over WPFW’s airwaves and online, follow the rules set by The Copyright Royalty Board.

For Stitt and for stations like WPFW, these regulations manifest themselves in the form of a program known as “Copyright Confessor,”software designed for radio stations to report the songs they play to royalties companies like BMI, ASCAP or in the case of WPFW, Sound Exchange, which is based in the District.

Playing music online and streaming for a radio station, Stitt says, carries with it many challenges. One challenge in particular, Stitt noted, has the potential to adversely affect artists.

“I think it makes it harder for expression and for presenting the totality of an artist’s work, because [with the established rules on “Copyright Confessor”] now you can’t play four songs in a row by the same artist,” Stitt said. “If you’re doing a tribute to Billy Holiday—this is her centennial—how do you do it and stream it? If you’re operating strictly online, it’s virtually impossible.”
This limited ability to go in depth with a single artist online as well as other red tape, Stitt said, is the reason contemporary artists should strive for autonomy in their music production and popularization.

“If you’re a mid-level artist it might make more sense to give your music away rather than stream it through something like Spotify,” Stitt said. “I’ve heard artists say that the rule of thumb is that the more you can cut out any middle man or middle woman, the better off you are.”

WPFW, being part of the larger non-profit Pacifica Radio Network operates under the ethos of radio for—the-people-by-the-people, according to Stitt. All programmers at WPFW, whether music and public affairs programmers, work as volunteers with few restrictions, other than those set by the FCC and the Copyright Royalty Board, on what they choose to air. This, according to Stitt, is by design.

“We respect the vastness of the music that is out there and able to be presented, but we also respect the knowledge of our programmers,” Stitt said. “And we’re not commercial. All the things that go into commercial radio, we don’t adhere to. There’s no mandates for the same five songs in the music we play.”
The station which hosts local, national and international musicians for their “Live at Five” program, Stitt says is a ground for all types of musicians to be heard.

Although their catchphrase is “jazz and justice,” WPFW has hosted musicians from all stops on the music spectrum, according to Stitt. This is an extension of Pacifica Founder Lewis Hill’s mission to bring people music they want to hear, she says.

“He felt like people would pay to hear information, music, culture that resonated with them,” Stitt said. “And in fact that is what happened over the years.”

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/159303873″>Katea Stitt: The Atmosphere of Online Music</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user24310768″>Casey Ek</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>



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