Dissing-Dissecting-Discussing Distribution (Indie Producers Show & Tell All)

I have a dream….

One day, one story, by one independent radio producer…will go viral. It will rise like a YouTube video of a talking dog or a dancing baby, and the sharing and linking and posting and downloading and digging and tweeting and buzzing will start a revolution…and everyone will be talking about it..and the ears of the world will come alive and people will beg for more, more, more delicious, nutritious, savory, spicy, mouth-watering radio stories.

Now, waking up to reality…

If you are an independent producer working in public radio, what’s the best way to make sure listeners actually hear the fruits of your labor?

If you can’t sell your piece to Morning Edition or This American Life or some other fantastically popular network program, you’re pretty much on your own, kid. And you need to learn how to navigate through the obstacle course of gatekeepers and blast through the walls between you and the (larger) audience.

Ultimately, your fate may rest in the hands of a News Director or Program Director who is responsible for picking and choosing and balancing a station’s unique mix of local, regional, national and international programming. And, from an indie perspective, of course, the hippest stations are those most open to innovative, experimental, funky content often produced by those on the outskirts.

Remember, back in the day, back at the turn of the century, when independent producers offered supply and hoped for demand? When producers sold their stuff by mass-mailing cassettes, reels, CDs, press packages out to station decisionmakers and hounded them with follow-up calls or paid someone else to do the same. Some of that is still going on, to be sure, especially for foundation-funded specials and series. But most independent work consists of individual, shorter pieces waiting for adoption.

Plus, the producing economy has changed, and the digital revolution has made it easier and cheaper to push new content out and get it heard. Or at least one hopes. Which makes me think of the inimitable words of a prominent political rock star, “How’s that Hopey-Changey stuff workin’ for ya?”

AIRBlast, the newsletter of the Association of Independents in Radio, has published an in-depth exploration of the distribution routes available to public radio people: PRSS (Content Depot) and PRX. The 2-part article, by one of the country’s most revered and successful independent producers, Barrett Golding, is a must-read for anyone curious about the way things really work. Distro Dancing reveals some harsh truths about the system:

1. Free + Lance = Freelance. Many producers offer their work for free on PRX, hoping “no-cost will translate into higher carriage.”

2. Hour of Power. The most licensed pieces on PRX (and PRSS) are hour-long. This means that stations prefer programs that cover more airtime and have more promotional power, instead of shorter segments that need to be woven together by local staff.

3. Hide & Seek. PDs say despite reviews and listings, its still hard to find content that’s timely and relevant.

Jake Shapiro of PRX has humbly responded to the article on his blog. He called it “hugely helpful in gathering and distilling opinion about PRX.”  Shapiro says they will, “continue to develop the PRX platform to support more robust distribution features like subscription delivery, broadcast automation integration, and other nifty improvements that will continue to make PRX the preferred path for producers of pre-recorded programs.”

So, are you ready to go Distro Dancing?

This ain’t no disco; this is a dialogue.

What would the system look like if it really met the needs of independent producers, those on the cutting edge of creation and craft? 

The lines are open. Call in your comments below.