Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Monday, April 11, 2005

A Private Radio Station For Every Band: Mercora 3

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I have been paying close attention to Mercora, the new private personal radio network in which anyone can be a radio station for over a couple of months now, and nonetheless the many improvements that still need to be made to make this a killer app, Mercora marks important trends and features of what we are going to see in the near future when it comes to music content delivery and distribution online.

Photo credit: Melissa Ramirez

For those open to serendipitous music discovery, that is exposing oneself to learn and appreciate music genres and tracks outside of the familiar turf, Mercora offers a truly effective and fascinating new medium.

One of the most interesting new features of Mercora 3, nonetheless still in Beta, is something that will not be immediately apparent unless you dig deep enough inside the new offering many sections and information pages.

It is called IMArtist and it is a facility providing independent musicians and music bands to sign-up with Mercora to create their own promotional radio stations. As radio and TV play have become next to impossible goals for the small independent artist seeking some airplay and exposure, Mercora Radio offers an interesting way to fill this huge and rapidly expanding market niche.

Individual artists and musicians who sign-up for the Mercora IMArtist program will receive free publicity and promotion on the Mercora Network including:

  • Five personal digital over-the-Internet radio music channels
  • Music streamed to unlimited listeners on the Mercora Network
  • Their band photo, CD cover, bio, and discography posted in your IM Artist profile

  • Ability to find out who is listening to their music in real-time - even exactly when and for how long
  • Facilities to communicate directly with their fans and listeners by way of direct text chat, discussion forums and a personal blog
  • Direct links to their website for information, buying CDs, merchandise and more
  • Ability for listeners to delay their desire to listen to selected music tracks to a later time or to times when they are not connected to the Internet

As of today, IMArtist can be tried out FREE for 6 months.

In essence, what the Mercora Radio network offers today is a Windows-based software tool allowing anyone to legally broadcast over the Internet her preferred commercial or private music, audio recordings, interviews or any other audio material.

In addition, Mercora allows the easy uploading and sharing of photo collections as well as the opportunity to publish an integrated blog or to create a discussion forum area.

One particularly interesting new feature of Mercora 3 is the ability to time-shift the ability to listen to selected audio tracks. As Mercora is a universal radio tuner allowing you to tune-in into other people preferred music casts you may like to pre-select but delay the opportunity to listen to some of these. In time-shifting mode, it is possible to record other people broadcasts for listening at a later time or even when you are disconnected from the Internet!

The quality of the sound is rather good and Mercora claims that their "open source" OGG/Vorbis encoders & decoders deliver superior quality sound, though specifics about bitrates and technical specifications are never listed on the Mercora site. In my own testing the quality of sound was indeed on a par or better than the typical MP3, WMA sound file.
An integrated social-networking feature based on musical tastes facilitates the discovery of other people with similar music preferences. Interested users can deepen their familiarity with music buddies via the forum, chat and instant messaging facilities integrated into Mercora.

Mercora also integrates the ability to view video clips of any artist, and an feature which automatically displays all record information for any song being played. That incudes album cover, artist bio, a list of similar artists and groups and the ability to add the track to one's own Mercora favourites or to buy directly the album online (from Amazon or directly from the artist in the case of IMArtist).

Would be DJs have the ability to configure up to five broadcasting channels with pre-defined selections and music tracks. In the near future Mercora plans to add also the capability for live DJ talkcasting which will allow individual stations to replicate and extend the traditional radio model in new fascinating ways.

Bumps can be easily created allowing station broadcasters to insert voice-based jingles, promotional or informative messages of their liking within their radio broadcast. Bumps can be recorded online through a simple facility and then placed within the playlist for automatic playback at specific points.

Mercora can scale easily allowing individual radio stations to be listened even by hundreds of simultaneous Internet users as each individual radio station stream is uploaded to Mercora central servers and relayed out again to all those requesting it. This provides full scalability of individual radio station and no heavy taxing of individual broadcasters in terms of the Internet bandwidth required to serve their transmissions to increasingly larger audiences (feature available only to paying members).

And if you have not noticed, all of this comes very close to what, based on the initial earlier versions of Mercora Radio, Project DU Reader and Grouper I have anticipated as the emerging personal media aggregator.

None of these three tools comes full circle in meeting the specifications and integrated features that I have described and envisioned before, but they all point to similar directions which give tremendous opportunities to independent artists, and publishers of all kind to utilize a digital aggregator not only to provide direct and easy access to content but to open multiple bi-directional communication channels within a private, walled digital garden.

The effect of this, once these and other competing tools mature is one of providing the true means to rapidly create vertical communities aggregated not only by a common interest (a music artist, a political figure, a sport team, a newspaper etc.), but to actively participate and contribute to the development, diffusion, marketing and evolution of their selected interest.

Few have yet caught the value and disruptive potential of such Personal Media Aggregators, and while US newspapers are rapidly discovering the potential of a branded personal RSS reader/aggregator to enable a stronger and more effective bond with their rapidly shrinking audiences, they are still falling short in understanding that such tools need not to be vaulted digital jukeboxes, but rather private gardens in which communication, ideas, news, and rich media contributions must flow in all directions: top-down, down-up, one-to-one and many-to-many among all community participants.

Mercora Radio, including IMRadio & IMDJ FREE is available free for seven days, for unlimited listening and one hour of time-shifting/recording. Once the trial is over you are allowed 30 minutes of daily listening and no time-shifting/recording capabilities.

Upgrade to Mercora Premier allows access to unlimited listening, unlimited use of Mercora IMDJ and 10 hours of time-shifting/recording per month. Mercora Premier costs $ 3.99/month ($ 47.88/if paid yearly).

Mercora remains still a bit confusing in its organization of content areas and feature access. There is just too much to access and things could be organized in a much more efficient way.

Many bugs can still be found while exploring the tool and some of the most notable include:
Click to buy a Barry White record and get directed to an Amazon page selling a
Lynird Skynyrd. Click to buy a Michael Franks album and find an Amazon Cole Porter page.

The DJ cannot save a specific playlist with selected bumps placed at strategic points to be automatically broadcast. Whatever I do IMDJ plays only my next queued track that I have placed in my playlist and then reverts to play whatever else "it" thinks next.

Uploading of a personal photo in the personal profile page appears to be working when you first upload an image, but it then hides the image when re-entering to edit this page, making it highly confusing for the owner to know whether the photo is lost, needs to be re-uploaded or is in fact already acquired but simply not viewable.

Tracks found by IMRadio on your hard disk are collected into a library from where they can be easily removed, and in which other songs or recordings can be easily added. Unfortunately Mercora does not capture file naming information but only ID TAG information embedded in those files. This creates several problems as different editions of interviews I have all appear with the same name and I have no way of detecting which is the high-quality WMA from the edited down MP3 low-quality version.

Particular confusion is created by the ambiguous existence of two similar applications that can be launched when Mercora is active. One is the Mercora IMRadio, which allows you to tune in into other individual radio stations. The other is called Mercora IMdj and which is designed to allow you to select the music or audio clips you want to broadcast and to monitor your live listeners.

Keep also in mind that in addition to the above two applications Mercora likes to self-install in the system tray and provides access to all of its main features through a third IM-like application interface in which the broadcaster can see at a snap what his being broadcast and who is listening.

If I watch it from the point of view of the DJ/broadcaster who wants to put up something easier and alternative to the trendy but technically-challenging podcast or to other independent web-casting technologies (Shoutcast, Peercast, Icecast, KasterBlaster and others), this is indeed an interesting alternative especially considering that here you can put up a commercial stream of music, something not exactly part of the typical podcast. And getting the legal rights to do so for just $ 3.99/month could really be an extraordinarily cost-effective offer (once all of the usability and access issues have been fully cleared). On the other hand, a content delivery and distribution model that requires users/listeners to pay for obtaining accessing a proprietary, Windows-only listening device is faulty from its conception. It can't win.

It is the broadcasters that should pay, and possibly at different levels depending on the broadcasting options they select to have, while leaving listeners completely free to access Mercora streams on any computer type, at absolutely no cost.

To be a success IMRadio must be completely free for its listeners. Allowing half an hour of free reception after the first seven days of trial is just the worst marketing move that a content distribution tool like this could make.

IMDJ should have multiple pricing options depending on the features and facilities that wuld-be radio casters would want to have. IMArtist could be based on a revenue sharing model or as an alternative to be chosen by artists themselves on an upfront fee to be paid by the musicians.

Another negative issue with Mercora is the fact that at least some of the most notable features (e.g.: IMArtist program) are reserved only to US and Canadian residents.

Mercora contains no adware, malware or spyware of any kind. There are no strings attached and no advertising banners or pop-ups during its use.

The business model adopted by Mercora is one that allows listeners to see information about any artist they are listening to being displayed on their screen with the option of buying any record through Amazon (Mercora acts as an Amazon associate resellers getting a little commission for every record sold through recommendations generated by the system.

In addition to this the Mercora client integrates Google AdSense text-based contextually-relevant ads providing links and pointers to related services, products and music offers.

System Requirements:

PC running Intel Pentium/Celeron family or AMD K6/Athlon/Duron family processor with 300 MHz or greater clock speed
128MB or greater RAM
Windows 2000 or Windows XP (Home or Professional)
At least 10MB of available disk space

Download Mercora free for seven days here:

Mercora enables the webcasting of music according to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 114. Mercora has obtained the statutory license for the non-interactive streaming of sound recordings from Sound Exchange, the organization designated by the U.S. Copyright Office to collect and distribute statutory royalties to sound recording copyright owners and featured and non featured artists. Mercora has also taken care of all U.S. musical composition performance royalties through its licenses with ASCAP, BMI and SESAC.

With Mercora you are not allowed to do any of the following things:

a) Publish advance program guides or use other means to pre-announce when particular sound recordings will be streamed or the order in which they will be streamed (this is because we are a non-interactive webcasting service)

b) Webcast specific sound recordings within one hour of the request by a listener or at a time designated by the listener.
c) Webcast audio content for which you do not have the legitimate legal rights for use (music you have ripped from CDs that you own or music you have downloaded from a legitimate online music store like Apple iTunes is considered legitimate, music downloaded using file-sharing programs like KaZaA are not legitimate).

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posted by Robin Good on Monday, April 11 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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