Griddlesode #2: Thomas Edison and the RIAA

In this Griddlesode, we take a look at the Recording Industry Association of America and its relationship with technological innovation. Then, we have a little fun by listening in on Thomas Edison as he gets a visit from a nineteenth-century version of a musician’s trade organization.


  1. RIAA. Obsolete, at best……………….

  2. Ron, You’re having WAY too much fun here! I thought for a moment we’d be hearing from Mr. Whipple! Outstanding. Keep up the excellent work!!!

  3. Well, this Griddlecakes show was interesting, but the writer is engaging in a bit of wishful thinking, not to mention historical illiteracy, stemming undoubtedly from his GenY point of view. If he had bothered to read anything about Edison and his business dealings he would have discovered that Edison and the rest of the phonograph/graphophone/gramophone industry was one of the most litigeous in the business world, starting from the very get-go. Edison would never have had any sympathy for the “stealing” of his recorded works. He would have been a firm believer in the RIAA, had the organization existed in his time. At the same time that he was protecting his interests, he did all he could to avoid paying his musicians any more than necessary. Witness his “money saving” (read “cheap”) policy of paying for only the Diamond Disc recording sessions, which masters he then dubbed to cylinder instead of paying separately for cylinder recording sessions.
    Although the RIAA may now be an anachronism, it served a very useful purpose in the not-so-distant past, before the advent of digital downloading. In the rapid ramp-up of popularity of records after WWII, the recording industry was befuddled by a number of non-standardized recording systems. Specifically, the electrical recording equalization (and subsequent playback EQ) that was used to optimize both playing time and surface noise was a free-for-all. RCA had one EQ, Columbia another, English Decca yet another, etcetera. Columbia Viva-Tonals were slightly larger diameter than RCAs and wouldn’t work on some record changers. Columbias had no reciprocating lockout groove unlike RCAs which also caused them to malfunction on some record changers. Some consolidation and standardization was needed. That was one of the main reasons that the RIAA was formed – to issue standards in physical dimensions and in electrical processing. And in the “mean old days” of strictly analog recording and distribution, a substantial amount of income was lost to the recording industry via the pirating and counterfeiting of analog records and tapes. This was done primarily in Asia with the dubbed recordings being distributed throughout the world, but there were also many local tape pirates. How many times did you see John Denver 8-tracks and Elton John cassettes stacked up at your local flea market for 2 bux apiece? Guess where these were made. Guess how much of a royalty was transmitted to John or Elton from these sales. How would you like to have your intellectual property stolen? The RIAA vigorously prosecuted the makers, importers, and distributors of these counterfeit records and tapes.
    But the RIAA probably has outlived its usefulness because the traditional record labels have also outlived theirs. Tomorrow’s music will probably be managed and delivered by very small, probably artist-owned record labels, as many artists are already doing. The traditional role of the record label in funding the expensive recording studio experience and managing the manufacture, distribution, and promotion of the artist and repertoire will now be taken up privately by the artists themselves. Recording will be done in bedroom “suites” with personal computer recording and mixing software costing a fraction of what professional gear does. Separate music distribution companies will be engaged to get the physical CDs and DVDs manufactured (by independent pressing companies engaged in cutthroat competition as they now are) and sent around to brick-and-mortar (er, more like pole-barn and sheet tin strip mall) stores while the small-time label operations will handle the internet distribution themselves. Which will not require much more than a laptop computer and internet connection, located in the second bedroom. No big label offices in New York or Nashville will be needed anymore. But as these little indie labels will come to find out after they get over their self-righteousness (we exist to serve the common man with affordable music, blah, blah, blah), that they will have to continually battle the theft of their product over the internet and will finally get “The Picture”: the RIAA existed for a purpose – to protect the income-producing potential of their clients. But now it’s gonna be every indie for himself. Mr. Griddlecakes believes in “trust” – that people will feel an obligation to actually pay for what they can easily steal. Do the words “naive” and “idealogue” ring any bells with him? P.T. Barnum is laughing out loud (Mr. Griddlecakes should google him for yet another education). Rotsa ruck making any money at recorded music in the future.

  4. Hi Greg,
    Wow! You really have a lot to say on this subject.
    First of all, thank you for putting so much effort into a comment—on a show that is almost 2 and a half years old! Definitely proof in the concept of “The Long Tail!” Obviously, you know many “facts” about this subject and this satirical skit encouraged you to share them. Thanks! It is appreciated.
    Actually, I’d like to speak with you. Perhaps even record our conversation because I think it’ll be a very lively discussion. Send me an email at griddlecakes{at} and perhaps we can have a little fun.
    And don’t worry, I promise not to call you names like “illiterate” or make “sucker” references. I respect your opinion. To me this is an important subject to debate.
    There’s just one thing I gotta set straight, though. I’m actually a Tail-end Boomer instead of a “GenY”er.”

  5. John Hermann |

    I am currently working overseas in Afganistan and recently discovered your podcast. Since then I have recommended your show to my friends here and many have taken up the habit of checking for new Griddlesodes and downloading past shows to occupy our down time.
    Truely enjoy your show and keep them coming.

  6. John,
    Thanks for dropping me a ine and listening from overseas. Please stay safe over there and feel free to drop me an email at griddlecakes*at*

  7. File not found as of 14 Jan 2013