Makin' It: Jason Sigal, Free Music Expert

GOOD's career column talks to Jason Sigal, manager of the Free Music Archive, about radio in the digital era and making copyrights "human readable."

Jason Sigal is a DJ for Jersey City, New Jersey's pioneering independent radio station WFMU. He is also managing director of the Free Music Archive, one of the largest collections of open-source music on the web. Great music soundtracks our entire existence, so we jumped at the chance to talk with a like-minded soul, especially one dedicated to bringing the joys of the universal language to the wider world.

You knew fairly early on that you wanted to be in radio, right?

I got into radio through music. I moved to New Jersey the summer I turned 13, and I didn't really know anyone, so I had plenty of time to learn guitar and listen to music. Eventually I met these kids my age who were already doing a radio show on Princeton's WPRB called Strong Little Legs, and they introduced me to a bunch of awesome music. This was before music blogs and before I had a high-speed ethernet connection. I was thrilled to spend my Saturday nights at the radio station discovering new music and playing it on the radio in the early morning hours. I shouldn't call it a "graveyard shift" because it was all for fun, and it wasn't even a job. For real work, I was scooping ice cream and frying up dumplings.

Did you pursue any sort of undergrad or graduate work in broadcasting to ensure you wouldn't have to do that again?

I knew I wanted to stay involved in radio when I got to college, and there were two options. One was WBRU, the 20,000-watt commercial station heard throughout New England run by a staff of radio industry professionals where the student hosts don't pick the music and mostly stick to a narrow modern rock rotation. And then there was BSR, a student-community station that leased evenings on a high school's 100-watt signal, but probably had more online listeners anyway because they had a stellar web presence for 2003. BSR was the obvious choice for me. I wound up taking courses on the history of radio and advertising, becoming really fascinated by the parallels of radio's early days to the dawn of the web. My degree is in computer music & multimedia, but I could almost say that I minored in broadcast's transition to the digital era by taking courses like "TV on the Internet,” and actually making radio happen by hosting music and interview programs at BSR and eventually serving as music director, program director, and eventually [general manager].

And how did you get involved with the Free Music Archive?

I'd heard about WFMU's idea for a "pod-safe music library" while I was general manager of BSR. I'd been experimenting with new ways to reach audiences online, not only as a broadcaster but as a musician, and I had recently become fascinated by Creative Commons. The FMA sounded like the most incredible project. I applied, visited the station for an interview, but ultimately didn't get the job. That summer I went on tour, then moved to New York to work as part of a small staff at BreakThru Radio, a really interesting digital broadcaster, where part of my job was to clear music for podcasts. The whole time I kind of tried to make BTR more like WFMU, so when the FMA position opened up again, I jumped at the opportunity. This was in February 2008.

And what exactly is the FMA?

The Free Music Archive is a curated resource for music that wants to be shared, primarily under the Creative Commons licensing framework. The website is freely accessible to the public without any advertising or fees, while the library itself is presented exclusively by a group of established arts curators, spearheaded by WFMU.

Take me through some of the day-to-day aspects of managing the archive.

I'm the front line for all user feedback, so I spend some time each day wearing my customer service hat, and I'll often factor this into our web development priorities. I also spend a lot of time cultivating the library, making sure it's deep and diverse, gathering quality Creative Commons music from around the web, licensing WFMU recordings past and present, and reaching out to artists bringing new music into the commons. We really try to do justice to each artist through profiles that include images, bios, URLs, links to purchase music, donate, and connect with them. I shape some of the profiles myself and maintain a set of guidelines for curators, participating artists, and our editorial crew. I'm sort of the site's “master curator,” so I also curate the curators, and oversee the featured items on our homepage. I'm always writing a lot of editorial content as well, including blog posts, e-newsletters, help pages, and tweets.

An ancillary function of the FMA seeks to educate people about the weird, murky world of copyrights, particularly through the site's helpful FAQ section.

I like to think of the FMA as a project that closes the gap between the law and the way that things actually work on the internet, to the benefit of both producers and consumers of culture. But the laws surrounding music in the digital environment are incredibly complex, and this system only works if people understand it, so of course there is an educational aspect to what we're doing. That's one reason why the FMA primarily uses Creative Commons licenses that turn legalese into something they call "human readable". We've also pulled together some useful resources, and the FAQ is a great example—I'm glad you picked up on this aspect of the site.

Have you had to learn a lot on the job, or were you already familiar with this stuff?

I knew a bit going in from playing music semi-professionally, direct licensing for BTR, studying Creative Commons in school and reading on my own as much as I can. The site could not exist without the pro bono legal advisors who help us navigate this fascinating but largely uncharted space, so I get to spend some time delving into these issues with them, and I've learned a great deal on the job from that incredible advisory network. I like to share some of what I learn through our Twitter feed, forum, blog posts, and often I'll incorporate a "Grey Area" interview/discussion segment into my weekly radio show.

Makin' It is the work of journalist Brady Welch and illustrator Skyler Swezy, the team behind

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

Fredrick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818. At the age of 10 he was given to the Auld family.

As a child, he worked as a house slave and was able to learn to read and write, and he attempted to teach his fellow slaves the same skills.

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via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

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Little did they know he would grow up to be one of the greatest forces of evil the world has ever known.

The Hitlers moved out of the Braunau am Inn when Adolph was three, but the three-story butter-colored building still stands. It has been the subject of controversy for seven decades.

via Thomas Ledia / Wikimedia Commons

The building was a meeting place for Nazi loyalists in the 1930s and '40s. After World War II, the building has become an informal pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis and veterans to glorify the murderous dictator.

The building was a thorn in the side to local government and residents to say the least.

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For years it was owned by Gerlinde Pommer, a descendant of the original owners. The Austrian government made numerous attempts to purchase it from her, but to no avail. The building has served many purposes, a school, a library, and a makeshift museum.

In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

Now, the government intends to turn it into a police station which will surely deter any neo-Nazis from hanging around the building.

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The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

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The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, "We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage". I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.

But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

Chick-fil-A also has plans to expand to Boston, Massachusetts where its mayor, Thomas Menino, pledged to ban the restaurant from the city.

via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

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