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496 Topics: Ask an American – Digital music technology; It’s called being nice versus It’s called been nice; to stutter versus to stumble; mean

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Complete Transcript
You’re listening to ESL Podcast’s English Café number 496.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast’s English Café episode 496. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Take a look at our ESL Podcast Store, with some additional courses that you can download immediately to your computer, and start improving your English even more.

On this Café, we’re going to have another one of our Ask an American segments, where we listen to other native speakers talking at a normal rate of speech – that is, a normal speed. We listen to them and then we explain what they’re saying. Today we’re going to talk about digital music technology and how it is changing the business of music – and as always, we’ll answer a few of your questions. Let’s get started.

On this Café, we’re talking about digital music technology and the changes that has brought to the music industry, or music business. We’re going to listen to several different quotes from talking about these changes. The first one comes from Nick Sherwin, who is a member of the band called Suburban Skies. I have never heard of them before, but Nick is going to give us his view of recent changes in the music business. Let’s listen, and then we’ll go back and explain what he said.

[recording]

“Social media is a wonderful thing, and being able to control your own art and not be signed by a record label – to be your own record label – is, I think, um, liberating.”

[end of recording]

Mr. Sherwin begins by saying, “Social media is a wonderful thing.” “Social media” refers to things like Facebook and Twitter – websites and apps that allow people to connect with other people in new ways, usually by sharing information and photos. The general term given to these websites and apps is “social media.” Sherwin says, “Social media is a wonderful thing.” You might wonder whether he is correct in using a singular verb for “media.” Traditionally, “media” (media) has been considered a plural noun and therefore requires a plural verb.

However, more recently people have used this word “media” to refer to all the different kinds of means of communication, and it is therefore what would be called a “collective noun,” and collective nouns can be used in the singular – and that’s what has become the common usage, especially with the term “social media.” You could say “social media are,” but “social media is,” is also acceptable. And that’s what the good Mr. Sherman says in his quote: “Social media is a wonderful thing.”

Another wonderful thing, according to Mr. Sherwin, is “being able to control your own art.” “To be able to control your own art” means to be able to decide how your particular artistic creation is made, how it is sold, how it is advertised, and so forth. So, Sherwin is saying that it’s wonderful now that musical groups – bands – can make songs, make videos, make music, and be able to control the production and distribution of those artistic creations.

In connection with controlling your own art, Sherwin also mentions not being “signed by a record label.” A “record label” (label) is a company that makes and sells recordings of music made by bands. There are lots of record labels here in Los Angeles. The word “label” is just a special word we use when talking about record companies. “To be signed by a record label” means to sign a contract agreeing to make a certain number of albums for a record company and agreeing to let the record company sell those albums. Of course, you get some money for doing that.

In fact, what Sherwin is talking about is that bands nowadays don’t need to go to a record label. They can be their own record label – that is, they can make and sell their own music. He says that all of this is “liberating.” “To be liberating” (liberating) is to feel free, to have a sense of freedom, to have a sense of control. Let’s listen to Nick one more time.

[recording]

“Social media is a wonderful thing, and being able to control your own art and not be signed by a record label – to be your own record label – is, I think, um, liberating.”

[end of recording]

We’ll listen to another quote from the great Mr. Sherman. In this next section, we’ll talk about the important factors in success for a band at a time when digital music technology is changing. Here’s what he has to say:

[recording]

“The most important thing is content. You have to have ah – songs, videos – to be able to get up and do this, but I think it’s extremely important to do shows to build your brand, to build your reputation.

[end of recording]

Sherwin begins by saying that “the most important thing is content.” “Content” (content) is a word that’s been around for a long time. It refers to the substance of something – what is actually in a given product, especially something that is either artistic or intellectual. So, we could talk about the “contents of a book.” That would be what is inside the book or what the book is about, what the book says.

In the last, oh, 20 years or so, with the rise of the Internet economy, the word “content” is often used nowadays to talk about the substance or subject of digital products. This could include anything from the writings on a blog, the recordings for a podcast, say, or music that is sold in digital formats. The person who makes content is sometimes called the “content producer” – the person who makes or produces the content. That’s why Sherwin begins by saying, “The most important thing is content.” It’s the things that you create – in this case, the songs, the videos.

Sherwin says, “You have to have songs and videos to be able to get up and do this.” “To be able to get up and do this” means to be able to participate in this new digital economy. He says, “I think it’s extremely important to do shows to build your brand, to build your reputation.” What Sherwin is saying here is that, yes, it’s important to have content, songs, and videos that you can sell on the Internet and distribute on the Internet, but you also want to do shows. The word “shows” here refers to performances in front of real live people. That would be another word for a “live concert,” if you’re a band.

So, bands need to continue to do live shows to build their “brand” (brand). Your “brand” is the name or the image of your particular product – what you’re selling. If you think of a musical group as a company with an image and a name, you can think of it as having its own brand, and that’s what Sherwin is talking about here. You want to continue to do live concerts to build your brand – that is, to develop it, to make it more well known, to get people to buy your products. The products here, of course, are songs.

That’s also what Sherwin means when he says “build your reputation.” Again, the word “build” here means to increase or to grow or to make stronger. Let’s listen to Sherwin once more, talking about the importance of content and building your brand.

[recording]

“The most important thing is content. You have to have ah – songs, videos – to be able to get up and do this, but I think it’s extremely important to do shows to build your brand, to build your reputation.

[end of recording]

Sherwin represents the musician’s point of view. Let’s listen now to Bob Pittman. Pittman is the head of, or leader of, something called Clear Channel Communications. Clear Channel Communications is one of the largest radio station owners in the United States. It’s a company that owns many different radio stations. He’s going to talk about why his medium – radio – is still important even though people often get their music on the Internet in digital form. Let’s listen to what he says:

[recording]

“In this era of streaming services, radio listeners actually . . . radio listeners have increased. And if you look at the research, 70 percent of Americans would say – “Where did you discover the music you buy in your music collection?” – 70 percent say “FM radio.”

[end of recording]

Pittman begins by talking about “this era of streaming services.” The word “era” (era) refers to a certain period of time. Nowadays we have lots of people listening to music on “streaming (streaming) services.” “Streaming services” are websites or apps that allow you to listen to music that is not downloaded to your computer or your mobile device. You are simply listening to it over the Internet, if you will. Streaming services have become very popular.

However, Pittman says that “radio listeners have increased” (or the number of radio listeners has increased, which is I think what he means). There are now more people listening to the radio than there were before, and therefore what Pittman is saying is that streaming services have not replaced the radio as a way that people listen to music. In fact, the radio has a very important role, according to Pittman, in how people discover or find out about new music.

He says, “If you look at the research, 70 percent of Americans would say” – in answer to the question “Where did you discover the music you buy in your music collection?” – “FM radio.” In other words, Pittman is saying that if you ask people where they found out about the music that is in their “music collection” – that is, the music that they own, that they bought – 70 percent of them would say the radio (he says “FM radio”). FM radio is a kind of radio. There are two basic kinds of radio, FM and AM. “FM” stands for “frequency modulation.” “AM” stands for “amplitude modulation.”

But that’s technical talk that we don’t really need to understand here. Most cars, for example, have both FM and AM radios. Although I think some more current cars might not even have radios in them. I’m not sure. I have an old car, and my car definitely has AM and FM radio, although I don’t listen to either one. Let’s listen to Mr. Pittman one more time.

[recording]

“In this era of streaming services, radio listeners actually . . . radio listeners have increased. And if you look at the research, 70 percent of Americans would say – “Where did you discover the music you buy in your music collection?” – 70 percent say “FM radio.”

[end of recording]

Finally, we’re going to listen to Rob Light. Light is not a member of a band. He’s not a head of a communications company. He is instead someone who works for Creative Artists Agency, which is a company that represents musicians and bands. “CAA” is how it is more commonly known here in Los Angeles, and it’s one of the most powerful agencies that represent artists – not just musicians, but also actors and actresses here in Hollywood and throughout the United States – and indeed, throughout the world. It’s a very large company representing all sorts of artists. Mr. Light has a very different view of the importance of radio than does Mr. Pittman. Let’s listen.

[recording]

“I don’t believe that terrestrial radio will to be as relevant to a 12-year-old today in five or six years, and if you are going to look forward, I think they are going to get their information, that exact information, from other places and other sources.”

[end of recording]

Light begins by saying, “I don’t believe that terrestrial radio will be as relevant to a 12-year-old today in five or six years.” Let’s begin with the term “terrestrial (terrestrial) radio.” The word “terrestrial” refers to the land or the ground or, more broadly, the Earth. So, “terrestrial radio” refers to radio waves that are sent from towers to your radio in your car or in your home – in other words, not through the Internet.

The term “terrestrial radio” is somewhat recent. Before the invention of the Internet, that’s the only kind of radio there was – and technically, still the kind of radio there is – but people now talk about “radio stations” on the Internet, even though there aren’t any radio waves, electromagnetic waves, involved in Internet transmission, or at least not in the same sense as there are with terrestrial or traditional radio transmissions. So terrestrial radio, then, refers to the normal, if you will, radio transmissions that take place and that people associate with the word “radio.”

However, Light says that these more traditional sources of music will not be relevant to today’s 12-year-olds in five or six years. In other words, when kids who are 12 years old today grow up and become 17-year-olds or 18-year-olds five or six years from now, they will not consider terrestrial radio to be relevant to them.

The word “relevant” (relevant) means related to or connected to or, really, here, important to a certain person or to a certain situation or topic. If radio isn’t “relevant” to a 12-year-old, it isn’t important to him or her. It’s not a source of important or useful information, especially the kind of information we’re talking about here, which is about music.

Light says, “If you are going to look forward,” meaning if you’re going to think about the future, “I think they are going to get their information, that exact information, from other places and other sources.” Light is saying that today’s kids are going to get information about the world, including music, from places other than radio – and he might also add other traditional sources of media such as televisions and newspapers, although he doesn’t talk about those. So, Light has a very different view of the future importance of radio than did Mr. Pittman, who thinks it will still be important in the future. Let’s listen to Mr. Light one more time.

[recording]

“I don’t believe that terrestrial radio will to be as relevant to a 12-year-old today in five or six years, and if you are going to look forward, I think they are going to get their information, that exact information, from other places and other sources.”

[end of recording]

So now you know everything you need to know, I guess, about the new world of digital music. Now let’s answer some of the questions you have sent to us.

Our first question comes from Shahrokh (Shahrokh) in Iran. The question has to do with two forms of the verb “to be” – “been” (been) and “being” (being). “Been” is the past participle of the verb “to be.” It is used most commonly in the present perfect tense in English, when talking about something in the past but without any specified period of time. “I have been to Disneyland.” You’re not saying when you were at Disneyland or when you went there, just that it happened in the past.

“Being” is the present participle of the verb “to be,” and refers to something going on now, in the present. “I am being nice to you” means at this very moment, at this very time, I am acting nice toward you.

Present participles also can serve as what are called “gerunds” (gerunds). A “gerund” is a noun form of a verb, basically. So, for example, the verb “to walk” has the present participle “walking,” but you could also use that as a noun. “Walking is good for you.” “Walking is healthy.” “Being” can also be used as a gerund. When used that way, however, it would probably be connected to some sort of adjective, such as “being nice” or “being kind.” “Being kind is important if you want to make friends,” or “Being nice is a good idea when dealing with your neighbors.”

Our next question comes Vitek (Vitek) in the Czech Republic. The question has to do with two verbs, “to stutter” and “to stumble.” Let’s start with “to stutter” (stutter). “To stutter” is to talk while repeating sounds even though you don’t want to. Sometimes people are nervous and they may stutter. Sometimes people have a certain condition that causes them to stutter, even when they don’t want to. Usually, stuttering involves repeating certain sounds, usually consonants. So, to stutter would be to go “t-t-t-t” ¬– to go like that.

“To stumble” (stumble) means usually to hit your foot against some object and fall or almost fall. If you are walking down the street and you don’t see a rock on the sidewalk, you might hit it with your foot and stumble. You almost fall. You “lose your balance,” we might also say. Sometimes when you stumble, you do fall. You fall down on the ground. “To stutter” is related exclusively or only to speech – when we talk about someone having difficulty speaking. “Stumbling” is usually related to a physical activity.

However, we sometimes use the verb “to stumble” when someone is talking in an awkward way – someone who makes a lot of mistakes when he speaks. That can also be referred to as “stumbling.” “He stumbled through his speech.” That means he had difficulties giving his talks, giving his speech. He made several mistakes when he did so. “Stuttering,” however, is only used in the case of someone who repeats a certain sound over and over again without wanting to.

Finally, Reza (Reza) from an unknown country wants to know the meaning of the word “meaning” (meaning). It’s difficult to define the verb “to mean” without using the verb “to mean.” So, I’m going to just assume that you understand what the verb “to mean” means.

“Mean” can also be an adjective describing someone who is unkind, someone who is rude. We might say to someone, “Don’t be mean.” That means don’t be a bad person. Don’t be rude. Don’t be unkind to someone.

“Mean” can also be a noun in mathematics or statistics to refer to the average of some group of numbers. If you want to find the mean value of five different numbers, you would add those numbers together and divide by five. That’s another use of the word “mean.”

If you have a question or comment, I promise I won’t be mean to you. Just email us at eslpod@eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on the English Café.

ESL Podcast’s English Café was written and produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
social media – websites and apps that let people connect in new ways without actually meeting in person, often sharing information through text and photos

* Children and teenagers need to be taught that it isn’t safe to share personal information on social media.

to be signed by – to be given a legal contract with a company, especially one that will promote and sell one’s music

* The band U2 was signed by Island Records in 1980.

record label – a company or brand that markets and sells recordings of music made by bands

* Did you hear that Katy Perry is launching her own record label?

liberating – providing freedom or at least a sense of freedom; setting someone free

* After six years in prison, stepping outside of the prison and breathing the open air was very liberating.

to do shows – to perform in front of an audience, or to have a live concert, not just presenting recorded material

* The band will be doing shows throughout North America and Europe this summer.

to build a brand – to work hard to promote the name and image associated with a particular company’s products and to encourage people to buy those products

* How did Starbucks build such a strong brand for coffee?

reputation – how a company or individual is perceived by people who do not know it directly

* Professor Maltz has a reputation for giving very difficult exams.

streaming service – a technology or web platform that allows people to download (transfer to one’s computer) data as a constant flow, so that they can begin listening to music or watching a video even though the file hasn’t finished downloading

* The streaming service doesn’t work very well in the late afternoon and early evening, when a lot of people are online.

FM radio – frequency modulation radio; one of two types of radio waves (the other is AM radio) that are used to carry audio for listening enjoyment

* Which FM radio stations are your favorites?

music collection – all the records, tapes, CDs, and MP3 files that someone owns

* Craig’s music collection includes a lot of jazz and blues.

terrestrial radio – radio that is sent between towers on Earth’s surface, not from satellites

* Terrestrial radio works well in flat, open areas, but not as well in the mountains.

relevant – related or connected to the topic that is being discussed

* We encourage you to ask questions after the presentation, but please make sure they’re relevant to the speaker’s subject.

to stutter – to talk while repeating sounds without wanting to, especially the first consonant in a word

* “I c-c-c-can’t go with you to fight the monster,” Nick stuttered in fear.

to stumble – to speak or act in an awkward way; to not be able to speak without making mistakes; to hit one's foot on something when one is walking or running so that one falls or nearly falls

* When Melina gets nervous, she stumbles over her words and makes a bad impression.

to mean – to have in the mind as a purpose; to have importance

* Jamal said he would see us at 8:30, meaning he wants us to pick him up at 8:30.

mean – rude; unkind

* How can kids be so mean, making fun of Justin for being short?

What Insiders Know
Recording Artists Discovered on YouTube

In the past, “aspiring singers or bands” (people who want to become professional musicians) had to send “tapes” (recordings) of their work to “talent scouts” (people whose job is to look for musicians, actors, and athletes with strong abilities) and record labels, hoping to be invited to do a live performance and then be signed by the record label. Today, however, digital media technology has changed “all that” (everything).

It is easy and inexpensive for people to record their performances and “upload” (transfer from one’s computer to a server using the Internet) the files to social media sites to share them “with the world” (with everyone; with a very large public audience). Some of those videos become “viral” (extremely popular and shared among many people very quickly) and soon catch the attention of record labels.

For example, Canadian singer and songwriter Justin Bieber was “discovered” (found by a record label) by viewing his videos on YouTube in 2007. Two years later, Australian signer Cody Simpson began recording songs in his bedroom, and once they were posted on YouTube, he was discovered by a record producer. More recently, in 2010, a young American singer and songwriter known as Avery posted her “debut” (shown for the first time) video on Youtube and has more than one million views within just three months. Shortly after that, she was signed by a record label too.

The “phenomenon” (something that is observed to happen) isn’t limited only to musicians. In recent years, several “comedians” (people whose job is to make others laugh), “fashionistas” (people who design fashionable clothing and/or know a lot about fashion) and “social commentators” (people who make interesting observations about what is happening in society) have also “gained a large following” (attracted many viewers for their videos) on social media, attracting attention from talent scouts.