While not all Dungeons & Dragons groups make use of music to enhance gaming atmosphere, those that do may not have heard of an outstanding free resource: Radio Rivendell.
Essentially, the site provides free, 24-hour streaming audio with a Medieval fantasy bend. Site visitors can simply click and listen in a variety of formats ranging from simple Web players to more specific applications like Spotify or Last FM.
The site also boasts free music downloads, inteviews with well-known fantasy music artists, and – after visitors complete a free registration - a friendly, very active discussion forum spanning a variety of fantasy RPG topics from discussion of the games themselves to the music, films, computer games and general topics that gamers tend to interest gamers.
To help gain a better understanding of what the site offers, how it developed to its current status and where its future may go, Radio Rivendell’s Webmaster, appropriately called Lord Elrond, graciously consented to an interview with the RPG Athenaeum. A transcription of the conversation follows.
What made you decide to launch Radio Rivendell?
It actually just started as a little fun test, more or less. When my friends and I played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, we used CDs with music we found on the Internet (the old mp3.com, for example) but we got bored with our three CDs after a while. I installed the Shoutcast plugin to Winamp to try to see how difficult it was to set up a Web radio station, and Rivendell was born. It lived on a crappy spare computer in my wardrobe and had six slots for listeners.
When did you launch it?
I believe this was in the spring of 2001; I don’t know exactly when. It was dark and cold, that’s all I remember!
Were there any technological challenges associated with the launch at the time? If so, how did you overcome them?
The Shoutcast plugin, together with Winamp, is quite easy to set up. It was solved by tinkering with it for an hour or so. My internet connection at the time wasn’t quick by today’s standards, but it was enough for our six listeners. As Shoutcast can make your station public and reachable by others, it started to get a little following quite quickly – it only had six slots, mind you - and we were actually not able to tune in during our gaming sessions as other people had found it and had been listening to it after a couple of months. Radio Rivendell has always been open to the community, and we now have quite a few people rebroadcasting our streams all over the world, something that made it possible for thousands of listeners to tune in at the same time!
How does RR obtain content?
In the beginning, I scraped the Internet for free music which I put on the air. Now things have changed and I more or less just sit and wait for composers to send me CDs. Our community also helps out with finding great new composers and talking to them. So now, I get one or two CDs each month with brand new music from known and lesser known composers. We’ve also been contacted by record companies and agents wanting us to play their music to our listeners.
How is the site supported financially?
Everything is done by kind spirits, and all our relay servers have been provided free of charge by our friends and fans. The bandwidth we use would cost hundreds of dollars each month, but we get this for free! Music is donated to us for free and other financial income is donated to us through Paypal. I’m very grateful for all the kind people all over the globe helping us out, and every donation is noted and attributed to you in our Hall of Fame.
How is Radio Rivendell staffed?
I am the main webmaster and final judge on what to put on the air, but all suggestions come from our members. I don’t really have time to browse for new music myself, so I leave that task to our community. The relay servers are controlled by their respective server donors. Then we have a bunch of people in our forums who help out with moderation, helping out support, testing etc. I am also working hard to make the site more open, and one day I’ll have every member help out with editing music data, uploading missing album covers, adding news etc. So we’ll get a much flatter hierarchical structure.
Were there any moments when it seemed that the project would fail? How did you navigate through those times?
The relay servers are set up by kind people - they do this out of free will – and can, whenever they want, take them down again. This has happened a few times in the past, so at some times we were almost out of relay servers and therefore it was hard to get on the air. But this has solved itself when other people has stepped in and donated bandwidth. As everything is donated and done purely for the fun of it, we have never really felt it would fail, not completely at least. As we have quite a strong little following, there’s always someone who’s stepping in helping out when somethings needs to be done.
Was there a moment you knew you’d discovered a winning formula? If yes, please tell us about it.
It was actually the day the first server was full! Then I knew that at least six people around the globe were interested in an idea like this. Then as we got our first relay server it, too, was filled pretty quickly, and then I knew for certain that this was something that could grow. Then our forum was up and running in 2003, and people started registering and writing about this and that. And from that day onward, I could never stop running this project.
What was the most encouraging event so far for Radio Rivendell? The most discouraging event?
The most encouraging event I think was when we were contacted by a record company (Waerloga Records) who complained (!) that their music wasn’t played! Then one day I was contacted by an agent who’s promoting Inon Zur, Jesper Kyd and many more and he wanted to give us albums to play from many new games such as Dragon Age and Assassin’s Creed. That was really encouraging!
The most difficult time was when American lawyers contacted us, asking if we paid a streaming license. But then we just changed our direction, dropped all big major soundtracks and just played what we had obtained the rights to play. That’s actually more fun – playing lesser known artists and spreading their music to an interested audience rather than playing Howard Shore yet again. So it was both a tough day, but also the best, in a way.
How many musical artists have submitted work to your site?
While I don’t have an exact count, it is at least 100 artists. Most of them are aware that we are promoting their work, although there might still be some on our radio that don’t know their music is played, as we have a few albums downloaded from their official pages where the albums could be downloaded.
How many users have registered with Radio Rivendell?
Today, it’s 12391 and counting; we get between 5 to 15 new members every day now.
How much bandwidth is chewed up by all those listeners?
Currently, when we have 227 listeners, we’re using around 30 megabit / second, but we have a capacity of roughly 3400 listeners, so we have plenty of room for more!
Are you recruiting musical talent for the site now? How would a musician go about submitting?
We are always looking for new talent! Anyone is more than welcome to send us their stuff! Either send me a physical CD through the mail or put your music in a ZIP-file on the web and mail me the details on how I can get it. Everything needs to be tagged correctly so we can give you the correct credit. And by submitting a biography, links, artwork etc. you will be able to get more fans and visitors to your site. We have a page which describes this: http://www.radiorivendell.com/page/composers/
Do you currently need other forms of talent (artists, programmers, designers, that sort of thing)?
We’re looking for that sort of talent, also. While we are seeking mainly composers, we also need designers and graphic artists as well as people interested in working with content. We have a few interviews with more known composers like Inon Zur, and we’re always trying to expand this section as we go along. Artwork is something we will continue with; I have an idea were I want the background image behind the page to be painted by artists, giving them credit and linking to their portfolio, sort of an advertisement.
What is the greatest challenge you’re currently facing?
To have time for it all! I run my own little Web design agency, and it takes a lot of work, but the more work I put into Radio Rivendell, the better it gets. And by making it more open and collaborative, I can hand out tasks to those who have more time and more talent. It would be nice to work on the site full-time, but that’s not really possible, I’m afraid.
Are there any future plans for the site you’d feel comfortable discussing now?
Indeed! As mentioned above, I’m working on opening up things more, making it possible for the community to work on the content themselves, something like a wiki. That way, we’ll have better and more complete content without me dying from trying to do it all myself. Then I have been talking with at least one graphic artist for publishing an online comic, but that was a long time ago now. I didn’t have the time to complete that piece of code then, but I’ll get into that one day, too. My list of things I want to do is growing every day; I will never be out of ideas! One thing’s for certain, we’ll grow and grow and I’ll add more and more features! We’ve just gotten the XP-system going, and all things you do on the site gives you some experience points, and you then advance through the levels when you rate the music and write in the forums, for example. Currently, you don’t get anything special other than a fancy level figure, but the levels will give you more options within the site. I want it to feel like a little friendly game where you get something back from contributing; helping out should be both fun and rewarding!
Where would you like to see the site in five years?
At least twice the size and our community is helping out with editing information, and we’re in contact with more big composers and we have a lot of more official game soundtracks on the air.
How can Athenaeum readers help you get there?
By coming back often, logging in and hanging around in the forums and taking part in our discussions. I want the whole process to be open and friendly. I’ve heard that we’re the friendliest forum on the Web, and that’s something I want to to be true forever. So register, and take part in our discussions, post your poems or artwork, get feedback and give feedback to others. And spread the word of Radio Rivendell! I have never really promoted the site myself, and never bought ad space. I’ve seen it as a little viral project of its own. If people like it, they talk about it with their friends and it will grow out of sincerity and interest rather than money and hype. That way it will grow nice and slow - and strongly.