The FezGuys
Get Involved! or
How a Project Studio Owner/Operator With A Computer May Influence The Standardization Of Audio On The Internet
[ No. 10 - August 1997 ]

Things That Are New

Progressive Networks (RealAudio) is focusing technological and marketing resources on video. Audioactive has redone their website Liquid Audio is aiming for an end of summer 2.0 release of their entire suite of tools (incorporating the ability to sell and track your music). Xing Streamworks 3.0 (optimized for MMX chips) should be out of beta now and into the market (it uses the MPEG - Layer I audio codec, the server supports PC, UNIX, LINUX, Solaris and Windows/NT while the player works with all of the preceeding plus the Mac. The whole suite is backwards compatible with their 2.0 version.)

Related URLs:
RealMedia - <>
Audioactive - <>
LiquidAudio - <>
Xing - <>

You are a creative person. You can focus, for hours at a time, on your music, in your studio, to the exclusion of all else. The creative process is better than football, better than parties and better, almost, than sex. Even deeply focused people must come up for air, though, and find out what's influencing the artistic atmosphere in which they breathe.

In this month's column we touch on the organized players who have a stake in the way music is made, stored, transmitted, marketed and commercialized on the Internet. And how you can add your voice to a community that actually welcomes input.

The Web is a loose, hybrid structure of interrelated elements. Often, however, it appears that the system works only when the stars are aligned. Upon this celebrated, hypothetical, celestial convergence the angelic choirs sing and millions of dollars get deposited in your name into a bank account on the island of Grand Cayman. Is that why you stay up so late, agonizing over the placement of a quarter note? Get out of the music business now! Go do something where you are guaranteed a huge profit or a quick end to suffering, like arms dealing.

Using the Internet for getting your music heard involves becoming active and involved in a fresh and constantly morphing playground. Meet some of your playmates.

These high-profile groups can be arranged on a loose framework of tech companies and their trade groups, the "record" labels and their trade groups, the transmission group (telcos and satellite companies), the collection societies (SESAC, BMI, ASCAP, etc...), and you, the artist (or, in the jargon of this baby industry: "content creator".) We place you, dear artist, last in this list to most bluntly show you how the music industry thinks of you when they are deciding how best to position themselves to get what they want.

The FezGuys know that you, the artist, are the reason they exist. We encourage you to take responsibility for that. So here's who they are, their apparent public position and the beginning of a dialogue that asks the musical question: "Where, oh where, can my little dog be...oh where, oh where can it be?" Sing along with us.

A Meeting Of Some Minds
(FezGuys AES Report)

At 85 miles-per-hour and 2000 feet above sea level, the city of Seattle, on a sunny day, is a burst of geometrical shapes like quartz crystals resting in the palm of your hand. Bemused and awed, the FezGuys were flown (on a Friday the 13th) for thirty dreamlike minutes in a perfectly restored, 1927, Travel-Aire, open-cockpit biplane. We were attending the 14th international AES conference called: "". Clever, no? During the course of many meetings and discussion groups (of which some of the material presented above was gathered) the FezGuys took note of the core level of interest and excitement generated by most of the attendees. It seems that the audio community is being knocked on it's proverbial ear by the explosion of new technologies. Everyone wants to play and it is interesting to observe that the contribution of the artist is made conspicuous by its' absence in these proceedings. Still, much information was exchanged and much support sought and received. Among the "experience bites" of the three day event were: an eighth-grade level explanation (with pie charts) of how ASCAP does business, presented by a man in a black buttondown shirt and very expensive shoes; the consistent hardware and software problems with every observed demonstration using a laptop (of any variety); lost keys; beautiful weather; charming German MPEG scientists ("one percent packet loss is UNACCEPTABLE") carefully explaining the often incomprehensible physics of psychoacoustics ("it sounds like someone scraping glass under water"); inappropriate and time-monopolizing (but impassioned) corporate plugs for Web Radio stations during technical meetings; rampant networking; lattice filters; Bessler membranes; vectors of frequency co-efficients and, accepting the award for most unclear on the concept: the flow chart showing a state-of-the-art multimedia production studio that used a Mac Classic icon to represent the workstation itself. Second prize goes to the representative of Microsoft who began his demonstration of NetShow in front of a roomful of audio engineers by stating (in a remarkable display of hubris): "this is where Microsoft is taking broadcast technology." When asked, by your correspondents, to make a comment on the conference, an audio engineer (employed by Dolby Laboratories) was heard to state boldly: "I think everyone here is very happy."

Serendipitously, during the flight back home, a conversation was had with a lawyer responsible for negotiating international rights surrounding Lockheed/Martin's placement of a network of five satellites in geosynchronous orbit, operating in the K band, for the purposes of data transmission (read: Internet). He predicts that, in five years, one little antennae outside a window is all you'll need for high-bandwidth connectivity. Asked if he could be more vague he pointed to his kids who were playing with a handheld Chinese Tamagotchi analog called a "GigaPet." The landing was uneventful.

The Tech Companies

Liquid Audio
Microsoft NetShow
Progressive Networks

These are the some of the tool providers for the artist painting on the canvas of the World Wide Web. All of these companies have slightly different kinds of tools and each is scrambling to be the technology standard for audio distribution on the Internet. Next month we will closely examine the subtle differences between these companies.

Supporting the tech community are several trade groups including the AES (about which much has been said elsewhere in this magazine) and the International Webcasters Association (IWA). By being involved in these surprisingly democratic organizations the artist opens up to a free exchange of useful information about his or her community and the opportunity to participate in it's ongoing creation. We're not just whistling "Dixie" here, this Internet/audio industry is being born as you read this. Now is a good time to make your feelings known.

The Transmission Companies

Delivery and Connectivity: we gotta drive to town (or take the train) and somebody maintains the roads and tracks. The transmission companies own (or lease) this info turnpike. Tolls are charged and access is limited. Satellite and telephone companies play for huge money stakes of which data transmission of audio on the Internet is a small part, monetarily, but a big part in showing up the limitations of the existing network. Streaming media is causing traffic jams on systems designed to carry voice transmission. Since most publicly held companies of this size are interested in the quarterly statement (instead of long-term common-sense); their profit motive drives policy. For example: in America, PacBell and Bell Atlantic have gone to court to get permission to charge local ISPs around the country to receive calls from their subscribers (as with cell phones). It's interesting to note that some of these telcos also have subsidiary companies who are ISPs themselves, and you can imagine there's likely to be some perks for them by playing both sides of the fence. Result: Baby Bell ISPs can put other ISPs out of business by ensuring the lowest fees. These telephone companies want to be your one and only ISP. A monopoly is a monopoly is a monopoly...

The Collection Societies

The name says it all. If you are under contract to one of these self-described "collection societies" (BMI, ASCAP, SESAC and others) they promise to aggresively extract payment from anyone that plays your song in a profit-oriented environment and they will make sure that you get some of that money. Their business model and its methods are based on a distribution technology and an arts culture that is half a century out of date. They need a new approach if they are to survive and be useful in the medium of the Internet. One that goes beyond merely protecting their special interests. The collection society is where artistic expression comes to a grinding halt. Think of the Girl Scouts paying a fee for the right to sing their own theme song...

The Labels

Traditionally the most visible element of the music business community, the six major labels seem to be adopting a wait and see approach to the commerce of music on the Internet. Maybe they don't want to offend their traditional distribution arms. Hey, if the system works, why change it? Have a beer... The label support group, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), is howling about Internet piracy and furiously waving the American flag. Yes, piracy exists. It's not that big a problem, gang. If one looks at the real-world figures one realizes that the statistic of retail sales dollars lost to piracy is a fantasy number. There is no way to measure and calculate such a figure. Are bootleg CDs in your face like the latest album from U2? No. And they never will be. Keeping our attention focused on such fabrications blurs the urgency of actual reforms hinted at by the creative use of Internet-related technologies. Lower costs, closer contact with an artist, simpler promotion and the ability to choose between many different musical voices instead of (mostly) profit-oriented "product" are possible here. Time to stop covering your collective asses, dear "record" labels, and take some artistic chances.

Things That Are Useful: Tagging & Watermarking

A fast explanation of some copyright protection terminology for audio on the Internet, in this case: the difference between tagging and watermaking. In a nutshell: tagging is including copyright information (authorship, ownership, status of "right to use") within the header of the encoded audio file. Watermarking is placing this same information within the actual audio waveform, (within the music) prior to encoding of that music into a digital file.

The major player in the micro-universe of audio on the Internet is you, the artist. It is the music you make that tosses a pebble in a pond making ripples that lap far shores. The above mentioned organizations and groups want to help you get your wave to that shore and they all have a different way of seeing themselves do that. You, however, what do you want? You want to rule the world, of course. Tell these people what you think. Mutate the pop model and create more then just a great song. Create some new community.

An Open Dialogue

There is a bulletin board at <> in which one and all are invited to participate. Share ideas, information, support, comments, leads and opinions on how to optimize your use of the Internet as a medium to get yourself heard. Beyond the traditional one-way communication of print media are lots of opportunities in a threaded discussion to educate oneself and interact. Knowledge is power.

May the Fez be with you!

The FezGuys encourage participation in the Internet audio community. Please stop by: <>



About the authors:

Jon Luini is a working technophile, a musician (bass player/singer) with full-blown facility and extensive experience on the Web and no free time. He is a co-founder of IUMA and MediaCast, co-creator of Addicted To Noise, and runs an Internet and music consulting and technology company, Chime Interactive (formerly Evolve Internet Solutions). <>

Allen Whitman is a working musician (bass player/singer/producer) with a keen, real-world interest in the practical use of the Web. Music credits include: The Mermen, "Brine-The Antisurf Soundtrack, biL, Deep Field South, Doormouse, Delectric and Drizzoletto. He has written for the San Francisco Examiner, Wired, EQ, Revolution, Yahoo Internet Life, Prosound News, Surround Professional, Replication News and others. <>

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