The FezGuys
Water, Water Everywhere...
[ No. 30 - April 1999 ]

Everyone in the music industry these days is fanatically signing on to the good ship "Succesful Business Model for Secure Download Internet Music Company." In one corner it's the Sharper Image-worshipping boy's club of the Big Labels. Over here it's coke-addled industry has-beens waiting with the patience of parasites for another shot at being a Player. The whole tribe of 'em smell the ghost of 1970's excess and greed. It's a new world out there and there's no map of Internet Incognita. Like poets and pickpockets in mid-eighteenth century coastal cities of Europe they're discarding all common-sense and running away to sea. The dimensionless shores of networked digital diskspace are littered with wrecks; start-ups whose captain and crew were unwilling or unable to sail beyond the channel just outside their own harbors.

Thankfully, the intrepid independent can still take advantage of what the music industry feudal states would dearly love to control. Here are some navigational aids for the explorer who wishes not to rule the entire ocean, but only to rule oneself.

A High-Quality MP3 Encoder for the Macintosh

The Macintosh version of the Xing AudioCatalyst MP3 encoder has arrived. While the front end (or GUI) isn't as polished as the Windows version (understandable for a first release), the engine is every bit as bitchin'. You can encode to MP3 from CD, AIFF file, or live from an external audio input. Some useful features in the Windows version are curiously absent from the Mac release: setting start and end times of a track to encode (useful for those 30 second clips) and an extremely configurable automatic file-naming interface. Also the CDDB interface (Web-based CD name and song title search) is a bit non-intuitive, requiring you to add songs to your playlist before requesting a CDDB fetch (which must be done each time you change the list). There were some playback glitches, but they turned out to be problems with earlier versions of the Macamp player we were using. If you use Macamp, make sure to have a recent version (MacAmp Lite 1.0b7 or later). If you are using Xing's player there should be no difficulty.

Our FezLab test results (Macintosh 8500/150 with 80MB RAM and 4x CD-ROM) show that encoding direct to MP3 from CD takes approximately 50% longer than realtime. Not as fast as our Windows machine, but for the convenience of being able to use your Mac, it's well-worthwhile!

This is a good product; quick, dependable and fairly priced at $35 (currently available discounted at $30 via online purchase). There are many free or shareware MP3 encoders (try a search!) that perform to various degrees of satisfaction (some take up to 40 minutes to encode a single song from CD). What may be extra useful about the Xing encoder is the tech support. After all, when you buy something, you buy the right to bug them if it doesn't work to your satisfaction. This first release of the Xing AudioCatalyst MP3 encoder for Macintosh rates TWO and 1/2 FEZZES. We're eagerly awaiting the second version. <>

A Lot of Money

In a clear indication of the seductive qualities of new media on the old cigar-chomping broadcasting club an astounding $100 Million dollars has been earmarked by CMGI (an Internet-focused venture capital company with members like Intel, Microsoft and Sumitomo) to create a startup company that will seek to be the Rupert Murdoch of streaming media. CMGI and Neil Braun (former president of NBC television) are hell-bent on building the perfect beast: an Internet broadcast company bigger than God. Will streaming media become more popular than television? Remember how AM radio used to be huge? You don't? How old are you anyway? Check out the hyperbole: <>.

Stay Sharp...

Tom Petty joins the slowly growing ranks of "signed to a major" musicians losing the DIY abilities the Internet provides. Petty's label (like the labels of the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy) forced the musician to pull MP3-encoded files off the Web. Seen by label execs as direct competition to physical sales of plastic discs, the MP3 files have caused a growing storm in the already volatile realm of musician/label relations. In a possibly apochryphal tale, Petty is said to have attended a meeting of execs some years back and, finding himself unhappy with the proceedings, pulled out a switchblade and pointedly cleaned his fingernails. Whether the action improved the endgame of his negotiation is unclear. What is clear is paranoia and control rule the day in corporate boardrooms.

Here In My Car...

Still think you're wasting your time encoding music files because people can only listen on big computers in their home or office? What started as a dribble of mobile playback devices for MP3-encoded music is sure to become a torrent. Check these toys out and keep putting your music online. <>, <>, <>.

Redmond...What Are They Doing Here?

Microsoft joins the fray (along with AT&T's a2b music, IBM, Sony and a host of others) to be your evertruly digital music delivery player. The megacorp fired a $15 million salvo at Reciprocal, Inc., a company that provides "digital rights management enabling copyright protection, distribution, usage of and payment for music and other digital content." Yeah, there's a lot of money to be made and your favorite U.S. government whipping boy (after people who smoke pot) is gonna be there. To be fair, (the industry upstart ruffling the major labels' feathers) received $11 million from Silicon Valley venture capital company Sequoia Capital. Does this make part of the solution or part of the problem? Time will reveal all.

It should be noted that Reciprocal, Inc., is a member of SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative). That makes them a player in the Internet music power struggle. Reciprocal's CEO Paul Bandrowski was quoted as believing: "Internet delivery of music is about more than the technology or security; it's about the intersection of the needs of artist, label, consumer and the management of each of those participants digital rights." If he really means what he says (instead of re-quoting what musicians and music lovers are now known to like to hear), we'd like to meet him. If he's actually true to his word he's in a class by himself.

More Music!

Tired of only getting 74-minutes of music on standard Red Book CD audio? Well: how about four hours of music? An Athens, GA-based band Day By the River has released an album on CD-ROM, with four hours of MP3-encoded music. Winamp, MacAMP, and FreeAmp MP3 players are included in the disk. This is great as long as people don't really think MP3-encoded audio is CD quality. It's not, but as long as you realize this, what the hell? <>.

The Beastie Boys Keep up the Pressure

Capitol Records-affiliated label Grand Royal (Beastie Boys, Luscious Jackson) teamed with SHOUTcast, a network of amateur webcasters to be: "next to the kid webcasting from his bedroom rather than part of some NBC or CNN enterprise." So says Lisa LaCour, Grand Royal's head of new media. A major-connected label like Grand Royal taking the indie route smoothes the bumpy road of acceptance for everyone else.

SHOUTcast webcasters are invited to carry Grand Royal's streaming audio thus increasing the number of simultaneous listeners. It's free promotion. By using SHOUTcast, Grand Royal put its faith in a streaming network that has, until recently, been labeled "pirate radio." <>, <>.

Letters To The FezGuys

FezGuys - I saw your brief on Amazon finally waking up to the indie scene and wanted to point out that they are actually ripping off indie acts with their distribution 'commissions.' In the interest of full disclosure I run

Amazons payment scheme is:

Amazon Price Artist Gets
$10.99 $4.95
$12.99 $5.85
$16.99 $7.65

This is over %100 markup! By contrast BandThings markup is 25%, CDBaby is about 50%, etc... It may be worth while mentioning to folks what they are really paying, if for no other reason than to get them comparison shopping before signing out of desparation or ignorance of their options. Selling indie music over the net just got a lot easier in 1999, there are a lot of options that people should be aware of. It would also help us 'indie' internet sites who are now in competition with a humongo corporation like amazon... Thanks, Jeff

Dear Jeff, Fair enough. Musicians absolutely should know exactly what the dollar breakdown is on any deal and should make a habit of asking before signing. Hopefully nobody is signing out of desperation! You bring up several important points:

  1.'s deal is still way better than the majors. Mechanical royalty rates on typical contracts hover around the $1.25 range, after the often enormous recoupable expenses are met. Few musicians *ever* see mechanical royalties through standard distrtbution channels. Of course, good luck getting tour support!
  2. The musician selects the retail price that will charge and can cancel the deal anytime for any reason, or no reason at all.
  3. It's only a rip-off if someone is being forced to sign. If you don't like it, don't sign.. If no one signs, an unfair business usually fails.
  4.'s successes may offer a strong comfort level for some. Maybe's experience with e-commerce and tech support makes them attractive.
  5. As a startup, had to fight the humungo corporations (still do), just like you.
  6. Thank you for aggressively promoting yourself and the importance of shopping around. You're a perfect example of the Internet Audio Rebel Alliance. Keep the faith!
  7. The FezGuys neither recommend or condemn's practices (there's a shocker).

The FezGuys pledge to consider all things under their fair cloak. <>.



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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