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
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.
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:
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.
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, MP3.com (the industry upstart ruffling the major
labels' feathers) received $11 million from Silicon Valley venture
capital company Sequoia Capital. Does this make MP3.com 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.
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
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 http://www.BandThings.com.
Amazons payment scheme is:
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:
- Amazon.com'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
- The musician selects the retail price that Amazon.com will charge and
can cancel the deal anytime for any reason, or no reason at all.
- 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.
- Amazon.com's successes may offer a strong comfort level for some.
Maybe Amazon.com's experience with e-commerce and tech support makes
- As a startup, Amazon.com had to fight the humungo corporations (still
do), just like you.
- 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!
- The FezGuys neither recommend or condemn Amazon.com's practices
(there's a shocker).
The FezGuys pledge to consider all things under their fair cloak.