The FezGuys
Spring Internet World or
"Stream a Little Stream of Me"
[ No. 31 - May 1999 ]

What's New

Beatnik 2.0

Headspace, Inc., of San Mateo, CA, announces their groovy new Beatnik 2.0 release, an upgrade for the powerful, great-sounding Beatnik suite of audio tools. The new version supports MP3 compression. MIDI users rejoice! Now you can use MP3 compression for RMF MIDI-controlled samples. Boasting 64 voice polyphony (up from 32) and doubling the simultaneous audio instances from 8 to 16, a body no longer has to be a brain surgeon to have a bunch of sonic stuff all happening at once! Content developers can create "sonified" web pages once and have them work seamlessly within MSIE or Netscape. Four new reverbs are available. The Pro version (at $19) offers a fat, 6MB sound bank and 44.1kHz, 16bit CD quality audio. The package is now available for Mac or Windows. Hooray! <>.

Microsoft Windows Media Technologies 4.0

Mentioned elsewhere in this column, this new technology brags FM quality stereo streaming at 28.8k bitrates (!) and MP3 quality audio at half the stream size (64kbps near-CD quality) using three new advanced proprietary codecs (music audio, video and voice audio). Also included are rights management, pay per view capability and a host of other features.

Initial FezGuy at-a-glance analysis shows that, without delving too deeply into the inner workings of the technology, the audio does indeed sound far superior to their previous offering. Perhaps even better than the new Real G2 (Cook) codec, making it potentially the best sounding low-bitrate codec. Of course, you can trust us to get under the hood with a more detailed report very soon. Our FezPop always said: " If it's true, it ain't bragging." <>

RealNetworks Acquires Xing Technology

Also, in the continuing trend towards Web conglomeration, RealNetworks has announced it is purchasing Xing Streamworks. This should be a good thing for consumers and content producers alike. The FezGuys trust that this will result in more tightly integrating MP3 technology into RealNetworks' enormous user base. The downside is that Digital Bitcasting, who have been providing MPEG plug-ins for RealNetworks technologies, may be left out of the loop. Digital Bitcasting is a small company that provides a great service and we're hoping they'll find an appropriate arena for their obvious talents. <>, <>

"It's difficult to predict the future without history." - Charlie Gilreath

In the yawning chasm of the Los Angeles Convention Center hordes of freshly minted e-business warriors descend upon each other, stoking a feeding frenzy of commerce, cash and control. The usual suspects are represented: Intel, MCI, Microsoft, AT&T and even the hoary old United States Postal Service (using Steve Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle" as their ad-line, proving how music suffuses life at every level). From the eight T1 lines to the 35 miles of Category 5 copper cable strung throughout the buildings, the truly stupendous level of resources and energy dwarfs the annual budget of all the public schools in South Central Los Angeles.

"Excellent sales pitch. Not what I asked for, but..." - Michael Tchong

Long lines of humanity snake in tortuous trails as Street Blimp trucks waste tanker loads of gasoline driving the streets around and around the gigantic halls, displaying orange and yellow placards that tout products with names that can't be pronounced, let alone spelled. It's the business of the Internet and it's business as usual, but with an edge. Everybody, from gray-suited corporate stiffs to promo flacks fresh out of junior college, speaks in the language of "Internet Time." History teaches that as soon as the big corporations start picking up the vernacular of the street, meanings of words devolve into mere sounds. Your FezGuys are there, to separate vapor from verity. We used the sharpest, longest blade we could lay our hands on. And we went snicker-snack.

Statistics flew fast and furious and what's left of Ronald Reagan made it all too clear just how stupid facts can be when stuck in a feedback loop. Try these: the business of music is worth $38 billion. Over 75% of Internet-based music companies didn't exist a couple of years ago. 65% of music buyers have access to the Internet. There are over 200 million email addresses. And the brilliant observation that, at this stage of Web audio, we are playing "Pong." All this mess to ask the question: "How the hell can we make money using (and we mean 'using') the INTERNET (acronym: Incredible Notion To Entertain Really New E-business Techniques)?"

"The great thing about music is it's really complimentary." - Mark Wachen, an Internet radio station offering genre specific music streams, stunned themselves by experiencing a 700% increase in traffic since July of last summer. They reported the recent news that "MP3" was the most popular word entered into search engines, displacing, if it can be believed, "SEX". Human nature must be headed towards extinction. The kids went so far as to hint at future interactivity. Ground breaking! People could potentially be their own DJ by programming personalized streaming audio content from a wide variety of musical styles.

" sucks balls." - A 19-year old geek quoted in Rolling Stone Magazine

Of course the current hero of Everyman was there. Michael Robertson, Chairman/CEO of battered, but still valiant, sat patiently, awaiting his turn to rant the good rant. He looked pre-occupied, staring out into the crowd as if challenging them to a duel. A true rock star without a guitar (he claims he has no experience in music, except for some clarinet in high school) Mr. Robertson fired his insistent tirade right down the throats of the attendees. "Ten-thousand artists currently represented on the site with 125 new artists being added every day." "250,000 visitors to every day." " represents a change in the model of the record industry from ownership of music into a service-oriented business." "The Internet has made the consumer more powerful then the corporation." He went on to announce that artists can receive daily statistics on sales and downloads unlike the major labels, which typically take eighteen months to reveal stats. Also unlike the majors, artists can leave the partnership at any time and take everything with them. Mr. Robertson offered this caveat: " is a meritocracy." That means: "a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement." The FezGuys know that because we looked it up.

"The software hides all that yucky stuff." - Michael Robertson

But something is slightly off-color here. Michael Robertson has the power of righteousness in him. And though he is right about so many things relating to how record companies treat artists, there is a touch of the born-again Fundamentalist to his message. Mr. Robertson might just be the Internet audio equivalent of the young Annakin Skywalker, poised on the knife-edge of decision. Will he go to the Dark Side and become Darth Vader? Will we be hearing soon that is now a wholly owned subsidiary of America Online, in a stock swap worth billions?

Probably not. But after his talk he is mobbed by eager business card traders.

In other rooms various new technologies were announced with much hoopla. Microsoft unveiled its new Windows Media Technology 4.0 suite in a blowout at the House of Blues, on Sunset Blvd. There was much rejoicing, sort of. Elsewhere, IBM and RealNetworks announced an unsurprising partnership to develop a secure digital download system that they hope will be adopted by the major labels. A yawn was heard throughout the music community as listeners pondered yet another offering in the bewildering array of overly complex, totalitarian Internet audio software. Open Standards? Major labels don't need no steenkin' Open Standards. They're not interested in anyone's rights. They're interested in control. God bless 'em.

"You don't need any bait with a net." - Andy Abramson

In the licensing session "Navigating the Licensing Minefield", complex issues surrounding legally incorporating music online were covered in a succinct fashion. An actual lawyer strongly recommended musicians keep control of their publishing and master recording rights. The FezGuys are grateful this formerly inside information is making it into the mainstream conference agenda.

"The emerging dilemma is do you take a traditional label deal?" - Brad Biddle

If the FezGuys have learned anything over the past few years, the answer is probably no.

Letters To The FezGuys

Hello, I am experimenting for the first time with downloading sound files from the Internet. I need to take a downloaded RealAudio file and convert it into Sound Designer II or AIF format for importing into Pro Tools software. Digidesign tech support initially said that Pro Tools v4.3 can convert RealAudio files into SDII. When this proved untrue, Product Support told me to call WAVES, to see if Waveconvert software would convert RealAudio files. WAVES said no, and that they don't know of any software that does. Then someone on the Pro Tools users conference said Barbabatch software would do the conversion...but Barbabatch said no. So, my question is: can RealAudio files be retained and converted? If not, how do I download an audio file in a format that can be converted to SDII? Thank you very much for your help. - Deb Driscoll

Hi Deb- Good question! People are often asking for tools to convert a RealAudio file to a WAV or AIF file. Alas, RealNetworks doesn't currently provide one. There are some hacker-type programs floating around the Internet which are reported to do this, but the most straightforward (though admittedly unpleasant) solution we've come across is to take a line-out from your sound card into another audio input (be it traditional analog/digital device or another computer). Then it can be encoded. Remember that unless it's a high-bitrate RealAudio file, the quality of the resulting AIF/WAV file is going to be rather poor. One other detail to note is that when you have a .ram file on your desktop, it's typically the "metafile" which contains *only* the pointer to the actual audio file, and not the audio file itself (which is named either .ra or .rm). Your other options are to limit your downloads to formats that are currently supported by Sound Designer II. If the sound file of your choice is not available in a format you can use, you might try emailing the site's creators with your request.

Good luck and happy converting! - The FezGuys



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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