The FezGuys
The RealConference of RealPeople
[ No. 32 - June 1999 ]

What's New

Microsoft sees money! MS has formed a Streaming Media Division to make sure they extract their fair share from the growing market in streaming media. The obvious focus here will be music, radio, news and event applications alongside lucrative online training and corporate communications. At least now MS will actually collaborate with the rest of the industry, all for your benefit of course! The FezGuys figure MS will end up buying the companies that even appear to know what they're doing anyway.


Got Legacy Content? Don't know what the deuce that means? Alright: say you have a very private collection of Super 8 movies, 700 in fact, all patiently encoded last year by you as Quicktime files. Now, you have no idea how to convert these files into streaming media... or you have no desire to make the time. Well, help is here! (an offering by at , will convert your .AVI or .WAV files into multiple streaming file types including MP3, Windows Media Technologies (including version 4.0) and Real Media (G2 or 5.0) for several bitrates. It's free but jump quick, maestro, because subscriptions to the site will begin at $39.00 for 100 MB of transcoding "later in 1999". Hosting will be sold in packages starting at around $40 per month. (Prices are determined based on a variety of criteria, such as time, size of files stored, number of views to the file and the compelling nature of the content. Ok, we made that last little bit up, about the content, that is.)


The Grateful Dead will allow free downloads of live performance MP3s. Apparently, as long as fans do not buy or sell, MP3 files of live material "not taken from commercially available live albums" may be traded freely. The announcement is consistent with the Dead's long-standing agreement to allow recording of their shows.

Officially, any web site owner can freely download MP3-encoded live Dead material. Site owners, however, cannot receive any revenue from the transaction. That includes not charging for downloads, not soliciting any advertising, not posting any type of banner ads and not selling email addresses or other data about users.

Details aren't available about the Dead's cover versions of others' songs. The FezGuys assume those won't be free. Sure, following the trail of licensing revenue for covers isn't the Dead's responsibility but everyone benefits if they educate their fans about the issues.


"...and it's real, so real, so real, so real, woo!" - Friends Of Distinction

San Francisco, home to more twenty-something, tech-stock millionaires than Switzerland has punctual trains, hosted the "Real Conference," at the synchronistically jukebox-shaped Marriott Hotel over May 5th - 7th, 1999. The conference was easy to find, housed in the mountain of glass and faux-deco cornices, but much more difficult to know exactly who it is we're dealing with. Is the host organization RealAudio? Or is it RealNetworks, as it's sometimes introduced? What happened to Progressive Networks? Or maybe it's RealMedia? RealServer? RealPlayer? RealSystem? Microsoft? If that weren't confusing enough we found ourselves staring at a sign advertising the Sunday sermon at a nearby church: "Real Forgiveness." Everything was starting to unravel until finally the answer was made clear, with giant letters in the halls of the hotel. "RealNetworks."

Denim shirted RealEmployees skipped hither and yon as your FezGuys boldly strode the hallways in search if pungent datum. In large meeting rooms and on the exhibition floor fifty companies strategically aligned with the RealPeople displayed their own wares and explained how their stuff dovetails so neatly with Real's own products and services.

And stuff there was, lots of it. The new RealJukebox (of course it would be named that!) was unveiled with much fanfare. A digital music system only for the PC (no other platforms will be supported before the dreaded Y2K hits), RealJukebox can be used to rip audio from a CD to your hard drive, sort and manage encrypted and compressed soundfiles on your computer in a variety of formats (MP3, RealAudio, Liquid Audio, a2b Music), encode audio to MP3 or RealAudio formats and even tie into online purchasing of physical product. The RealJukebox system records pretty fast, less than half the time it takes to listen to the music in real time (depending on the speed of your CDROM drive), so you can have web-ready or portable flash-memory files prepped for transfer in a jiffy. The system has some snazzy features to speed up the process too, like automated artist/album/song searches via CDDB (<>), drag and drop song menus, automatic software updates and, get this: it's free.

So is this Jukebox thing really relevant? Yup. It neatly sidesteps all of the hullabaloo in the music business about SDMI-secure-encrypted-digital-whatever and effectively puts the tools in the hands of the consumer. The Jukebox allows home users to convert all their CDs into soundfiles on their computer. What's happening here is nothing less than a kickstart for the next wave of consumer acceptance of music on computers. In order for a product or technology to become accepted it must be easy to use, relatively cheap and be everywhere. Think of ATMs. If the desired outcome of the business of music transacted on the Internet is pay-per-listen then the invisibility of the process is required. The regular consumer shouldn't have to think and the process shouldn't require any effort beyond pressing a button or two. Sorry to say, that's the way it is.

For you content providers a variety of other creation and distribution plugins in the Real family were announced. Features present in RealServer 5.0 which were initially missing from the G2 release have finally been added including SureStream simulated live encoding (SLTA) and archiving of live SureStream feeds. Various other stability and performance improvements were mentioned.

In taking a step back from the hype in the marketplace it becomes clear that the RealPlayer is becoming more and more like a browser. RealPlayer G2 now can expand to a larger window with cycling banners and other multimedia content the manner of web pages. It makes sense; people linked to your streams and their listeners will get the exact banner information you choose to associate with your content. That same information could be an ad or a link to purchase your CD.

Real hinted at details about a "Janus" project - purported to be a search service in which all RealMedia content producers associate their content with keywords and text. End users will be allowed to search throughout the database for the Real encoded content of their choice. It sounds like a useful service. The big question is whether RealNetworks should own that kind of data. We'll keep an eye on that.

For anyone folding in video content, RealVideo's export function now supports Quicktime's architecture. This is a sweet little timesaver. Files can now be exported directly to RealVideo from your editing software without having to save as unwieldy AVI or Quicktime files prior to encoding.

Looking around the conference, it's easy to see that RealNetworks is firmly entrenched and viciously defending their territory. It's a huge territory, too, with over 60 million registered RealPlayer users, distribution deals with AOL, Netscape, MSIE, US Robotics and Creative Labs (to name a few), and an astonishing (if true) statistic claiming over 300,000 hours of live content for RealAudio and Video produced each week. With a stated figure of over 85% of all streaming media content on the Internet encoded in Real's formats, their marketshare is pretty solid. Too bad they only see fit to release their product for Windows. It would be useful for Real to recognize that, though Windows is the desktop leader, there is a powerful and growing Macintosh and UNIX (Linux, FreeBSD, Solaris, etc...) userbase out here.

"The record label doesn't screw the artist." - Dreamworks Records exec.

In darkened ballrooms experts expound and attendees, after ponying up the 800 dollar entrance fee, furiously take notes. The noisy industrial air-conditioning system agitates pieces of large glass chandeliers. They bonk and chime against each other until the room sounds like the ambient audio in a VR gamescape. All that's missing are Greek columns and enigmatic control interfaces. We entertain a wild fantasy of stealing the RealNetworks denim uniform, infiltrating the RealHolodeck where we hack the code to access the RealBorg. A RealNetworks demo using deformed frog pictures snaps us back to RealIty.

Upstairs the exhibitioners explain how they're technologically compliant to RealNetworks' protocol. Everybody wants to ride this camel in the direction it's going. Intel, Oracle and Sun rub elbows with Macromedia, Avid and even Liquid Audio. Everybody wants to show you why stuff works great. AT&T's a2b music representative, disdaining mere demonstrations, suggests that attendees are better served if they privately contact the telecommunications giant. We'll leave it to you to decide what makes them so different.

The FezGuys say this: RealNetworks is on the ball with plugin architecture. Used to be we'd hear about the upgrade, find the download link, wait for the transfer, install the new version and then try to fit it in with everything else we had running from the previous version. It was a pain in the ass to continuously upgrade RealAudio. Real now makes it easier for partners to design their own plugins. Now if they'd only get rid of that annoying pop-up window on their web site!

"Another year, another codec." - Steve Mack

Perhaps the most entertaining and useful session was headed by Steve Mack (a ranking audio engineer for Real). He spoke passionately and convincingly about optimizing RealMedia audio and video content. Mr. Mack was clear, succinct and provided useful information. It was a perfect combination of entertainment and raw data. And he didn't wear the RealShirt.

Letters To The FezGuys

Hey, guys. I found my way to through EQ Mag earlier today. I bookmarked it immediately and emailed the URL of your current MP3 article to some technofile friends. I'm in a band and we're developing our web presence (, The Orchard, NoiseBox, Amazon, CDNOW, etc.) and we're always looking for more ways to spread the word. I'd like to get Liquid Audio clips of the same songs we're currently offering. But from what I gather - and it's not all that clear - it's going to cost both to Liquify my tunes and to host them. Can you offer any advice or cheap alternatives? I suppose I could sign up with another music provider to host our tunes, but I'd rather host them on my own server. Keep up the great work -- just finding subjective writing about music on the Internet by musicians and FOR musicians is what I'm psyched to have accomplished today, if nothing else. - Joey/Center Divide

Dear Joey, Kudos to you using all music portals (lingo alert!) to promote your songs. You join musicians like Chuck D. (of Public Enemy) who are cutting every (non-exclusive) deal available to reach as many listeners as possible. If you're already giving away some of your material via MP3 and RealAudio, carefully consider the usefulness of adding Liquid Audio (or other formats such as MS Audio 4.0, a2b, etc...). Are you planning on selling digital tracks and very concerned about being as secure as possible? If so, the $100 it'll take you to purchase the Liquifier encoder may be worthwhile. The fee also includes space for about 5 songs on their servers. But it sounds like you're already in good shape and don't necessarily need to spend the money just now. Focus instead on more sites to place your music (<>, <>, or <> to name a few). Keep up the good work! - The FezGuys

The FezGuys salute all rejoinders!



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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