The FezGuys
Frothing At The Mouth On The Frontlines
[ No. 37 - November 1999 ]

What's New

A new LiquidPlayer 5 preview featuring full integration of MP3, better song organization and wider support for CD-ROM burners. There is also a plugin for the Real G2 player (Windows only, Mac soon). <>

Netscape Communicator 4.7 is available for free download. It includes something called Netscape Radio, a partnership with to provide Netscape with music content. Notable: Winamp (Windows only) is now included along with the already-packaged RealPlayer G2 player, further extending Winamp's tentacles. <> - A self-proclaimed "Very Different Kind of Internet Music Company" created by Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads, in-demand pop producer) and some high-power techology folks. This is a new site you can upload music to, get (and read) reviews from other musicians, and determine ranking that ultimately leads to competing for a $250k recording deal. We'll talk a bit more about this next month. <>

Some of the latest entrants into the soon-to-be-overcrowded field of portable digital audio players: Creative Labs' Nomad player (<>), an MP3 player which also sports an FM tuner and the ability to take short MP3-based audio dictation, ships in early 2000 for under US$400. Household appliance gods RCA enter the market with their Lyra MP3 player (<>), available now for $199.99 or $299.99 for the 64MB model w/ car kit. The Lyra supports Real G2 files in addition to MP3.

Fast into fall, the FezGuys finagle a furtive flight to find a frantic feeding frenzy in full swing. Phooey! True to our ongoing mandate of reporting from the front lines, we peek inside some recent industry events - one full of suits and another full of bands.


We first visit the Los Angeles-based DDMI (aka: Digital Distribution and the Music Industry) conference over September 8th and 9th. Purported to be the place where *the* players in the continually convulsing world of online music commerce will gather, this first-time outing of a new industry get-together by First Conferences was more thud than zing. During the two days of sales pitches and hyperbole we repeatedly asked ourselves: does this business really need more seminars/conferences/junkets? It *does* need more education. But the panels and sessions of these music & technology conferences typically don't deliver real world, down-to-earth information. Once the smoke clears it's pretty obvious nobody knows which way digital distribution standards will play out.

The conference was not without amusement. The preternaturally calm and obfuscatory Douglas Armati from Intertrust (the self-described "Meta-Utility") urged all to put "trust inside the machine." The extremely polite and dissembling Karlheinz Brandenburg from the Fraunhofer Institute reminded us that MP3 is merely a "format for a representation of audio." Michael Robertson, the uberface of, was seen ducking out of the conference shortly after his speech with a cohort who urgently intoned: "I've got the software up in my room". Ah, the bedroom dealings behind closed doors. The FezGuys will not take that lying down! We will strip away the barriers to the truth! Place your hand over your heart and repeat with us: "MP3 IS NOT PURE AUDIO! THE FRAUNHOFER GANG SAYS SO! THEY SHOULD KNOW BECAUSE THEY INVENTED THE DAMN THING AND ALSO BECAUSE 1% PACKET LOSS IS UNACCEPTABLE!" (see column #10 about the packet loss conundrum).

The highlight of the conference was the Artist Panel. True enthusiasm for the possibilities of Internet audio and community was displayed by the likes of Nile Rogers (producer extraordinaire) and Dave Allen (Gang of Four, Shreikback, enlightened industry guy). Made us proud to be musicians.


Thousands of rock star wannabes descend upon Portland, OR, in hopes of a decent cup of coffee, a romp in the sack with a logger's son or daughter, or a record contract. Well, one out of three ain't bad, and that coffee was HOT. This year's NXNW extravaganza in the City of Roses (September 30th to October 2nd) marked the first year of its "Internet Technology in the Music Business" makeover. Unlike its bigger brother, SXSW (who produces NXNW), everyone present had a lot to say about the Internet. New iMacs adorned the conference rooms, brightly projecting the NXNW website and associated sites of panel members for all to see. The small tradeshow floor was littered with Internet music startups urging musicians to give them a free song. The website hawkers promised globalosity leading to fame! fortune! success!

The weather in Portland was clear and bright, the evening fine for walking between clubs. Music festivals are the physical analog of a web page: One wanders hither and yon, follows many intriguing links and encounters many strange people and strange things.

The FezGuys got into the face of the above-mentioned Michael Robertson. Though generally accepted by all as the defacto spokesperson for the emerging online music business, it appears he doesn't get the bigger picture. The music industry is moving steadily into the Internet and digital arena. But his focus remains on stock prices and the financial bottom line. He offers no clear solutions as to how a musician might stand out from the other 20,000-odd musical entities on (of course it's not their business model, but you'd think with a $2-3 billion market cap, he'd have *some* ideas!). Mr. Robertson also appears unconcerned with the downward spiral of sound quality as listeners become accustomed to 128kbps MP3 files. What if cassette audio (or, heaven help us, 8-track) had become the standard mastering format simply because of consumers' willingness to pay for it? currently sells between 500 and 1,000 CDs per day. That's one CD sold per day for one in 25 bands. These CDs are created by converting 128k MP3 files *back* to WAV (a process which results in a loss in audio quality). At those odds and that degraded audio quality the FezGuys consider Mr. Robertson (ever the brilliant business opportunist) to be over-playing his role as the voice of independent musicians. Lest we seem too harsh, Mr. Robertson can be credited with speaking up for rights and possibilities at the dawn of the Internet age. The world is certainly listening and, whatever his personal motivations, his timing couldn't be better. But it's our FezGuy oath to goad anyone who has that much visibility into acknowledging a responsibility to improve the state of the industry, not just make a few billion bucks.

Oh, there was some good music too. Alien Crime Syndicate (power pop punk) energized and emoted entertainingly. Red Meat proved people still like to dance, a refreshing dose of upbeat original country amidst a sea of alternarock. The venerable Billy Nayer Show offered lounge cacaphony at its best. It's good to see music in small venues - it reminds us how important live shows are. Merely slapping an MP3 online doesn't mean anyone will find you.

Followup on Column #35: Upload Sites

Column #35, concerning a review of five upload sites, gathered the strongest response yet from you faithful FezReaders. We thought we'd mention a few other points. These sites are hosting your stuff for free but that's no excuse for providing confusing, unnecessarily complex, or just downright bad service. Without your good music they've got nothing! If there's something you'd like to say or see changed, by all means tell them. Of course, The FezGuys always recommend politeness. As of this writing there are new players entering the field with some new twists. (see in What's New)

We received a suggestion from several of you to check out the following site. Your wish is our command!

Earbuzz <> is a cute-looking site that doesn't feel corporate. There are some spotlighted bands but no editorial explanation of their relevance. The site seems primarily focused on sales of traditional CDs and merchandise. We follow a link to becoming a "charter member." The system of the site is unclear - are we sending CDs to the office of this site by mail? Are we uploading MP3 songs? Both? Neither? After submitting our contact information we get a very confusing "Error Page." The "error" is described in programming techspeak but what, exactly, is required of the layman to correct the "error" is not mentioned. We figure it's our old privacy nemesis, telephone shyness, coming back to haunt us. Sure enough, by entering "---" instead of numerical data in the phone number box the "error" goes away. After successfully lying we receive another page answering some of our first questions, but not completely. We are queried: "Song you want MP3'd?" What if we have one to upload already? Another query: "URL to RealAudio file?" Does that mean they won't create one for us? RealAudio files linked to a website are not "normal" music files (they are usually metafiles - see column #4). What does really want, the raw data or the RA metafile? We assume they want the raw file so they can stream it from their server but, again, it's not clear. We receive the follwing message after succeesfully completing the contact info:

"Send 5-20 CDs of each title listed above for earBuzz's inventory, plus 1 CD for earBuzz promotional use (we'll record the MP3's and scan the cover, review, etc). Also include 5-20 pieces of any merchandise you want to sell. You can also send a photo promo shot that we will put on you (sic) web page."

The above message should be on the splash page in some form. Clarity of purpose from the first page just makes sense. It also saves a lot of time and answers a lot of questions.

Why not let us upload a soundfile or an image? Also, upon completion, the "Member Services" section doesn't activate right away. It would be useful to know how long we can expect to wait until our area is ready to edit. Will it be when our CDs arrive? Will it be one hour? One day?

At first glance, is not our cup of tea. The primary service of the site is mail order fulfillment, which is fine as far as it goes, but really: you can take orders and send out CDs just as easily as they can. What with all the free sites available (and happy to direct visitors to your personal website) it appears the earBuzz model is another example of an unnecessary commercial middleman, something already obsolete in the promise of the Internet age.

Letters To The FezGuys

FezGuys - I have CUBASE VST, a Motu MIDI Xpress PC, a Tascam 644, a Sony DAT machine, and a Windows soundcard. What's the best way to optimize my rig to record for the Internet as well as CDs? I read in one of your columns that you should plug the DAT (with a final mix) into the line-in on the sound card, but how do you instruct AudioCatalyst to "look" for the file to be processed from the line-in of the sound card? Or do I use Windows sound recorder to first record from the DAT then convert this file to MP3? Also: Those sites you recommended to post music on... Do they pay for downloads of the material you post? Thanks very much, guys! - Liston

Dear Liston - Whew! You're on the right track. Yes, you will want to use another application to encode from your DAT into a WAV file on your Windows PC. From there, you can use AudioCatalyst to make an MP3 from the WAV file. You can also use AudioCatalyst to convert your audio CD tracks to WAV files for use by other applications (which should include CUBASE). Click the "MP3" button settings button and select "Grab to WAV file" instead of "Grab to MP3 File". If you need MP3 as well, select "Both".

All of the free upload sites reviewed in column #35 are free all the way around. You give them a song for free, they host it and deliver it to people coming to their web site for free. It's entirely a promotional vehicle. You, as the musician, must brainstorm how to integrate all this freeness into your career. Hopefully, ultimately, this brainstorming results in a fan base who supports you. There are also different kinds of sites who will charge for downloads of your songs (,, Often these sites require exclusivity. Some sites selling digital singles act more like labels (i.e., they select bands rather than the bands selecting them). Good luck! - 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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