The FezGuys
Steal This Column!
[ No. 38 - December 1999 ]

What's New

Real's Lucky 7

The latest version of RealNetwork's RealPlayer (Version 7) is available from <>. The free "Basic" version expires in 120 days. The "Plus" version is $29.95. Both are available from the website and come with a handy "Un-Installer" in case you've had enough. The audio still sounds like RealAudio, which, like other streaming audio technologies is: not very real. 7 does have some new features though, including helpful stability patches for live SureStream content (allowing for multiple bitrates in a single stream in case your connection gets clogged) and "multi-instance" capability, allowing multiple player windows open at the same time (similar to how a web browser can have simultaneous windows). Manual resizing of open windows is a great addition and each window can be discreetly targeted. This is useful for you content creators who want a cool SMIL or Flash interface to link to a different player for displaying video or audio while the user maintains the original Flash window for navigation. The FezGuys recommend: unless you have a need for the "Important Message," "Search," and "Content Panel" features, go immediately to the "View" menubar and deselect. This will keep the player from taking up an unnecessary amount of screen space. It's nice to see RealNetworks finally making all of those areas easily toggled. And, at long last, a Mac version is included from the get-go.

RealNetworks also introduces "Take 5", a persistent button on the player to link to "best-of-web" content. Clicking the icon gets a main menu of items each from five varying topics, changed daily. A one-minute mix of audio highlights plays while you decide what (or whether) to choose. Clicking an item launches a new player and each topic has another deeper level available. Content is chosen by RealNetworks staff, which, as far as we know, doesn't accept payola. Once again Real flirts with content but this time the goal seems to be highlighting the offbeat yet interesting.

Beatnik and Mixman, MixNick and BeatMan, ManMixNickBeat...!

Beatnik, the technology company that brings you RMF audio content for tiny/quick music files over the Internet, and Mixman, a sexy tool to create multi-track audio and then encode it in a variety of formats, have merged. Seems like a nice fit; two smallish companies creating something greater than the sum of their parts. The two companies, though blended, will retain their names. <> <>

MacAmp now MACAST

Venerable (by Internet standards) MacAMP has renamed itself "MACAST." Something about an ongoing domain name dispute resulted in the change. A new version has been released and a maintainance update, v1.1, will be announced shortly. Among the updated restriction terms in the demo version are a two minute playback limit per song. Registration is $25 for full, $15 for light. <>

"Get Onto The Bus..."

As reported here last month <> had a good idea. In order to upload their own music to the site, musicians are requested to vote on each other's music to vie for a $250,000 recording contract prize. The idea is so good Seagram's giant Universal Music Group has now created its own version of called "Farm Club" where (you guessed it) musicians vote on each other's music to vie for a recording contract. UMG will partner with AOL, MTV and others to promote the site. Like the FezGuys said: if you see a good idea, rip it off! <>

Ahh, the ever-morphing face of the Internet. What started as a New Hope for leveling the playing field is mutating before our eyes into a cannibalistic, sycophantic rush to be a Big Player in an exclusive old boy country club., and most of the rest of the sites spend more energy pushing themselves than promoting music. Upload a song to almost any of these sites and get bombarded by spam from other similar services trolling for musicians or an "Amazing CD Duplication Deal That Can't Be Missed!". Retail sites engage in a radical new business model: stocking shelves of a store with product requiring people to actually travel in physical space. What a concept! Take the promise of the Internet and ram it into the old school business model. The corporate old guard looks down at the face of brown-nosing, fawning Internet audio and says: "You clean up good! Here's a biscuit." Maybe it's too hard for the upload sites to think new thoughts.

Someone must be doing something interesting and useful out there. And yes, here they are, suffering the premature loss of their spiritual guide, recently disbanded and energetically mourned; The Grateful Dead. Unwilling to fade away, the remaining members (in their own corporate form: Grateful Dead Productions) actively promote new releases (of old material) on the Internet.

The occasion is a new five CD box set, "So Many Roads (1965-1995)," released by Grateful Dead Productions (GDP) November 9th, 1999. Though the band has a traditional distribution deal in place with Arista they chose to take the extra step of creating an immersive and compelling website ( to grow interest in the album. (FezGuys full disclosure: a FezGuy had the happy opportunity to assist in the creation of the site.) The box set promo site is built as a section of the popular and comprehensive <> web site and offers exclusive online-only content to fans.

You, the happy FezReader, can liberate any and all of the wide array of methods used on the site. The best ideas are stolen, right?

Launched one week before the album's release in stores, the site features three complete free bonus tracks not available on the album (downloading and streaming in no less than five formats: Quicktime 4 [QT4], RealAudio G2 [G2], Liquid Audio [LA], Microsoft Windows Media [MSWM] and MP3). A new video retrospective of the band's thirty-year career for the song "Liberty" (produced by Justin Kreutzmann - son of band member Bill Kreutzmann) is also offered in Quicktime 4, Windows Media and RealPlayer. One minute excerpts from 15 album tracks were uploaded one per day to keep fans coming back. There's a full track listing with song times, and album credits are posted as well. There's a nice photo gallery of images from the booklet, and essay excerpts. Fans are encouraged to participate in a charming contest by submitting a 300-word essay describing their favorite era of the Dead and why. Winners receive sampler CDs and a lucky (randomly selected) winner gets a two-night stay in the Jerry Garcia suite at San Francisco's Triton Hotel.

A lot of time and energy went into the creation of the site and more than a few software tools were brought to bear. Sorenson Video and QDesign Music codecs were used to create the QT4 video files. Terran Interactive's powerful Media Cleaner Pro was used to easily compress and encode audio and video into files in multiple formats so the site creators could provide users with different audio quality choices sorted by bitrate, video size (by pixel), or connection speed. The Dead own their publishing rights; they have the flexibility to make their content available in any way they wish. Hence the site is technology agnostic. Covering so many bases benefits visitors by allowing them to use the format that works best on their computer and Internet connection.

The site allows GDP to collect email addresses (by user choice) for a maillist promoting future events and news. A Help/Configuration page includes test sample clips and a follow-up form if visitors have questions or problems. These email questions are actually answered. One thing The FezGuys would have liked to see: full integration throughout the site to immediately purchase the album. Because of GDP's relationship with traditional distribution channels, they still find it useful to share the point-of-sale.

The FezGuys offer a few thoughts: Contests are always good ways to inspire people to visit. Make it look and feel above and beyond the standard corporate marketing idea, instead, make it something interesting and personal. Instead of giving away a readily available album for guessing a well-known fact, ask for fan's opinions and choose interesting ones to post on your site. Give away a CD-R of the band's first rehearsal tape or something equally arcane. Provide a deep level of information on the site: when and where was the music recorded, behind-the-scenes photos, etc. Offer original content not available elsewhere. It can be prohibitively expensive to include a 10-page booklet of the story behind your music in every traditional CD, but you can do it very affordably on your web site. The more energy and effort you put into it, the more you'll get out of it. That's the FezGuy Promise. And answer every email! Your Mom told us to remind you. Go to: <> if you don't believe us.

MP3 Payola and Payback

The self-styled saviors of the music business prove themselves double agents for the Dark Side with the release of a "new" promotional vehicle called "Payola." Designed to ratchet up some revenue, Payola is an online auction for high-visibility placement of musician's downloads on the site's main page. Song popularity no longer rewards the singer. As usual, this puts the power in the hands of the people with the most money. It ain't about community, it's about bribery. At least didn't sugarcoat it, the name says it all. It's too bad they have to resort to this. It shows they're not even remotely interested in being part of the solution. The FezGuys think they should be using their high profile to bust out with some new ideas instead of exhuming old ones. Try to think outside the box, gang. Yeah, yeah, you're right, of course, we're a little tough on But when you represent yourself as the cowboy in the white hat you better show some grace and class to back it up.

Another new program on, "Payback for Playback," is supposed to actually reward musicians based on number of downloads. has apparently set aside no less than $200,000 of its multi-billion dollar resources to reward musicians (who are the only reason the site exists). It's a step in the right direction.

Real Privacy

RealNetworks got slapped on the wrist when it was discovered they were secretly collecting data from users. Information about users' music choices was sent to RealNetworks' servers by globally unique identifiers (GUIDs). GUIDs enable transmission of RealJukebox (still Windows only!) users' data back to RealNetworks. This pissed a lot of people off. After all, they're collecting information about what you do and you don't know what they're doing with it. Imagine visiting some big stock brokerage web site to research investment ideas and immediately recieving an email from the IRS reminding you about tax ramifications. It should be remembered that the collected information was never intended to be used for anything other than music preferences and was thrown away immediately. What Real did wasn't evil, just clumsy. They apologized publicly and promise to be good in the future. Effective immediately: "It is imperative for senior management of a company to be active in communicating the importance of consumer privacy and trust through the design and development of their products and services." (R. Glaser - RealNetworks CEO)

The FezGuys aren't convinced he wrote that himself, yet are hopeful he truly means it.

We almost forgot to mention the Official FezGuys Favorite Albums (OFFA) list. Since most people seem pathologically focused on distilling the "best" of the Twentieth Century, we thought we'd bring you our favorite albums of the Nineteenth. A complete list follows:

Now, in other news....

The FezGuys told you never to call us here!



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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