The FezGuys
Post Apocalyptic or Merely Hungover?
[ No. 39 - January 2000 ]

Gotta make this quick...what with the grid down and the connectivity police scanning every wavelength, your FezGuys will have moved on by the time you read this. We've got enough tuna for three weeks, it should get us across the border. But from there - who knows? You can count on us, though. With militia and hungry dogs only an hour behind, we keep bringing you Internet audio enlightenment from the front lines. Here's what we've gleaned while on the run.

Players, movers, shakers and wannabes crowd around to catch the tide and be the hot spot, but the undefinable, mercurial Web ever eludes them. Some ideas are better than others.

The legendary Chuck D of Public Enemy fame creates his own radio show, "When The Shit Hits The Fans." The awesomely titled weekly program will feature unsigned and indie label music which he will program or broadcast live from a suitcase while touring. It's like a "Secret Sam" briefcase, with a laptop instead of plastic bullets and a "miniature camera that really works!" Mr. D also will be broadcasting six radio shows weekly with long-time Public Enemy producer Gary G-Wiz and sponsored by Atomic Pop. <>

The Beastie Boys take out a full-page ad in Rolling Stone for their 2-CD anthology. The ad also points out that if you don't like the songs or the order on the official CD release you can go to the web site and make your own CD by choosing from their repertoire of 170 songs. <>

At the WebNoize 99 conference in Los Angeles last November the Hollywood Stock Exchange <> won our vote for the most intriguing and engaging web site. Coming in dead last was the guy who frothed at the mouth about gathering "a bunch of A&R guys" to pick and choose music for a site that will "sell the data from users to direct marketing companies." Before we had a chance to recoil in horror he assured us that he would "change the face of Internet music forever." Maybe in his universe...

In San Jose, CA, Bill Gates gave a keynote address at the Streaming Media West December '99 conference. It was obvious to all that it didn't matter what he had to say. His presence alone spoke volumes. Transferring audio and video (and data) across the Internet is officially Job One. Microsoft radio spots for Windows 98 2nd Edition (with MediaPlayer and Musicmatch Jukebox) strongly pushed enhanced manipulation of digital audio and video over the Internet.

And the dotcom upstarts keep eating the old guard. Emusic <> bought, and Plucky buys longbeard Butterfield and Butterfield. And, the site we love to hate, joins the ranks of apparel, alcohol and cigarette manufacturers sponsoring tours by the likes of Tori Amos, Alannis Morrisette, TLC, the Goo Goo Dolls, Tonic, and others.

There's never a dull moment in this lovely arena and never a shortage of fire-breathing maniacs to write about. The following is a Y2K list of new places to post your music, assuming you have the desire to upload your music in the first place. <>

The site that pioneered the "enter and win a record contract" arrangement. Upload your music (you're required to review other music already on the site), and join a competition for a $250,000 recording contract. Jerry Harrison (ex-Talking Heads) and Sir George Martin (producer of you know who!) are the two most prominent members of a stellar board of directors. This site is worth the time.

ease of use straightforward
design smoooooth
tech support improving
expected user experience positive
overall green lights all the way up Park Avenue
Jimmy & Doug's Farm Club <>

A direct rip-off of the model, but with the added corporate muscle of cable TV. Trying to pose as an independent Internet record label, the site is actually a spin-off of la musica groupo largo Universal Music Group which (while itself owned by corporate behemoth Seagram's) includes MCA, Interscope, Island, A&M and Geffen records. The signup is simple though, as usual, they demand a phone number. Lying is becoming so natural these days! They also absolutely must know your gender for some reason. After completing the contact info and before the upload process you must sign off on a dense 2053-word legal document. After that, also as usual, there's no indication for how long an upload takes. This is a real pain in the ass, gang! The FezGuys suggest you do the simple fix and provide your users with high quality service. The site won't actually offer your music downloads to users until February, '00.

ease of use straightforward
design army/navy chic
tech support undetermined
expected user experience Christmas morning, you didn't get what you wanted
overall The carrot, the stick and a side dish of faint condescension.
CDNOW's Cosmic Music <>

The site appears to focus on community features like chat rooms and message boards. But are they relevant or should they be here at all? There's a lot of dead space in the chat rooms, and it's hard to care about a site where nothing appears to be happening. The upload process shoots us across another slippery legal document (like most others they say you keep your rights but they can do whatever they want with the music you upload). The signup process requires a phone number! Hahaha! We laugh! Genres are also required. It's hard to choose when you could find yourself lodged between such fascinating pigeonholes as "sports anthems" and "hair metal". The setup is, overall, pretty clear and wonder of wonders, they do provide a dialog box while waiting for the upload to complete. "File uploading, please stand by!" The FezGuys thank you, though would still appreciate knowing how long the wait is likely to be. For some reason we can't shake the feeling that the gang at Cosmic is waiting by a silent connection for someone to upload some music. When the little light goes on worker bees leap up in a frenzy! They also offer a "Featured Artist" and ten "Favorite Artists" (chosen by their staff) that increase a band's chances of exposure.

ease of use simple
design let's go bowling in 1968
tech support present and accounted for
expected user experience positive
overall "Up With People" meets Microsoft at a pep rally
Lycos Listening Room <>

A whopping 4000-word legal document must be clicked through on this very dense, very corporate, beta site. There is an upload alert dialog box to let us know how long it's all taking, which is very nice. The FezGuys find this web site fabulously boring.

ease of use multiple choice questionnaire
design government work
tech support undetermined
expected user experience 10:30 a.m. at an institutional job
overall lifeless
BillBoard Magazine's Talent Net <>

This official site for unsigned music built by Billboard Magazine appears to offer everything that a site like IUMA does, but for a fee. How do you feel about paying money to place your music on a web site? We thought so! The legal stuff is predictably long but what makes it really challenging is the teeny, tiny font size. You'd need to hold a magnifying glass up to the computer screen to read the stuff. The FezGuys say pass on this one.

ease of use we'll never know
design midsize American rental car
tech support undetermined
expected user experience you're just another long-chain, high-grade polymer in a petrochemical cracking plant
overall a picture-perfect example of an organization that doesn't grok the Internet
Tucows Music <>

Though the site claims to do minor weeding to keep quality up it remains unclear how bad you have to be to get refused. The uploading process worked smoothly.

ease of use easy
design convention hall
tech support good email response
expected user experience if they like you you're in. If they don't...
overall bi-polar disorder

Overall it appears that music sites are slowly getting it better, if not exactly right. The main problem is that, for the most part, they take a cookie cutter approach instead of offering original and unique services. Many also have half-hearted community features - what musician wants to manage an email list on ten different sites and try to split their fans among ten chat rooms?

Then there's the hosers at The FezGuys give them the Most Annoying Spam Award. Not content to only send their spam in illegible formats, this once-promising site makes sure you get multiple copies of the useless gibberish. For months we've politely asked them to be removed and still the crap keeps coming. You're setting a bad example gang, we expect this kind of behavior from big, constipated institutions.

There are a plethora of other entries in the pipeline as well. Warner Bros. says they'll add MP3 downloading for bands on the new multiplex-o-rama web site, <> (the FezGuys suggestion of <> was, sadly, rejected). If the new MP3 area of the site is like the rest of we suspect you'll find it busy and bothersome and become bored while waiting for it to load.

Platinum Entertainment, fed up with leasing their music to other sites has decided to launch their own. The unfortunately named <> will feature traditional and digital sales of their catalog through selected free download giveaways, a (big! new! idea!) contest to win a $250,000 budget to make an album, and free MP3 downloads of their entire catalog (nearly 15,000 songs). Their logo recalls truck stops circa 1976 with 18-wheelers cranking Skynyrd. The FezGuys wonder if HeardOn might not have benefited from testing the name on a classroom of 6th graders first.

Also launched recently is The site fires up with an absolutely pointless introductory animation documenting how closely allied is with mainstream corporate music culture. See Carole Bayer Sager and Carole King write the next Britney Spears hit! Create and enter your own lyric/melody part for an instrumental track by producers Babyface Edmonds and David Foster! If you win the site promises you'll "have one of the most expensive demos ever made!" Makes ya' salivate don't it? The site boasts that it's run by musicians. The style of music is "sitting in a megaplex movie theatre waiting for a big budget blockbuster to start." It's more of that lame smooth Los Angeles cinema pop; music to play in K-Marts and while on hold with your medical insurance provider. No uploading. No free downloads(except for the contest entry). Pretty silly. <>

This space will continue to troll the digital depths for tasty, toneful treats. Hopefully it won't always be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Uh, oh...we can hear the hovercrafts approaching and see the swinging arc of searchlights. Gotta go...don't try to find us... we'll find you. Take this: <>, you may need it. Don't be afraid to use it. We'll be back!



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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