MORE PERSONALITY! NEW! BRIGHTER BOX!|
[ No. 45 - July 2000 ]
Tempers flare in the hot debate surrounding the immense popularity of
Napster, the MP3 file sharing software. It took ten years for AOL to
acquire the purported ten million users Napster says it has registered
in less than a year. Jealousy and panic are setting in. Lawsuits seem
to be self-generating, spitting out of an artificial intelligence
program that lives in a concrete bunker underground in the woods of
Eastern Maryland. A somewhat misguided soul sprayed the Washington, DC
Metro rapid-transit web site with curses and threats, replacing train
schedule tables. Said person had a beef with major label artists (Dr. Dre
and Metallica among them) who've filed suits to stop Napster's use.
Lars Ulrich, Metallica's ever-ready drummer, expounded on his views in
Newsweek. It'd be interesting to learn how much of it was written by
Lars and how much was written by Howard King, their lawyer. The same
issue's cover photograph shows an ostensibly college-age
man wearing, among other things, a portable MP3 player and headphones,
with his fist raised in the air. Isn't that the standard pose for rap
and heavy metal bands (the two types of bands Mr. King has helped
file lawsuits against Napster)?
Major labels continue to fire legal salvos at anybody and everybody. "We
will sue a university student if we have to," says Frank Creighton, RIAA's
senior vice president. "We think that does have a deterrent effect." Of
course it's not at all clear that college students are the only ones.
Conspiracy Theorists take note: The right wing think tank and philanthropic
organization Pew Charitable Trusts sponsored a study that determined
approximately 42% of Napster users are between 30 and 49 years old.
The ongoing lawsuit against Napster by Metallica has had its first popular
reply. Some 30,000 of the 350,000 users blocked from Napster because of the
suit claim they didn't share any of the band's music. Mr. King responds:
Panic comes from being incapable of accepting change. All the lawsuits in
the world will not stop the use of file sharing programs like Napster and
Gnutella. At stake is nothing less than the total restructuring of the
business of music sales and distribution. That's got to piss a lot of
people off. Clue for the Clueless: You can't beat this hurtling tidal wave.
Instead, why not help create a new model that takes advantage of the
"Please get out of the way if you can't lend a hand!" - Bob Dylan
Taking a page from Frank Zappa's playbook, Pearl Jam has announced they
will release live two-CD sets from every show on their current tour. Two
fan-run web sites (www.tenclub.net
and www.pearljam.com) will make the
albums available starting in August for "discount prices." Why trade or
purchase a boot if you can get a high quality board mix? Will Eddie
Vedder's inchoate cursing and mumbling between songs be edited out? Who
cares! It's a picture-perfect example of "if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Good work, gang.
Keeping Up With The RealJones'
Back on the Sinformation Uberhighway the content delivery racers are neck
and neck. It's all about the numbers as RealNetworks speedily releases a
Version 8, now that Microsoft's Windows Media number 7 is available.
Consistent with Real's previous release (who could forget Version 7?), both
Mac and Windows are supported. The new release now includes software
for CD burning, connects to various Internet radio stations and, best
of all, allows users to "add spectacular visual effects synchronized to
your music." We're not making this up! Just try to tell us these people
don't smoke a lot of pot.
All we really care is that video quality is improved. Why RealNetworks
is trying to be the end-all, be-all of content, instead of focusing on
being a great technology company, is anybody's guess (ok, maybe it's power
and money). The visuals are groovy, but please, RealLife is weird
When we installed the Mac flavor of Real's Version 8 it didn't do a very
good job of preserving our preferences, but we were finally able to view
in full-screen video mode. Unfortunately, when we return from full-screen
we discover Real has rearranged our desktop as if we prefer our monitor
screen to be configured for 640x480 pixels which, most assuredly dear
Fezfriends, we do not.
And if RealNetworks' Version 8 weren't enough, the Real folks have now
upped the ante on dumbed-down interfaces with the release of their new
"Real Entertainment Center Plus" (RECP). Still in beta, this
Windows-only offering appears to be a combination of the existing
RealPlayer, RealJukebox, a new "Real Download" and some content
kidnapped from their website. A $49.99 ("save $40!") purchase price
and a "Risk free" 30 day money back guarantee make the RECP a
desktop-cluttering, memory-and-processor-eating must-have! Ok, there's
some relevance here: a collection of very simple tools gets into more
The downside is that Real continues to hide the existence of their free
player, leading people to believe they must pay to be able to listen to and
view RealMedia content. It's not true. The free player is right here:
(click on: "RealPlayer 8 Basic beta"). Though there
has been some improvement, Real still litters the desktop environment,
browser bookmarks, startup menu and filetype associations (making their
software be the default player for every media type they can play: WAV,
MP3, etc) upon installation. Software designers, take note: the FezGuys
believe there's a real need for a freeware tool that lets you manage
your filetype associations. But maybe all the RealJunk strewn around
your computer's innards is worth the hassle because (with purchase) you
get free access to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Video (in RealVideo,
of course) for 30 breathless days.
This Is The FezGuys Being Excited!
A new Windows Media Player beta 7 has been released. Go to:
It pretty much does exactly what RealNetworks tools do but boasts "more
personality." Once again, we are not making this up. The new Media
Player promises new "eye-catching visualization support" (groovy, wavy
lines and designs scrolling across your monitor screen) guaranteed to
"set the mood" or be "great for parties." As if that weren't enough,
content providers can now decorate players with corporate or product
logos and images offering a "whole new way to connect with their
audience." You bet. A Whole New Way.
It's all about version number bloating. Mirroring OS and web browser
competitive numbers over the years, Real released Version 7 so MS came
out with 7, but wait, now Real offers Version 8... it must be better!
The two companies are competing frantically to be the player of choice
for millions of Internet users. It's plausible to imagine a new release
every month, with thousands more features we'll never use. Designers
employed by these companies will keel over and die right at their
workstations desperately trying to think of some newer, better, more
The sudden pus-filled eruption of crass marketing in the streaming media
tools industry is disgusting. Granted, it's to be expected as millions of
dollars are up for grabs. But whether it's Microsoft claiming their "new
look and design" is the most amazing new innovation or RealNetworks'
pushing their product with bathing beauties, it doesn't mean we have to
like it. It feels like we're in a supermarket aisle, staring blankly
at high walls of brightly colored boxes of detergent howling in
124-point dayglo fonts: "New! Brighter Box!"
---> The Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA), launched the
interesting "IUMA A&R Files"
a monthly promotional infopack highlighting a handful of IUMA artists.
The info will be sent directly to managers, publishers, radio stations
and labels based on the IUMA A&R team matching the artist's IUMA chart
status with labels' music styles. Your ever-humble FezGuys think this
is pretty cool, but it remains to be proven whether this will directly
result in something real between IUMA bands and labels. Label execs
have been trolling online independent sites for years, but with
hundreds of thousands of bands out there now, most industry types have
given up. Either the music was generally of poor quality (which is
true) or the three mineral water expense account lunch was beckoning
(which is a lot more important). By culling the data IUMA could assist
the frantic Jr. VP at Sony in making the right choice. This is IUMA's
first entry into offering opinions on bands (albeit still based on
public chart positions). Should be interesting to see what floats to
the top of their list. The basic problem remains: why sign to a major
when they want your master rights, half of all your licensing revenue
and your domain name and web site content, just for starters?
---> Popular download web site Riffage purchased the century-old Great
American Music Hall, in San Francisco. Would an online music company
restrict options for bands wishing to play (or webcast) if they aren't
allied with the company? Or could it open up more avenues for musicians?
We'll be watching this one.
---> While noisily inflating statistics about music piracy (more lawsuits
filed by lovely lackeys at the RIAA), major labels have quietly settled out
of court an accusation by the Federal Trade Commision claiming the music
companies were "colluding to inflate the prices Americans pay for their
favorite compact discs." Like you, faithful Fezreader, the FezGuys are
shocked, stunned, stupefied and agog. Artificially inflate retail CD
prices? They wouldn't do that to us! Industry watchers forecast that
consumers can expect lower CD prices in a few months. We'll be watching
this one, too.
---> Once proud Internet revolutionary MP3.com has caved in (following a
court ruling) to the majors. The courts agreed MP3.com's My.MP3.com service
was liable for copyright infringement because they reproduced large
catalogs of music without the owners' permission (ie, the label). MP3.com
removed access to all major label artist materials from their My.MP3.com
service and downplayed the effect it had on the usefulness of the service.
Meanwhile, they announced their first settlements with BMG and Warner
Music. Of course, MP3.com won't be able to relaunch their service until
reaching similar agreements with each individual music publisher and
songwriter. A circulating rumor hints of an estimated $20 million in damages
and licensing fees to Warner alone. How much of that do you think the
songwriters will get? If Michael Robertson wants to walk the walk of
Internet revolutionary, he should stipulate the required percentage of
those monies go to the musicians involved and require proof. The relaunch
of My.MP3.com with major label content is likely to be a subscription
service. Suddenly we're back in the land of Compuserve accounts!
The FezGuys wring our hands with care until we can't take it anymore and
then the laughter starts.