The FezGuys
[ 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: "They're lying."

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 obvious?

"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 ( and 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 enough.

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 people's homes. <>

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 "immersive" experience.

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!"

Bits And Snippets

---> 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 has caved in (following a court ruling) to the majors. The courts agreed's service was liable for copyright infringement because they reproduced large catalogs of music without the owners' permission (ie, the label). removed access to all major label artist materials from their 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, 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 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. <>



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. <>

©1996-2003 The FezGuys™