The FezGuys
Hilarity, Hubris and Heuristics
[ No. 48 - October 2000 ]

The constantly morphing universe of music online ignores the change of seasons. How did it get to be Fall? How the hell can we keep track? It's impossible! But don't toss it all just yet. We slave and struggle so you don't have to. Of course, don't take our word for it. Read below for a sampling of idiocy and inspiration presently defining Internet audio.

Digging around for some populist opinions on the moral nature of file sharing applications we recently chanced across a chat area in a popular rock musician's web site. Fans were asked their opinions and we offer the informal poll results below:

Q - Are File Sharing Applications Good or Bad?

They're great! - 39%
They're ok. - 45%
They suck! - 10%
Never heard of them. - 4%

That's apparently taken from 847 votes over a three day period. During the same three day period, the site's fan bulletin board displays over 200 posts. Of the 24 total posts (all favorable) mentioning Napster, 12 said Napster led them to sales and only one said they downloaded but didn't buy. Read on for some music lovers' comments about file sharing applications:

"At the beginning of the MP3 craze I searched for every tune I could find. The more I listened to the files the more I sought out the CDs because I wanted the best sound quality."

"I personally use it to listen to songs before I spend money on a CD I'm not certain about."

"I know all the MP3's I've gotten off this site I already have on CD, so I already paid my money!"

"I have downloaded several songs and am ready to buy those very albums those songs are taken from, the end result being that none of those artists have lost a dime from me - they've only gained."

"I would NEVER download a NOTE, because I've ALWAYS believed that (the artist) deserves every penny."

"I think they (file sharing apps) are excellent tools to discover new artists and "test" particular albums before buying. What if the car dealer wouldn't let you test drive the car before buying, would you still be inclined to purchase it?"

"File sharing programs have actually increased my music consumption."

Just Because Music Fans Like It....

Continuing with our theme, a court injunction against Napster that would have required shutting down their service has been appealed and reversed. The company is frantically working on a new strategy for its defense against a lawsuit by the RIAA. Amidst Napster's trial woes, the hot file sharing apps are now Gnutella and Freenet. Why? As distributed networks, both Gnutella and Freenet have no central organization to sue. Users are completely anonymous. Adding insult to injury, a renegade group of programmers tweaked AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) service to enable it to route searches through Gnutella (known as "AIMster"). AOL isn't happy about being potentially liable for copyright infringement but they're basically helpless.

There's power in threes (and we don't just mean celebrity deaths) as a trio of well-known musicians recently came out of the closet in favor of Napster and file sharing in general. The ubiquitous Courtney Love, Prince (one of the king's of the DIY ethic) and The The's Matt Johnson have all fired withering broadsides at the major label distribution infrastructure. Says Matt Johnson: "After much deliberation I have decided to offer, track by track, week by week, free downloads of my latest album." <> The backstory about Matt Johnson is that the album he is offering for free is a major label release.

And the promo beat goes on. Accepting the award for most ridiculous marketing idea this year is IUMA (a division of Emusic). The music upload site is awarding $5000 to the first ten couples who name their baby "IUMA." As of this writing one child has already been named. Your bemused FezGuys are considering paying $5000 to couples to *not* inflict this on their children. Regardless of how we feel about it, IUMA has garnered an avalanche of press. IUMA has also been busy disbursing money to artists for web page views and recently expanded to pay for audio streams and downloads as well. It may be a check for only eleven cents, but at least they're making an effort. All music upload web sites should consider sharing at least some money with every one of their artists. After all, without the music there would be no site.

Speaking of Emusic, they've switched to providing subscription services ($19.99 for one month of access to their 125,000 songs - discounted to $9.99/mo with a year subscription). Though Emusic will need to triple their customer base to make a profit using the subscription model they offer it anyway, praying the service will seem attractive to consumers as well as a nice, legal alternative to Napster. Like so many other Internet music sites, Emusic (languishing in a sunken stock price) is desperately trying something, anything, to light a fire under their business.

And speaking of business models, (remember them?) has been busy cutting deals with the majors to re-establish their own subscription service. They dole out millions of dollars in damages and license fees and scrape for newsworthy items to keep people interested. Parsing the newsletter is simple enough. "Fresh look and feel!" Like the landlord, they've repainted, but the walls are still made of paper. "Partnering to open physical stores to download and burn your own CDs!" Hasn't this ancient idea been killed once and for all? "Send suggestions!" The last gasping cry from the drowning man...

At the MP3 Summit last June announced they're going to become an infrastructure company or, in their own parlance, a "music service provider." "We're a utility company. But we deliver music instead of water or electricity," goes the party line. Whatever, kids. Recently the web site also released an "open" set of tools to encourage other companies to create products and services that link directly into's bloated databases. With no solution in site for effectively and efficiently sifting through all their music, it sounds like is dancing as fast as it can.

An Upload Site Review

Los Angeles-based major label Dreamworks Records has launched an online site <>. The web site appears to exist basically to streamline the label's own process of fishing for new talent. To its credit, the site is very straightforward. A wash of bright orange color and the numerals "1," "2" and "3" greet us on first meeting. We chose "1" because our FezMom raised us right. We are shown the "Artist Profile" and asked to provide a lot of information. Sure, we have to be over 13 years old to upload music, but why do sites insist on birthday and gender? Gak. "Genre" is another required field. There are nine to choose from. That's right, nine. Songs, according to Dreamworks Digital, fall into one (and only one) of nine categories. If your music is not within one of those nine categories, don't bother with this site.

We click through with our blatantly falsified profile into area #2: the Submission Agreement. It's all pretty standard, dense legalese but one section catches our eye. Point #5: "...DreamWorks Digital has access to and/or may create...materials and ideas that may be similar or identical to (your uploaded song)... you will not be entitled to any compensation because of the use by DreamWorks Digital of any such... identical material..." Kind of chilling, isn't it? It seems that one might upload a song to Dreamworks Digital and, a year later, hear your song on the radio recorded by someone else. Maybe the site is a big butterfly net. They catch the butterflies and pop them in the killing jar prior to pinning them on a nice background and hanging them on a wall in their corporate lobby as platinum artifacts.

We submit to the sinister submission agreement and enter the download area. Options appear for uploading a song and a graphic file. At this point, the decision is made to not place a song on Dreamworks Digital. Not only is the web site a faceless vortex; sucking music and giving nothing back (no musical material is available on the site), the site's disclaimers are enough to dampen the enthusiasm of even the most rabid accordian player. The "Rules & Advice" window intones that exile from the site will ensue should anyone upload more than one song over a three-month period. The "Don't Call Us, We'll Call You" edict is mentioned, as is an unintentionally hilarious recommendation (posing as thoughtful advice) for the person uploading a song to not "wait for the limo driver to ring your bell with a recording contract."

Ease of use - very simple
Design - thankfully, also very simple
Tech support - N/A
Expected user experience - shouting at the ocean
Overall - useful to the label, nothing groundbreaking, recommend avoiding
Letters To The FezGuys

Hi FezGuys, I'm a dinosaur. The last audio editing I did was with Ampex 351's, an Editall and a razor blade. I now find myself in charge of a web site with a need to provide 30 second RealAudio and MP3 music samples for our visitors. As per your recommendation I downloaded the trial version of Xing's AudioCatalyst. It seems to be a good ripper and I have RealProducer 7. The more "research" I do the more confused I get. Will Sound Forge XP rip MP3's, allow me to edit audio, and create Real Audio files all by itself? Or do I need AudioCatalyst and Sound Forge or Cool Edit? Thanks for your cyber advice. - Doyle S.

Hi Doyle-- Thanks for writing! Many modern digital audio editing programs take advantage of plug-in architecture that current streaming technologies provide. What does this mean? It means that apps like Sound Forge can export into RealAudio, MP3, and other formats. Check the companies' web sites for specific details before purchasing. Make sure you aren't surprised by what is and isn't included, and also feel free to contact them to confirm if it's unclear. In some cases, you might find that stand-alone MP3 encoders like AudioCatalyst can create better quality MP3 files. Sonic Foundry typically does good work but Sound Forge XP 4.5 only lets you do 20 free MP3 encodes before requiring another $19.95 to enable unlimited MP3 exporting. Good luck! - The FezGuys

The FezGuys recommend one and all go to: <> (promo site for the new special edition "This Is Spinal Tap" DVD release) and download the secret interview and the new song. Do it now!

The FezGuys also invite one and all to post questions and comments on the Threaded Discussion Area of <>.



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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