The FezGuys
Too Much Of Everything
[ No. 50 - December 2000 ]

How big an issue is peer-to-peer file sharing? The two most popular presidential candidates have seen fit to address the issue. Says Vice-President Al Gore <>: "I think Napster <> is a terrific innovation... but we've got to find a way to reconcile this technology with artists' rights." Says Governer George W. Bush <>: "...the Napster case typifies some of the thorny questions we'll face." By the time you read this, one will have been elected President of the United States <>.

Following up on last month's overview <> on how to mold your music into a subscription service model, we now take a look at how some of the larger music business institutions are attempting to fold file sharing apps into a subscription future. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." The motto, never truer then now, clearly shows that decision makers for large music companies know that litigation cannot make file sharing go away.


The first old school wax warrior to defect is giant Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) <>. They've struck a "strategic alliance" with Napster that will replace the chaotic, anarchic network of freely traded MP3-encoded music with a pay-to-play subscription service. Marc Geiger, CEO of ArtistDirect <> (a company invested in by all five of the major labels) has this comment on the proposed arrangement between Napster and BMG. ''It doesn't make sense for the consumer.'', he says, ''It tethers songs to the PC, and you can't take them off. It's in a secure format, and payment from the consumer ultimately requires that you get 40 songs for a flat rate, and then it goes to charging on a per-song basis.'' While the other large music labels haven't signed on (there's nothing to sign on to as the new service hasn't been launched yet) they've all issued cautiously optimistic statements and, of course, are excited about more licensing revenue. But if Napster turns itself into a subscription service which is too constricting to consumers, they risk the majority of their 38 million users jumping ship to other emerging alternatives.

Bankrupt Scour's <> assets are in the process of being picked up by Listen <> for $5.5 million and stock. Arguably the second most popular file sharing app (after Napster) Scour is also headed toward a subscription system. Listen's big investments from traditional labels ensure they won't be rocking any boats. With a valuable tool to recraft and relaunch, Listen may justify your Fezguys' high hopes based on a history of non-partisan behavior and focus on useful tools.


And with most of the hurdles out of the way, Time-Warner <> will be acquired by AOL <> who, in turn, are contemplating how to morph their Instant Messenger tool into a subscription music service. Of course all of the majors are currently pushing out digital download services from their own web sites. Warner launched a secure download service November 2nd and have added Microsoft's <> WindowsMedia to their existing relationships with RealNetworks <> and LiquidAudio <>. New secure WindowsMedia tracks are priced at $1.25 to $2.75 per track. BMG's downloadable music service offers tracks at prices ranging from $2 to $3.50 per single, $10 to $15 per album, and $21 for double albums. Sure is nice to see the big labels acknowledge digital distribution being so much more efficient and cheap and have dropped prices accordingly. NOT! Although we're glad to see the big boys finally supporting digital distribution models, we hope music fans aren't duped into thinking this sort of per-track price gouging is necessary. Happily there are many sites, large and small, offering more affordable pricing (99c/song). Over the next couple of years it's more likely that listener's attention will naturally gravitate to the simplicity (and affordability) of subscription services. The FezGuys believe that both digital distribution and music subscription services have a long way to go.

Drive Dangerously!

Even the telecom companies are getting involved. Sprint <> has entered the online music world, launching a service for their new PCS phone, the Samsung <> Uproar which holds 64MB of MP3 music. The lengthy press release details all the web-centric services for ripping and uploading your favorite music to <> (using RealNetworks' RealJukebox product to encode), managing your playlists online in your personal 2GB "locker" (sounds like and streaming it from the web site or directly from your hard disk. Tellingly, very little of the release talks about how the wireless aspect of this package is used and gives virtually no detail on how easy it will be, how long it will take or how much it will cost to download a song from your locker to your phone. The Fezguys wonder how many hapless pedestrians will have to be crushed under the wheel of a clueless driver who, after finally upgrading their phone to hands-free use, now careen along at 70mph trying to select an MP3 tune from a 2" liquid crystal display. Also not stated directly (but we certainly hope) is the ability to hook the phone directly to your computer for music file transfers similar to the current crop of portable digital music players.

Bad Law!
We Got Yer Software!
Napster <> acquired Macster earlier this year and now that team has finally released a formal Mac version of the giant-killer. Macster users can even get "Napster for the Mac" by using existing Macster user name and password.

RealNetworks <> has released the new audio portion of Real8 with their licensing of Sony's ATRAC3 codec. Claiming to now provide CD-quality at 64kbps, they also have extended the available audio bitrates from the previous limit of 96k to 352k. The improved quality is definitely noticeable compared to Real's G2 Audio, though is not CD quality at 64kbps to our ears.

The truly usurous "Work For Hire" amendment as been repealed by President Clinton <>. Passed one year ago, the simple and ugly law allowed record companies to view music recordings like any physical object, bought once, paid for, and, in this case, unavailable to be recovered by the songwriter for 99 years or, in some cases, forever. Even with the repeal though, song recordings are currently not recoverable by the songwriter for 35 years. Ever-unwilling to accept defeat, RIAA <> lobbyists can be counted on to vigorously massage lawmakers during the next Congressional session. If you are a musician, and find yourself in the position of contracting with a "major label," you most likely will see some form of this "Work For Hire" arrangement included on your contract. Read the document closely. Find legal counsel. The "Work For Hire" clause is evil. Cross it out.

"...groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation play a valuable role in the bringing attention to important policy issues as technology advances..." - from the SDMI President's "An Open Letter to the Digital Community"

Meanwhile the industry-wide effort to set digital distribution standards (the Secure Digital Music Initiative or SDMI, <>) called for hackers to try and crack any of the four watermarking tools it rolled out recently. Although many members of the hacker community and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) <> called for a boycott of the challenge, citing SDMI's benefit from getting free help for the development of a potentially restrictive service, enough hackers were interested (or maybe an especially industrious loner) to take the challenge. All four SDMI tools were well-hacked within days. But, hey, that's what hackers do! What we haven't heard about is whether the SDMI president's credit cards got canceled.

New Life For Old Music!

The surviving members of The Doors have formed a new label, Bright Midnight Records, to release archival Doors material <>. While they're selling real CDs and not providing full-length MP3s for download it's an interesting idea because it bypasses the mainstream music distribution system entirely. The CDs will not be sold in stores at all (other than smart record shop owners buying copies themselves and reselling them) they're only available from the Web site. This is a perfect example of what can be done using current technologies to get back catalogs off of dusty old shelves and out to a ready and willing-to-pay niche audience.


FezGuys - Have you guys been to the RealNetworks site in the past month? I dare you, no, triple-dog-dare-you to find the "free 'Basic' version of RealNetworks' RealServer." I tried to find it for a kid on an forum (who wanted to stream some crazy stuff-- I dunno), and could not. It seems they have either buried it effectively, or removed it completely. I found one mention of it in a graph showing feature sets, but there was no way to download it. If you do find it, I'm sure that guy would appreciate it, as would I. I noticed you didn't include the link to the free RealServer in your otherwise excellent column. Thanks, Victor Agreda, Jr.

Victor! - We feel your pain! We can't guarantee this direct link will work forever, but here's where it is as of today. The reason we didn't include the link is because these convoluted links (a) change from month to month and (b) are so damn long. Plus: they're just ugly. For you, and others like you, we will break our rule. Here it is, in all it's repulsive glory:


The FezGuys confirm that Mae West could throw down! <>.



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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