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The Music Industry and the MP3 102

It didn't have to turn out this way, but the MP3's stunning blitz of the music industry is a case history in how to alienate and politize millions of potential customers. It also shows the dangers of corporate ignorance of the Internet. Next to the TV zapper, the MP3 may be one of the most political, even revolutionary bits of technology ever invited. And the music industry could hardly have been dumber or more clueless in its response. All those geeks out there with playlists as long as their arms are never going to buy CD's again, or give up their new power to choose their own music. No industry ever deserved what it got more than this one.

Perhaps the real irony of the MP3's merciless assault on the fat, greedy, record companies of the world is that the recording industry could have foreseen and forestalled it - it is way too late now -- in the time it took to build a Website like

As it turns out, mega-corporations are much better at acquiring the creative work of other people than they are to making anything of their own, one of the several legacies underscored by the MP3.

Although you probably haven't heard of it, offers a revolutionary way to distribute music, permitting music fans to build their CD mix (and legally) by paying one or two dollars per song. A day or so later, their custom-selected and built CD arrives in the mail.

Making one's own music sounds almost irresistible, especially after years of paying for music you didn't want to get the songs you did. A Custom Disc typically costs between $15 and $25 -- $5.99 for the base manufacturing cost, .99 cents on average per song, plus shipping, handling and tax. Customers find the music they like in Step A, add the songs to their Custom Disc (Step B) and finish their CD and pay (C).

Had record companies grasped the possibilities of digital collection and distribution of music a couple of years ago, they would have blanketed the Net with sites like Custom Disc, or made their music freely available for sale on them.

But they haven't put up a single site like it. Why? Because if you can buy a song for .99 cents you won't spend 15 dollars for the whole album or CD. And if you can construct your own kind of CD, you - not they - will have a say in the selection, promotion and distribution of music.

So the major labels won't sell their music on Customdisc or give up even a slice of their enormous profits or monopolistic control. As a result, customized CD-building sites are limited to new artists, those no longer popular, or local and often unknown acts. But check this site out, if you have any doubts about just how venal or greedy these mega-corporations are, or, for that matter, how dumb.

The recording companies are spending a fortunate in legal fees and promotional costs to wring their hands about revenues lost to copyright violators, especially on the Internet, and to push for government regulation or intervention (Canada enacted legislation last year to tax Canadians to compensate the music industry there for piracy losses) .

The epidemic of digital music piracy is very much a nightmare of the music companies own making, and no industry has ever deserved it more. If they had been willing to open up their catalogues to sites like, most of their piracy problems would have vanished overnight. The generation of people now rapidly acquiring MP3's will probably never pay for CD's again in their lives. This didn't have to be. The attitude of younger people, especially those with computers or attending college, towards purchasing music, is a case study in how corporations can alienate broad swatches of an entire society, and cost of themselves a lot of money as well.

Most people would have been happy to buy cheaper CD's they could have put them together themselves. And they'd have few problems giving recording artists their due if it wasn't so clear the real issue was greed and power, not artistic copyright. ***

Sometimes the most revolutionary technology comes where you least expect it. For nearly a half-century, commercial broadcasting was controlled by three greedy men in New York. TV-watchers could choose from the tepid offerings of three networks, CBS, ABC and NBC, all of whom broadcast more or less the same thing for decades, with the blessing of the federal government and its none-too-demanding regulators. One of the most promising new forms of information technology in the history of the planet became a vehicle for running dumb sitcoms and selling cereal and cars to the enrichment of a handful of companies, Anchor Monsters and gazillionnaire media poobahs.

Then came the zapper, one of the most revolutionary and, at the time, least appreciated, bits of technology ever invented. Viewers suddenly began to take control of the TV back. They didn't have to watch stale newscasts, interminable commercials, or witless programs. They could switch without moving.

Ever since, power has been steadily shifting away from the three moguls who had seized control of TV almost from the second it was invented, and towards the millions of individual people who watch it. Nothing has captured this shift as dramatically as the MP3 player, perhaps a potentially more revolutionary instrument than the switcher.

For years, popular culture and information in America have been run by the few who decided what the many could see, read, hear or see.

The Net has blown that model of information distribution all to hell. The many have more power than ever over what they see, read, hear and buy, and they call also communicate more and more with one another.

The MP3 player, available for free on the Web, is sending the music industry into meltdown. Record executives are enraged that millions of people, until recently completely depend on them for what to buy and how to buy it, are now all music impressarios in their own right.

According to Jupiter Communications, "MP3" is the second most popular search engine query term after "sex." There have been more than five million downloads of the MP3 player from WinAmp's site. (For the record, MP3's formal name is MPEG Layer 3. It allows large audio files to be condensed to about one-tenth their size without significantly harming music quality). There are thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of geeks, college kids and teenagers who have some of the rich and diverse music and song libraries, and who have rarely, if ever, bought a CD, for for whom music piracy is an entrenched cultural, even political ideology. They are the real legacy of the recording industry's ignorant response to the Internet. They ought as well be a powerful warning to other kinds of media companies seeking to maintain their monopolies on information or culture.

Most popular music is in the hands of a few companies - Bertelsmann, EMI-Capitol, Universal, Polygram, Sony Music and Warner Music. Just a few years ago, if you wanted music, you had to go buy a CD at a store or order one online. Now, you can visit countless sites where you can download and trade MP3's in minutes. Before, you could give a CD to friend. Now you can make one available to millions of people in minutes.

If MP3's may make CD's and stereo's obsolete, The Diamond Rio PMP300 personal music player, inspired by the spread of MP3's all over the Net and the Web, may do in the CD Player and the Walkman as well. The MP3 compression formula is the basis for the Rio , sold for about $200 by Diamond, Multimedia. The Rio is the first, and so far, only, MP3 player on the market.

Together, the MP3 and the Rio may completely change the way music is contracted, sold and distributed. They may also offer some of the most significant clues yet as to how digital technology will challenge corporate control of other forms of popular culture and intellectual property.

How has the recording industry responded? They tried unsucessfully to block the sale of the Rio in court, and are looking at other dubious commercial digital solutions, including the development of digital music players - one is being worked on by AT&T -- that essentially encrypt music and keep it from being shared or given away.

Although the record companies are shrieking that their copyrights are being violated, and that recording artists aren't being fairly reimbursed, it's hard to shed many tears for them. The music industry is expected to rake in $40 billion in worldwide sales this year, and to make more than $30 million in digital music sales.

The rise of the MP3's has sparked all sorts of legal and ethical questions. Although many of the songs in college kid's playlists are illegally obtained - under copyright laws, music cannot be distributed without the permission of the artist or his/her company, many are perfectly legal to download or trade, many being songs from unsigned bands that are giving their music away in the hopes of getting more exposure.

As a writer of books, I understand the need for some form of coherent copyright protections, and even depend on them for my livelihood. But music is a political, as well as legal and economic issue. For millions of Americans, music isn't simply entertainment, but one of the most pervasive forms of culture and individual expression. People have the right to have more control over what music is sold, and what they buy and listen to. Just as the zapper gave viewers more control over their TV's, MP3's and the Net are giving people who love music more control over what they acquire and hear. This movement is no longer stoppable.

And there are plenty of far-sighted and popular bands who understand that the broad distribution of their music might lead to more, not less revenue.

The Grateful Dead permitted, even encouraged taping of their music years ago, and encouraged distribution by any method, a cultural parallel to the idea behind Open Source Software; namely, that new information technology is putting control of information technology into the hands of individual people as well as corporations.

Other bands argue that by introducing more people to their music, they will sell more albums, and the growing popularity of some of these open source music groups - Phish, Public Enemy, Leftover Salmon, Widespread Panic, Galactica - among them. Music that is freely distributed doesn't have to be completely free: the bigger issue is cost and choice.

Ignorance about the Internet isn't good business anymore. It's dangerous, even foolish. The young, maligned for years as addicted, ignorant and apathetic, are in control of the most revolutionary and sophisticated information technology ever. Alienating them isn't a prescient business philosophy.

Like many corporate media, the recording industry has been mind-boggingly slow to grasp the potential of Internet distribution, perhaps because there are too many people - agents, manufacturers, retailers - making money off of the present system. Independent labels, pirates, geeks and Webheads are already figuring out how to distribute music on the net (and make tons of money), even if the record companies haven't. Distribution of music on the Web offers potential as well as pitfalls. Digital sales could cut promotion, manufacturing and distribution costs.

Music companies could make their artists and titles available to sites like, or throw up their own sites, offer their own free software, sell music in smaller, cheaper units, and perhaps even - God forbid - give new, struggling artists a chance to offer their work to music lovers.

From the beginning, many corporations have sensed the enormous potential of the Internet to alter long-standing legal understandings about intellectual content. There are millions of people on the Net and the Web who have been trading, downloading or otherwise acquiring intellectual property for nothing for years now, from computer games to software and upgrades, to music, news and textual material. "I break it down this way," Mike, a geek I met in San Francisco told me last month, "intellectual content on the Web is mine, and I don't believe I should have to pay for it. Material property - milk, cars, TV, furniture is something I have to pay for."

Mike had a playlist that had more than 1,000 songs on it, a digital library he'd been acquiring for nearly a year. "I have many of the songs I really love in my computer now. I spend half the weekends trading and upgrading. If they think I'm going back to buying one CD a month for $15, which is what I can afford, they're not just dumb, they're crazy."

The significance of MP3's goes way beyond the music industry. Technology is not only collecting enormous amounts of graphic and textual material in new, highly compressible ways, it's making it possible for millions of people to access, trade and appreciate that material whenever they want.

The much-invoked but rarely understood hacker battle cry - Information Wants To Be Free - is really an old idea, its rootings going back hundreds of years -- way before computing -- to then radical notions about individual liberty.

The MP3 player, of all things, offers a cautionary tale to the powerful and the greedy in the Digital Age: if you don't want to share, you just might get run over. Information does seem to want to cut itself loose, and the Net is making this ancient fantasy come true.

You can e-mail me at

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The Music Industry and the MP3

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    The author says:
    "As a writer of books, I understand the need for some form of coherent copyright protections, and even
    depend on them for my livelihood. But music is a political, as well as legal and economic issue."

    music is a political, legal and economic issue. . . but somehow books are NOT?

    What does this statement mean? its not backed up by anything. There is no argument in this article that doesn't apply to books as well. One of the key points of the MP3 controversy is that the OpenSource movement applies to more than software and we have to figure out how information gets paid for. If information is going to be free, then should we all be paid for nothing but physical labor?

    These are almost philisophical questions, but consider these: if software is to be free, then what about books, visual art, and music.
    Should people be paid only for factory work from now on?

    I don't know the answers, but I realized a few years ago that RMS was onto something that didn't stop at software - and was VERY hard to live with in a capitalist society where the highest value types of labor were the very ones that he proposed should be free.

  • Please don't use the term "piracy" to describe copyright infringement. This was a term selected by the major copyright holders because it conjures up images of actual pirates hi-jacking ships at gun point and stealing their cargo. Even if you think unauthorized copying of copyrighted material is wrong, I doubt you think it is as bad as robbing someone of their possessions at gun point. I suggest using a different term.
  • Posted by Windigo The Feral (NYAR!):

    Actually been a fan of his music for quite some time...waaaay back in the days when he was in Shotgun Messiah, then when he went solo, ad was pleasantly surprised to know he's working with KMFDM now. :)

    Which--for me, anyways--brings up a point regarding MP3s. Whom, exactly, is it going to hurt anymore if someone put up MP3s of old Shotgun Messiah songs? As it is, the albums are *all* out of print and have been for some time; Shotgun Messiah was dropped, along with hordes of other 80's metal/hard-rock artists, when MTV decided "Headbanger's Ball" should go to playing a continuous loop of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and the record companies figured "metal and hard rock isn't salable". The albums (two of which Skold actually was frontman on) and the EP they put out are NOT likely going to be re-released--not unless (for example) KMFDM gets famous, eMpTyV decides to actually start playing music videos again, Tim Skold becomes a household name, and all of a sudden folks want to hear his old stuff with Shotgun Messiah.

    In a case like that, I really do *not* see how it's hurting anyone. There is literally no way for the artist to make money because the damn albums are out of print and the record company is probably not going to re-release them. The only way you can GET Shotgun Messiah albums is secondhand, through used music stores, and I promise you that the "used CD stores" aren't paying RIAA royalties for their three-dollar CDs. :) Probably the only way they would be heard again by mass audiences is when rock stations do "80's metal weekends" (and Shotgun Messiah is JUST obscure enough they might not get played that often, especially the stuff when Tim Skold was actually frontman) or by somebody setting up a Tim Skold fan-site with MP3s of old Shotgun Messiah songs.

    Nonetheless, I would not be shocked that if (oh, for example) you did this and you put MP3s up of stuff from "Violent New Breed" or the "I Want More" EP, the RIAA would be on the poor sods like stink on shite. No matter that the albums have literally been out of print for almost eight years. No matter that this stuff is probably NEVER going to be re-released because the label isn't one that darn near specialises in metal (the only companies I've known to do re-releases of non-"big name" bands are Century Media and Metal Blade--for example, the latter re-released the stuff Armored Saint had done for 'em when John Bush joined Anthrax). No matter that most folks aren't even going to be SEARCHING this out unless they are Tim Skold fans to begin with, do regular rooting in the three-dollar-CD stores for out-of-print stuff, or get it on MP3.

    I could see the bitching if, say, the record labels intended to re-release it or if the albums were still being published. (I'd be hesitant to MP3, say, the Metal Blade albums that Armored Saint or Lizzy Borden did for that reason.) If the things are out of print and probably won't ever go BACK in print, though, I don't see the harm of it.

    (For the record, yes, I do actually see a big place for MP3 for "music archival". Some of the more interesting stuff from bands has never been recorded on CD, or the CDs are out of print. Tapes will eventually get sticky-shed...I'd rather the stuff be around for other folks to enjoy before the master goes missing because the company went under or it got bought by a collector in Goldmine Magazine. I want folks to know what Tim Skold's early stuff sounded like. I want folks to know exactly how Elektra Records ruined Motley Crue's first album by givin' them the chance to hear the original Leathur Records version, including the one song they cut off the Elektra version because it'd been released already as a single. :) That kind of thing. :)

    And just as an aside--those of you who DID like the song "Anarchy" on the new KMFDM album, do yourself a favour and go to the used-record stores or hunt in the MP3 archives and find some old Skold or Shotgun Messiah stuff. (It still impresses me to no end that Tim's doing a lot of the same cool stuff he was doing damn near eight years ago. :) A lot of you might especially like the last Shotgun Messiah album, "Violent New Breed"...feel free to have a listen. :)

  • Posted by stefaanQuix:

    don't forget the phone answering machine! it increases your free time by a 1000% because like you dont have to wait for The Man to phone you anymore so you can practice your trumpet a lot more and revolutionize jazz. yeah cool! answering machine users unite and take over! now!
  • I agree. Editorials should be proofread more carefully. It looks like this was posted after not too carefully running a spell checker, hence invented/invited etc.

    Actually, "invited" is spelled correctly. A spell checker would not have flagged a mischosen word. It takes actual human intervention to catch that one.

    Disclaimer: I don't use a spell checker, so I'm assuming that it only checks for spelling mistakes.


  • Technical note:

    Sampling rate limits spectral resolution capabilities. DSP theory teaches that. In addition, you need to have different target spectrums for different formats, as lossy formats (eg. MP3) throw away part of that spectrum in the interest of saving storage space, whereas non-lossy formats (eq. WAV) hold true to the proper frequency characteristics of an audio clip.

    If you fail to take this into consideration, you will fail miserably. And your technique would be fairly easy to circumvent if you don't access the entire file you check.

  • I completely agree with the spirit of the article, that the record companies missed a bet, and are now paying for it.

    I used to buy a CD for a song, back when they weren't *as* overpriced as they are now. I know how much it costs to press a CD in volume, and I know how much the band gets. I can't justify paying the rest of the cost.
    Nevermind. You just had to be there [].
  • Ugh... music isn't source. And I wouldn't say that recorded music is in its most preferred form for modification.

    The closest thing to source code for music would be something like a MIDI track, guitar tablature or a traditional score.

    Recorded music is valued because it captures a particular performance by particular people.
  • Any "information" product can (and I believe will) run into this same "MP3" type of dilema sooner or later. Take books for example, when e-books start to become more popular I'll bet you see publishers facing the same kind of free distribution (a.k.a. pirating) problems that the music industry now has. How about movies? term papers? software? magazines? etc....

    The point is, if you own or sell an information product then you had better start to think about how the internet will affect your business. U.S. Governments are even beginning to have problems with some freedom of information laws. Government institutions have records that have always been open to the public but were rarely looked because they required an inconvenient trip to the courthouse. All of a sudden, these records cause all kinds of commotion when they are posted on the internet and instantly available to millions. The software industry has been facing the "MP3" problem for years and just recently seems to be getting a handle on things.

    I don't claim to have the best answers but I can at least recognize the situation before it hits me in the face.

    Good luck you big record label types. You'll need it.

  • There isn't really a standard 'source code' format for music, so it would be difficult to release music as open source.

    At the risk of nitpicking, there really are ways to release music essentially as open source. You're right about no standard format, but there are many useful formats to release music in for editing purposes. For example: sheet music, unmixed audio tracks, MIDI files, unfiltered samples, synthesizer sound patches, etc. I imagine "open source" music being this sort of raw, uncomposed data which is much more remix-friendly (remixing being the only analogue to source patching that I can imagine).

    For that matter, there's no "standard format" for computer source, either. I have source code in C, C++, perl, Python, Java, etc.

  • I remember when 300k was a big download. Nowadays downloading 100MB of MP3 is common for a lot of people. I think it won't take long before the 4GB of a DVD movie will be a regularly traded item.

    Hollywood, be afraid. Be very afraid.
  • I envy those people who can select individual tracks and make a CD they enjoy. Sometimes I hear a song on the radio that I like, so I think about buying the CD. Why? Because maybe there are other songs on the CD that I'll never hear on the radio. The only way for me to hear them is by buying the CD.

    "But in a perfect world, you could just download all the MP3's and decide which ones you like". Well, if I can download them for free, why pay for it?

    "Ok, then you can just download samples of each song." So what? I don't think a blurb is going to be enough to decide whether I like it. Besides, the only time I have to listen to music is in the car, which means I need it on CD to begin with.

    All in all, free MP3's are the only way I get to hear music that I like that's not on the radio. Unfortunately, most of the songs on suck big time. Maybe that's why they're free.

    Timur "too sexy for my code" Tabi,,
  • Well, it's all about supply and demand. They can complain all day long about music pirates and a fair price, but the truth of the matter is, either they have to find a way to block copying (doubtful) or they have to start selling the CD's at a price that even the pirates will not mind paying. The more people that pirate music, the lower the demand for CD's will be and then the music companies will be forced to charge a more realistic price. Better yet, they could even start selling mp3's online for a cheap price, say 25 or 50 cents per song, and people will download those simply out of conveneince. It would be more conveninet to download the real version than to spend a few hours on a search engine looking for the pirated one on a fast site that actually works.
  • I have not really begun to play with these as i have always assumed they were of pretty limited quality (like a sony mini-disk) and would reveal serious source limitations on a higher end system (aaragon, cal-audio, vanderstien sorta stuff). anybody tried this? what do they really sound like?
    also note: pretty easy to buy recordable cd players right now. (2 decks, cd to cd) they work great although blank disks are still much more expensive than they oughtta be. but that will change. the crossover with pc's will make this trend much harder to kill than dat.
  • that means that WinAmp, X11amp, K-Jofol and all those other encoders don't exist

    You mean decoders..

    Maybe you should get your facts straight.
  • Uh, it might make CDs obsolete. It definitely makes tapes obsolete. But a fileformat isn't going to make a stereo obsolete, as without the stereo, you'll have a hard time hearing it without headphones or little powered speakers, which isn't very useful for parties or whatever. Sure, you can use your computer as a stereo by using powered speakers, but you tend to get better (and yet much less expensive) sound by using an actual stereo hooked up to your computer (I do - my complete stereo system with nice speakers and Dolby Pro Logic cost $270 and gives MUCH better sound than any $270 set of Altec Lansings you can find, and has many more features to boot). Also, Average Joe Consumer probably wouldn't want to use a computer as a stereo system; they'd probably prefer something like the Empeg or some dedicated MP3 player unit.

    Also, it's "stereos," not "stereo's." One would think that a professional writer who has written so many books would know the difference between the plural and the possessive.
  • Ok, Here's my take. Whenever you distribute something digitally you have to compress it for it to be do-able. So you loose quality whenever you compress. I think all information should be free, however, there is value in hard copy. I would prefer to read a book printed on paper than to read a book on my screen.

    With DVD now we have the potential for audio quality and playback features unmatchable with current CD technology. I think record companies should start letting artists give their work away in mp3 or vqf or whatever format they want. But if someone wants the hard copy, they'll have to buy it.

    The same goes for all forms of intelectual property that this can pertain to. Books can easily be distributable over the internet, but many people would prefer hardcopy that won't vanish with a power surge, and doesn't give them any eye strain like CRTs or LCDs or Plasma displays.

    At the very least, there's some sentimental value in hardcopy isn't there?


  • It's a simple calculation, really. If they win, they keep screwing the general populace for megabucks. If they fight and lose, they can still maintain their megabuck profits for a few years yet. Meanwhile they can cash in their stock options and bail out, leaving their replacements to take the fall.

    If on the other hand they decide to ride the wave, their profits drop hugely. This would *really* rile the shareholders, and it would put a nasty big hole in their personal stock. The fact that this actually extends the lifespan of their company wouldn't enter into it.
  • Yet another Katz piece telling us what we already know. While this stuff was OK on hotwired, I question it's value here.
  • I'm on a call, so I'm about two steps from being incoherent.

    But geez guys, do you mind? I just started a record label. I want to release real records, not stupid sound files.
  • by Cybervoid ( 6243 )
    How exactly does one release the source of music, do they release the lyrics and sheets of music with the song chords on them? Then do you download them and complie them yourself?

    Just a thought, think before you post.
  • Is Katz referring to the remote control?
  • This story still sends shivers down my spine.

    I interviewed with BMG (Bertlesman(sp?)) here in Indy last Jan. They needed some C++ pounders to fix some system they had out sourced and could not maintain (read get running). The system was a part of their card processing operation which, in short, received the PLEASE DON'T SEND MY THIS CRAP card from sucker^h^h^h^h^h customers, which were then sent by container to a third world country for scaning/data entry. The card data was then sent back to their US order processing plant in east Indy.

    At one point in the Interview, while talking to some mid level Mgr. I asked "Why don't you just dump all this gyrating and sell CDs on a website at a discount?" Her answer went somthing along the lines of "The profit margin on the club format is far higher then retail sales because we can depend on customer mistakes when they don't send in the card on time" I was stupid enough to clarify her answer. "You mean there's more money to be made from people being careless or dumb enough to sign up than by operting a straight forward retail sales operation". "Yes You've got it!"

    I don't believe in any deities but I do think there is a special hell for businessmen who systematically rely on the carelessness or gulibility of their customers.

    At that moment I had just touched my hand to the door to that hell and the shock I received was strong enough to convince me that being unemployed with a Mortgage and two mouths to feed was preferable to working for these soulless ghouls.

    The smugness with which BMG viewed its customers was amazing. Every employee in the place knew that their product, a record club, was entirely based on the foolishnes of their customers. To these people, the concept of open source is anathma. They're like deer caught in the headlights of the oncoming Internet revolution. The mental attitude which allows them to run a record club makes it impossible for them to actually accept the coming of the age of MP3.

    Should we honk the horn, stopm the brakes, and give them a fighting chance? Or fry 'em up for breakfast?

  • As far as i understand, you can't play MP3 on hi-end box'es. Even if you can, the quality will be bad.
    So - long live CD and what's next there!

  • Is it really relevent? You yourself are not sure of the facts, why dis on Katz?
  • Excuse my lack of knowledge of your slang, but what's a zapper? :)
  • I dont usually reply to empty noise from AC's..

    But let me make something clear.

    The information bits that carry the id tags of mp3s (where you put artist name and other such info) lies at the end of the mp3 file. There is no way in the world you can move it to any where in the front of the file. Doing so would break compatiblity with 100% of the mp3 players and possibly defy the format.

    If you were to put your own headers ala.. id2 you'd need to put it at the back of the file, which means.. you'd have to download the whole freaking file. I'm sure you'd enjoy that. And stop talking bullshit when you dont understand things.
  • If Mp3's are "killing the music industry", then bring on the MP3's!

    Record company executives are biting the hand that feeds them on this (although I'm sure they see it the other way around). The music industry is so conservative and formulaic these days- anyone notice a lack of growth in any genre? Mp3's are a breath of fresh air in an industry where distribution and promotion have defined an atrist's success or lack therof.

  • Mr. Katz,

    While I respect the effort you put into this article, I can't help but be put off by the way you wrote it. I reads like some kind of lame WIRED magazine cultural-manifesto-wannabe, for crying out loud!

    Record Industries: "clueless... fat, greedy... venal.. greedy... mega-corporations... dumb... ignorant..."

    MP3: "stunning blitz... merciless assault... revolutionary..."

    You paint your pictures in broad strokes to provoke a reaction in your reader. But in doing so, you're exaggerating the whole thing into ludicrousness:

    "The generation of people now rapidly acquiring MP3's will probably never pay for CD's again in their lives."

    Why not? Most of them are buying CDs NOW. If you want the music on a CD, buying the CD is a lot cheaper and safer than storing the MP3s on your always-overcrowded hard disk. And everywhere you go, the infrastructure for playing it is widely available and cheap. Plus, you won't lose all of your music when (yes, WHEN) your hard disk crashes.

    There was a good point to the article, namely that the companies are behind the times. Not exactly breaking news, but a good point. And bringing Customdisc into the picture as a counter-example was also well done. But you blew the prose all out of proportion.

    I don't like screeds, Mr. Katz. I started reading Slashdot because I wanted access to news that was factual, not preprocessed newsy-bits like all the other news outlets provide. Most of the time, modern bad journalism isn't worth the effort to sift the facts from the FUD. I don't want journalism. I want facts.

    I hope you will continue to write for Slashdot, but I also hope you can take the high road and stick to the facts a little more closely.

    Thank you for reading this.


    Jon Acheson
  • Exactly my thinking. MP3s may be great to "prelisten" music and they may be handy, but if I want to really *enjoy* music at home, there's nothing like a good (and I *mean* good - or better...) stereo and a good LP (in rare circumstances a CD will do). Why anybody would want to use compressed audio for "real" listening, is beyond me...

  • Ok, let me introduce myself. Can we say x warez kiddie turned linux freak.

    Now that that is over. I just have to say one thing. Record companies charge too much. even .99 cents a song is to expensive. I for one do not plan on stopping my mp3 activities. Warez is stupid, but free, illegal MP3z are the shit (pardon the french).

  • matthew wrote:
    "...the MP3 may be one of the most political, even revolutionary bits of technology ever invited."

    Dude, it's sentences like this that make one wonder if you get out much.
    Typo's happen. Such is life.
  • In most retail channels (CD included I beleve) the record company actually pays the store for the privilage of selling thier records(called slotting fees). The record company also usually assumes all or a great majority of the risk. This is where the money goes. Massive inventory that takes many months before dime one comes your way. Of course since no-one else can afford to grease the endless layer upon layer of weasels, you can just have you wife perform the actual crap you are selling.

  • . . . this model seems to have some limits.

    One that immediately springs to mind is symphonic recordings. The market is small, the cost enormous. The tracks are extremely long. Fidelity is very important. And the artists are already underpaid.

    Another problem needs to be addressed. Despite the fact that many claims have been made about how everyone would be willing to pay for the tracks one at a time, from what I've heard and read, many if not most people who collect MP3 tracks have more than a few pirated tracks. Having displayed this willingness to ignore copyrights, can you blame the record companies for being suspicious about the future intentions of the MP3 audience?

    Artists' time is valuable and they deserve to be paid for it. Musicians worth their salt spend more time learning their art than do the members of any other profession I can think of. Advertisers in broadcast media may pay your favorite artist on your behalf, but you shouldn't expect musicians to go hungry for the sake of their self-expression or your enjoyment.


    "I swear by my life and my love of it that I shall never live for the sake of another man, nor ask him to live for mine." --Ayn Rand
  • Well, it's all very well for the recording companies to say that if you don't buy the CD, the artists are going to suffer. But how much percentage of the cash you sell out on records goes to the artists? 10, maybe 20 percent? Not to mention that artists don't get to eat much of that, anyway, since they probably have to buy equipment, pay their manager and tour expenses out of that as well. There's the retailers, the distributors, the manufacturers, the song publishers, and the record company. Who are, shall we say, a bit inefficient. Promotional expenses? Often that's a cover up for shouting execs big decadent parties where they can do heaps of backslapping for discovering Alanis Morrisette, whilst letting dozens of more talented musicians rot in day job limbo.

    Anyway, the recording industry deserves a slapping, and it's going to get it.

    I will say that I do find MP3s a bit lacking in sound quality, being less entropic than CD Audio, but there are new compression formats that are less shitty sounding, and though the actual format might change, the idea of compressed audio. Increased bandwidth in the future will just be another nail in the coffin. Either way, MP3 is a great promotional media, akin to radio, and if people are quite happy to regard MP3s as a keeper format, no amount of RIAA posturing will change that.

    I still buy CDs, BTW, because I'm still in love with the idea of the album. But in the future I might well be buying those albums directly from the artist or small label. Even if they sell at half the price of what they do now, they'll see more of the money. Hell, they might even be able live off the income. Ironically, this is one case where market forces may bring about a more equitable outcome. Though I suspect I'm dreaming in that case.

    It's a Brave New World, kiddies. Hold on tight.

  • I have to buy a bunch of CD's and I don't have quite the convenience of a record store -- I have to wait for a while, but heck, I get to shop online, and how can you beat that? I get most of the same popular artists...

    And you -KNOW- they're still making money...

  • I find it extremely interesting how few people are jumping on this one. Whence the lack of interest?

    For my part, I wonder if intellectual property, in the end, should be mainly free. It would certainly increase the dignity and knowledge of the common man. But without greed to drive us, would we create much of anything at all? Is open source simply an anomaly, a product of the online culture?

    Now a more specific question, to which I don't know the answer (I don't have enough facts): was the Renaissance propelled by the free exchange of ideas, or did people get lots of money by creating new art and new philosophy? In the same vein, did anyone listen? Was there enough distribution of books and papers to make reading a mass phenomenon, or was it contained to the elite?

    I'm just curious to see if there are many opinions out there that aren't based on simple radicalism. Sure information wants to be free, but the question is, should we let it?

  • Woah, I'm sorry, did you say "WinAmp's site"? I'ma afraid you made a factual error there, as is owned and operated by Zco, Inc. You probably meant to say something like [], or [].
  • I have to say, I 100% agree with Jon on this. Its about time that the consumer really had choice in what music they buy. I'm so sick of pop music and the never ending crap that gets pushed though MTV, the radio and music stores. For about a year and a half now I've been lurking around in the back of hole-in-the-wall music shops that sell my types of music. While I eventually find what I'm looking for, too often I would get stuck with CD's that I really didn't like, but couldn't take back. The net has been a _huge_ help in helping me find albums that are on small labels, but it hasn't really helped with weeding out those not so good albums. I hope to find more MP3 samples on artist's pages and in the future, I'm planning on eventually just buying MP3's (I need more disk space first)
  • Very nice article, you really nail it there.

    The fact that the record co's totaly missed the net as an emarging distribution channel, and discarding of ideas like costum CD distribution, was (probably) a very big reason why MP3 has become as wide spread as it has.

    And frankly, I am gratfull for their stupidity.. :-)

    I am a amature musician, and I had a nice chance to use internet distribution for a track I made, a few months ago.

    Due to a govrement decision to rase student tuition fees, a student strike was initiated in Israel.

    There were demonstrations, marches, all the useall stuff.

    I decided to contribute, and made a little dance/trance track that used a sample from a speach of leader of the student council.
    I compressed it as a MP3, I put it on a site, and through two local mailing lists got people to know. I asked in my post for people to download it and get it on the radio, demonstration sites, and so on.

    In less then a week the track got played on radio stations, and all the demonstration sites. My estamete that 10,000 Israelis downloaded it (there were a few FTP sites that I couln't monitor, including the main geocities site.)

    I also tried to interest a record company to get out as a single, to gain more exposure. but by the time they responded, everyone who needed to have a copy, got one.

    ( you can read the whole story and if you like Download the track from: 87/studentim.html

    Fact is, that without the widespread distribution of MP3 players and music, I wouldn't have a chance to get that track heard by all those people.

  • This is true for today's music cds, but the ones Jon was talking about that you can customize.. I think their prices aren't nearly as bad, because most CDs today sell with one or two good songs and ten bad ones. Using this new method you could pack your custom CDs with good songs, and it would be worth more (to me, anyway) than a single-artist cd with a few good songs and many bad songs.
  • Okay, lets play with math. I pay dollar for a blank CD, then use a roadrunner internet account and a cd writer to get an album on that cd. If there was a good way to get like $1-$2 to the artists who recorded this, then that would make the price for a cd $2-$3. If they, say, sell 100,000 cds they get 100 to 200 thousand dollars. That's enough to keep food in thier mouths... and that doesn't include the revenue they can get from concerts, t-shirts, bongs, etc. they can get money from. Damn, i would love to know where all this money goes for these $17 cds i keep buying. Advertising, maybe...
    And another good thing about MP3s is the band wouldn't have to sell thier souls to be heard. The couple hundred cds you may have in your cd collection is only the tip of the iceberg of great music, because there are so many bands out there who do not want to or aren't good at selling themselves to the record labels. With MP3s i can listen to any damn band with the technology to put thier muzak on the net.
  • Katz briefly mentioned the Dead and the tape trading phenomenon. This is what got me into MP3 in the first place. The now defunct Dave Matthews Bootleg archive that was at Duke was absolutely exciting...I had access to songs that I would never get to hear because I wasn't in to tape trading, but loved the new twist. Did it hurt the band? Hell no! I now own all of Dave's official releases with the exception of UTTnD. The boots really got me into the band. I currently have 2 CDRs full of Pearl Jam and 4 full of NIN, and I have purchased two of the official releases from each since I started collecting their stuff on the net. Whether these bands know it or not, MP3 has helped their sales. At least in the case of PJ, I respect the band's stance on taping and have gotten into their music all over again. The net is really awesome at enhancing my knowledge and interest in something.
  • *snaps fingers* (like the people in coffee shops for those of you slow people =)

    I've been wanting to express that I idea for a long time. I'm glad other people feel this way.

    btw: information should be free but the means of aquiring doesn't have to be (classes, ISPs, etc).

  • If software is going to be free, we need to find another way to eat, which isn't likely. There has to be a way of assigning value to things that can be easily copied, such as software, music, and yes, books, that don't lead to monopolies controlling the flow of information. None of this stuff is free in terms of production cost, but that does not imply that there needs to a per copy fee. I don't have the answer here -- I just know that we've got this question that noboby has answered yet.
  • As far as I know the Renaissance was financed by wealthy individuals who commissioned works by the artists. The difference here is that the works were not easily distributed, that is, you only got one Mona Lisa. Under this model, there would only be one copy of Quicken and it would cost $14,000,000.00.

    We need to find a way to reward people for creating, without granting them ownership of the idea. We need to allow people to stand on the shoulders of others and have a way to compensate them for trying.

    The digital things that we are now creating, including software, books, music and movies, are not the same as the physical products of the industrial age, just as the mass produced products of that age were different than the one-off, hand crafted things that came before them. The difference this time around is greater, as are the ramifications. This is too big, the record companies and the Microsoft's will likely get run over as the new rules start establishing themselves. I don't know what those rules are, I am also sure that we don't get to create them. I'll point to Wall Street on this one, the markets are driven by these same forces, and nobody has ever gotten a handle that.
  • I seem to recall when CD's were first announced, it was said that within about 5 years (when the production costs dropped), that CD's would be available for $5 or less. The music industry conveniently forgot this promise when they realized that they could get away with continuing to charge $15 or more per CD, regardless of their actual costs.

    And how much of that money actuall goes to the artist anyhow? Not much...
  • An artist should be free to release music however he wishes by whatever means he deems and can afford.
    It takes money for an independant artist to release a CD, and signing a record deal does give the artist more publicity and widespread distribution, but takes away from his control over his music and so on yadda yadda.....
    The point is, there's nothing like owning a CD of your favorite artist. One or two singles is sometimes all you will want from others.
    CDs wont die out, and neither will DVD, but there's a bit of restructuring that will take place.
  • See (hear) the following:

    Why cooperation with RMS is impossible []
  • by dirty ( 13560 )
    wonders if he should even respond to such dribbel(sp?). First off most bands don't make that much money. It's the record companies who make the money. I don't even want to ask how one open source's music.
  • I've not ventured into the world of MP3s just yet, but it seems to make perfect financial and creative sense to me. These days, the artists have to pay the record company for the production and promotion of the albums they produce. That's often why they go on tour for years at a time, city after city after sity: Those concerts are where they make their money -- not in album sales.

    So if you can eliminated the costs of production that the artist has to pay, the artist can then tour less if they wish to (thus allowing them to write less songs about hotels and airplanes, which should only be considered a bonus), make more money, and be more creative. Their fans can get the music in a decent format. Hell, they can get the music today off of a radio if they don't mind putting up with the cassette tape quality off-the-air.

    And putting together compilation CDs - while definitely not my thing - would allow more artists to share in the riches.

    I don't see why CDs need to cost more than $10 or $12, at the most, and if you can eliminate some of their necessity and make money off more of them from the net, with lower overhead, you might be able to lower the prices, too.

    I think. I'm no econ expert. Part of me wants to scream out that if the CDs aren't being mass-produced, then they'll cost more per item.

    That being said, I don't want this whole "MP3 Revolution" to signal the end of the record store. I still enjoy wandering into those to browse and pick up the occasional CD.

    Or to sum up all of this in more OSS-centric terms: The music should be free, but the artists not. Pay to see the artists. But use the music as their advertisement, I suppose.

    -Augie, hoping any of this made sense
  • This is why in the Indie scene BMG is known as the Big Mean German.

  • Just to be a little more accurate, the recent Candian levy on blank CDs and tapes is a levy, not a tax -- the money does not go to the government. It was lobbied for by SOCAN, the Canadian musicians union, though the SOCAN memeber I've talked to about it (Nash the Slash) hates the whole idea. I expect it will be challenged in court soon. In the mean time, you can't find blank CDs *anywhere* up here...
  • It seems to me that the broadcast industry has spent an extrodinary amount of money as a whole to create a free distribution network. Radio and Music Video TV have taught us to expect that cost-free entertainment. Certainly revenue is generated by advertising, however anyperson with real desire could tape all their favorite songs they hear on the radio as well as the ones they see on MTV (as if MTV still played videos...). This ability has been available for as long as I can recall. I remember radio stations playing ENTIRE ALBUM SIDES without break. If that isn't GIVING the music away than what is?

    So what is the issue with mp3? Well it is not really that the industry sees a threat, but that they see a cheaper easier distribution method that they want to take advantage of but have not yet put the resources together to create. They are waiting for a cultural transformation and refuse to invest in starting it. Now it has taken hold, and they have realized that their unwillingness to transform their business models before it had an immediate reward will cost them. There are so many ways that music could be distributed pay per song, that it almost staggers one. The problem is that someone came out with a method that they couldn't control. Time for them to stop whining and put their money into the mix somewhere else then in the lawyers pockets. If they want an industry standard then it better have value beyond the value to them. The dread of the digital perfect copy may be merely a smokestream to keep potentially valuable artists from risking the same free exposure they would recieve from Radio, without the executive decision making we all know and abhor... See when a musician releases a song without a label or with a small label, and a big company "discovers" them, it is likely that the big company won't push music that was already distributed and will require new songs... Now if an artist struggling for exposure makes her work known through this method, a label could very well refuse to publish those songs on the grounds that they are essentially public domain. Lets see just how much of a hammer the record industry can muster..

    On the other hand, what about us consumers. Will we really support independent musicians in a shareware or pay-per-song model, that isn't controlled by the industry? If not, then those starving musicians will eventually have to realize that their internet fans don't really support their effort.

    In the long run, with the miniaturization of storage and processing, eventually all of us will have the wearable computer power to, as a side, provide us with an unlimited amount of music anywhere we want. There isn't anything that can stop that. I would not mind if a musician automatically recieved .05 cents every time I listened to their song if the technology is simple and unrestrictive. Maybe it is time for us geeks to support the underground and indie musicans with a nice mp3+ with auditing capabilities. In any case enjoy your tunes...

  • For awhile they had a jukebox where you could select like 15 songs and it would put them on a tape for you, label it and spit it out for like $0.99 per song or so.

    Did this die for lack of user support or because of record company big wigs? It would be an interesting case study with some possibly implications here ( granted, the internet wasnt involved ).

  • by dark3r ( 14184 )
    Bah..what is all the hype about mp3 anyway? Searching for mp3s leads you to nothing but pop up ads for porn sites, pleas for "Click this banner or my site promoting gratuitous sex and nothing related to music or mp3s will die!" or a page filled with really ugly background and text combinations.
    I don't see mp3 threatening anyone's bottom line nor do I people stop buying CD's because of it. As far as I have been able to determine, mp3s don't exist. Unless, of course, you count the indie music that no one cares to listen to anyway.

  • "...the MP3 may be one of the most political, even revolutionary bits of technology ever invited."

    Dude, it's sentences like this that make one wonder if you get out much.

  • A very small number of musicians are paid well. But most have second jobs.

    "open source music. music should be free. f- the bands" --did C. Taco write a little script to automatically post tripe like this about every subject posted on slashdot? I mean, if the story was frog-leg sandwiches in Marseilles, would two or three posts an hour automatically appear saying:

    "Open source frog-legs. Frog-legs chould be free. f-ck the French chefs and waiters and those friggin' 'suits' who own the restaurants!"

    Think for yourself Anonymous Waldo.

  • Bands make most of their money off touring. T-shirts sales for example. There are alot less people invloved in tour than there are in the studio recording, advertsing, distribution etc...Ever wonder why smaller bands tour relentlessly?? Well there is your anwser.

    I am an audio geek. I am a musician. I simply despise the music biz. Im sure tons of others like me feel the same way. But after listening to mp3 ears tell me a different story. I, am I know I'm not alone, can tell a significant difference in the overall quality in the dynamic range of the music from mp3. I have listened to alot of mp3's on headphones and from a normal listening perspective. To me, the overall quality of mp3 annoys me. I was talking about this at a couple of xmas shin-digs at a couple of studios. All to often I would get into a conversation with an engineer about mp3. They agreed with me. What came out of those conversations was this...anytime you strip out 90% (mp3 claims to reduce the size of the file to about 1/10th the size) of the suppposedly "unused frquencies", it will affect the overall dynamic range of the recording. Everytime I put of some headphones and listen to mp3, I can hear it. It's a flanging some of the data still there has been aliased to much. I hear it everytime. I know I'm not alone here.

    CD's won't go away anytime soon...nor will record companies. There are over 4000 record companies in the US alone..Indy and non-Indy. The big six still control a vast majority of them. All neatly branched out like a family tree. I agree with Katz that they are slow to respond to this digital "revolution", but on how many people ae invloved with the industry, it won't go away.

    I see the only real bitch here here is the record execs..but why did they get into this biz in the first place?? Why did Steve Case start AOL?? WHy did anyone start a biz?? To make $$$...and they all get greedy. It's just how it goes. You see this kind of rants in every buisiness. Intellectual property rights and the like are everywhere.

    I think it's cool that bands can use mp3 to promote themselves. I think it's cool that Crisco does what it does. I think it's cool that I can buy a little device that allows me to talk to people around the world (telephone). Just remember the little people involved.
  • I don't know if "fairly certain there is another hardware player" constitutes an argument.
  • i havent bought cds for over 2 years, i sure as hell am not going to start buying them. btw my CD-R had to be the bust purchace. ;^)
  • Very well written, bravo!

    Now if only the record companies would read and _understand_ this article...


Yet magic and hierarchy arise from the same source, and this source has a null pointer.