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A Change in Music Distribution

By nuntius in Culture
Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 10:35:32 PM EST
Tags: Music (all tags)

The Internet is causing major changes in how we do things. People are calling each other over it to avoid long-distance charges. Bank-at-home schemes are prolific. You can even buy your groceries online.

Why then won't the music industry adopt the Internet as radio's modern kid brother?

Due to a lack of response by the music industry, cheap hacks have sprung up nationwide offering people some of the benefits reaped by distributing music over the Internet. Chief among these are speed of distribution and the reduction of overhead costs--two things which one would think would have the music industry jumping up and down for joy.

As you probably already know, current peer to peer forms of filesharing (like Napster) are highly inefficient. Thousands, millions of copies of these files are being stored on personal hard drives. Due to slow servers and poorly organized music files, people waste hours burning CD's and Gigs of hard drive space storing local copies of the music. There has to be a better way.

When it comes right down to it, people just want to be able to listen to their favorite bands without being hassled. Most people want their favorite bands to be supported, but dislike the current marketplace where CD's and audio tape are the only legal forms for music--how "outdated!"

Right now, "piracy" is rampant because people know the benefits technology offers, but the companies with the copyrights haven't figured out how to deal with this new medium. Eventually, the music industry will realize that the Internet offers a great deal, and things will stabilize to "normal" again.

My belief is that the music industry will regain its lead not through the court but by offering the general public something that small-scale ventures simply can't. What if you could download top-quality, neatly packaged tracks freely from your favorite music vendor? mp3 or better quality audio streaming off of _fast_ servers, with logo art for each track and possibly other goodies (such as transcripts) bundled along. Music vendors allowing you to freely save these files. Sounds good?

The catch would be simple: either pay a low monthly subscription fee for unlimited access to their huge database of professionally packaged music, or don't complain about the brief ads interspersed in all the additional content accompanying each track.

I think this would be a win-win situation. We could listen to whatever we want, whenever we want, and enjoy bonuses like cover art, transcripts, and interviews. Individuals wouldn't have to dedicate Gigs of storage space to save mp3's--the content-added files would be larger, but they'd also be readily available for download whenever needed--like a web browser for music.

By providing these hard-to-find goodies, the music companies would be sure we'd keep coming back for more. Most people don't mind a little advertising, as long as it provides "added value."

By providing easy access and searching for tracks, fast servers, and special content, the music industry could really provide a service which people would be willing to (directly or not) pay for. Until then, we have inefficient Napster and lawsuits.

So what do you think? Will this model gain acceptance in the music industry? Does it sound like I smoke crack to think it would? My interest is up.

If like this idea, I'm looking for ideas on how to sell it to the music industry. (No licensing fees, of course ;-)

Maybe k5 can lead the way to healing this silly wound. At least we seem to have a few thinking heads present! :-P


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A Change in Music Distribution | 24 comments (22 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
An author's comment: (3.75 / 4) (#1)
by nuntius on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 12:32:57 AM EST

I'd like to thank everyone (positive and negative) for their responses to my earlier article...

It really wasn't what I was interested in. I think this current rendition, a constructive proposal to the industry, is more what I'm wanting.

I don't want people to have to creep around for the next 20 years whenever they listen to music--things would be much better if everyone could operate with the music industry's blessing.

Only by working with them will we be able to hammer out an agreement satisfactory to everyone.

BTW, is there a group already working on this type of an industry-guidance effort? I can't believe they'd turn down free market consulting and research if it was done rationally.

Daniel Herring

I voted I don't care... (3.60 / 5) (#2)
by MKalus on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 12:37:29 AM EST

.... because I onestly don't do.

I am not too interrested in all the surrounding of music, all the background infos etc.

And the type of streaming server I've already set up for myself with the webserver we have to host our website. I can easily stream the audio live over my cable modem or a friends DSL line without waiting.

The commercial Services would probably peak out at pretty low levels or have some other restrictions on it, so it doesn't make much sense for me to go there. And something like that was already tried: my.mp3.com and besides the legal problems I am not so sure it is technically feasable.

HDD space today is cheap so this "waste" is not much of an issue I would say, WHAT is sacred today is bandwith (and the reliblity of your upstream provider). I want to listen to the music WHEN I want and not suddenly have the net go down on me for one reason or the other.

And besides that. Digital TV / Settop Boxes already offer a huge Amount of "Radio Stations" who cater only to a certain taste. Without the Internet and as far as I can tell their downtime is way lower then the one on my DSL or Cable Modem.

-- Michael
My MLP (3.25 / 4) (#3)
by mattc on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 12:56:47 AM EST

Try Launchcast. It is a good alternative to the radio and napster (and is completely legal). It isn't going to solve all the problems you mentioned, but it's still a good idea. If everyone already knows about this service, sorry... I just started using it today.

Perfect opportunity... (2.87 / 8) (#5)
by fluffy grue on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 01:25:51 AM EST

...to p1mp my own album in development.

I am distributing it through mp3.com. I consider it a hobby, and I don't feel that someone should have to buy my music in order to enjoy it. I believe totally in the tipping system. The album will be completely downloadable (even when it's finished - right now it's in public alpha/beta, as I still need to finish one song and fine-tune another), and even redistributable if people want to. In addition to the mp3.com DAM CD, I hope to also make a limited release of the album at full-quality (128Kbit MP3 does NOT sound like the original source WAV, contrary to most peoples' hearing) with custom CD art and the like (mp3.com only allows you to customize three of the four pages of the liner notes, and nothing else). Even if someone buys the 'full' version, though, they can feel free to redistribute it - burn their own copies and share and enjoy and whatever.

My rationale is that I do music as a hobby, as something I enjoy and not as a career (hell, my entire "studio" consists of Impulse Tracker on my computer, a Korg I got cheap, a pawn shop guitar, a cheap mixer, and a microphone), and that I don't care whether or not to turn a "profit" - I would just feel really sad if the music which has come to me were to die.

That said, I voted 0 on this article, since the topic's been done to death already. Sorry. :)
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

But there are subscription sites.... (3.60 / 5) (#6)
by haakon on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 01:29:23 AM EST

You can get access to emusic's entire MP3 collection for beween $10-20 per month. (depends how long you sign up for)

There are some good artists like They might be Giants there to.

Have you used Napster before? (4.00 / 5) (#8)
by Carnage4Life on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 02:38:24 AM EST

Your comments about Napster make me believe that you have never used the service before. I am all for the music industry creating a service to rival Napster but I doubt that it will ever happen if Napster isn't shut down. Here are several reasons why I beleive this

    Napster is free. Why would anyone want to pay for a service to obtain music when they can already do it for free
    Napster has variety of choice and is easy to use. Napster is relatively easy to use and usually gives a wide choice of servers from which to obtain music from. I have rarely searched for a song on Napster without finding several T1's and T3's (authentic speeds) with the song I'm looking for plus it takes about 3 to 5 minutes to login, get music and logout. It is hard to imagine another service that can rival it's speed and ease of use let alone being more useful
    Most people just want the music. You talk about how record labels can sell liner notes and artiste paraphenelia to attract customers to their free download site/software but fail to acknowledge that a majority of fans simply care about the music and little else (especially when the web contains more info than can be found in any liner note).
    No single record label will have the breadth of music that Napster offers. Even if Time Warner, Sony, Universal, BMG etc. come up with their own free music services there's still the fact that each service will only contain music from that label while Napster will have music from all the RIAA labels as well as from a lot of independent labels.
For the above reasons, I do not believe that any rival music venture stands a snowball's chance in hell of being viable as long as Napster exists as an alternative. Of course, this is merely an opinion.

Re: Have you used Napster before? (3.00 / 3) (#14)
by nuntius on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 05:05:52 PM EST

I am fully aware of the up and downsides of Napster in its current incarnation.

Here are a few responses to your points:
  • This service would be free, too.
  • Napster isn't optimally sorted. Individuals don't take the time to classify things neatly--companies would. Why do you even need to search for tracks to download? Things should already be sorted like a library catalog--go to a certain section and find all sorts of related tracks. You shouldn't have to look for the T1 and T3 lines--any track listed should be on a fast line--companies could provide this type of guarantee.
  • Most people want music. They also like transcripts. I seem to recall another article posted to k5 recently asking where to find music videos--think a little bigger.
  • Radio stations are all separate services, but they are all accessed through a common port--the user's radio. Likewise, all the music distributors would use a common medium which could be accessed through a web browser or a more music-specialized application. Software would make the selection of which distributor has what transparent to the end user. All the distributors would feel the need to be standard or else their competitors would have a popularity edge with the general public.
Basically, if you think Napster is the epitome of music distribution, fine. You are obviously not one of the people spending money to run these T3 music lines.

When the music industry provides T3 lines of their own, I think most of the homebrew groups would happily wrap up shop.

Just my $0.02

[ Parent ]
Extra goodies (none / 0) (#23)
by Demona on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 07:53:51 PM EST

Physical things, objects, are always fun for fans. Infocom games were cool not just because they were great games, but because they came with such cool "stuff" in the box, and this made a great deal of their reputation for quality. Sure, we can package videos, lyrics and the like digitally, with the music itself (witness the two different lyrics display plugins at xmms.org), but there will always be a market for Things, from T-shirts to signed numbered limited edition paintings in the artist's own bodily fluids, or whatevah.

I find myself generally in agreement with your argument regarding sorting and searching, as well.


addicted to covers (cover songs, that is -- tho cover art is cool too. I miss the big cover art from the days when vinyl was king; the huge foldout posters that came with a lot of double albums -- Queen's JAZZ and its plethora of naked women at the bicycle races, which was banned in the USA, the huge rolling paper included with Cheech and Chong's BIG BAMBU... am I gettin' through?)

[ Parent ]

Things are a bit Different... (3.40 / 5) (#9)
by Matrix on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 07:06:01 AM EST

For starters, I don't think the RIAA and its hordes of record labels will be able to adapt to the Internet quickly enough. And even if they do, that still doesn't resolve the issue a lot of musicians pushing for online music distribution want resolved. Namely, that the record labels treat artists like crud. They get maybe a couple of cents per CD sold (unless they're highly visible. Then they get money rained on them), and (IIRC) at least some of the cost of production comes out of the artist's share. And then there's the contracts they get forced into...

"...Pulling together is the aim of despotism and tyranny. Free men pull in all kinds of directions. It's the only way to make progress."
- Lord Vetinari, pg 312 of the Truth, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett

RIAA is not needed (4.00 / 4) (#10)
by mebreathing on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 07:52:12 AM EST

The primary function of the RIAA is to distribute music. However, with the Internet becoming more ubiquitous by the day, their services are less and less needed. Why should bands give a large percentage of their profits to a record company whose primary function is becoming largely outdated? Bands can distribute their own music. How cool will it be when bands are popular just because they're great and have mass grassroots support, not because they've been packaged and marketed.

Regarding streaming, there's no reason to download a song every time you listen to it. The quality is better when it's local anyway. Streaming your favorite songs over and over is a waste of bandwidth. Streaming should be reserved for music discovery.

Not streaming (3.00 / 2) (#11)
by nuntius on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 01:40:41 PM EST

You're right. "Streaming" was a poor choice of wording. The format I look forward to would allow streaming, but the client application would be fully allowed to save the information locally.

People would come back for the latest version (with the latest ads...) because these ads would include up-to-date info such as current concert schedule, new cover art, ...

[ Parent ]
Re: Not streaming (3.33 / 3) (#17)
by fluffy grue on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 06:37:52 PM EST

The format I look forward to would allow streaming, but the client application would be fully allowed to save the information locally.
Oh, you mean like MP3s? :) I like the setup that mp3.com uses. There's a 24Kbit version of the song so that modem users can stream it, and the 128Kbit version can be downloaded and/or streamed. Now if only they'd let the artist also upload a higher-quality one (such as VBR-encoded); 128Kbit really doesn't sound that good after a while. Hell, even my older encodings at LAME's VBR level 4 sound pretty crappy compared to its level 0 (which doesn't discard any frequencies).
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Beaten to death (1.33 / 3) (#12)
by Daemosthenes on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 02:40:33 PM EST

(This topic has been)<title>(already)

'nuff said.

hmm.... (2.50 / 4) (#13)
by ribone on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 03:49:35 PM EST

Well, I think it might be a little better of an idea IF a) people generally had broadband access to the net (I am STILL languishing in the chains of a dialup connection after how many years?) and b) the ads you speak of didn't rear their ugly head.

Alot of people may not mind advertising, but I am extremely annoyed by it. If I want to buy something, I will go out and BUY IT MYSELF. Advertising has become way too pervasive in our society within the last 20 years. I have no objection to a service oriented culture, but there must be a better way to let people know about things than interrupting them while they're trying to appreciate something that they've already paid for (I cite the rampant number of commercials that invade our modern day cineplexes as an example).

The idea in itself isn't particularly bad, but the advertising aspect of it needs to be eliminated. Perhaps something else could take its place, to make it more palatable to the people who make money off of it. But let's not turn it into an extension of contemporary radio stations (we all know that they do suck).

Re: hmm.... (4.00 / 2) (#15)
by nuntius on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 05:09:43 PM EST

Do you have any suggestions for how to get revenue without advertising? I'd be happy if all forms of advertising (TV, radio, billboards, banner ads) would just go away, but I haven't come up with any good alternatives.

[ Parent ]
Re: hmm.... (2.66 / 3) (#16)
by ribone on Sat Sep 30, 2000 at 05:26:27 PM EST

Well, you said yourself that it would be unlimited use for a modest subscription fee, yes? If so, then I see no problem with it. For those who don't want to pay, let them deal with ads. I don't mind paying a little money to get away from it. I'm sure alot of other people wouldn't either.

Or you could just make it optional for people who pay. I just think there should be some way to get away from it, you know? And with all the money they'd be making off of subscribers, they could more than afford to have dedicated systems for each one (one to interleave ads with music, the other one not; both systems drawing off of the same music storage...) and still turn a respectable profit.

[ Parent ]
counter-questions (3.50 / 2) (#18)
by j1mmy on Sun Oct 01, 2000 at 12:21:23 AM EST

Let's say some sort of centralized audio streaming service starts up. I guess I don't need my 10 gigs of mp3s anymore, so what do I do with that space?

It's convenient to have my music (that I rip from CDs I legally own) on my hard drive. I can listen to what I want, when I want. Disk space (hard drive or CD) is cheap and getting cheaper. Bandwidth is not. Until these costs flip-flop, storing music locally will be more efficient.

And how is Napster inefficient? I log on, run a search for some song, if anybody has it I get some results. I pick the person with the fastest connection and have my music a couple minutes later. If I like it, I keep it and probably buy the CD. If I don't, I delete it and never have to deal with the trouble of returning a CD. This beats the hell out of putting pants on, leaving my apartment, trying to figure out where I left my car, etc.

Furthermore, what kind of a selection would I have with your universal music service? I don't believe for a second that a universal music service would carry all of what I listen to. On the other hand, it could very well offer everything. Ever. For example, I'm listening to the Parasite Eve Remixes album, which I don't believe is sold outside of Japan -- I can't even find it on cdnow Japan. The possibility of bringing together artists from everywhere in the world, big and small alike, would have disastrous consequences for the one-hit wonder groups. Putting Britney Spears on the same playing field as Aphex Twin, well, that would be interesting =)

Last bit: what's to stop people from recording off such a service? Anyone with even a slow DSL or cable modem can handle a 128kpbs mp3 stream. It's trivial to make a flawless copy, cut out the ads, remove any watermarks (somebody will hack SDMI, we all know it) and toss it around. Want interviews, cover art, etc.? Search the web. It's already out there if you know where to look.

Why the music industry won't do this (4.00 / 2) (#19)
by RadiantMatrix on Sun Oct 01, 2000 at 01:44:22 AM EST

First off, let me say that this sounds, at least at the base level, like a very good concept. I would love to see a high-quality, standardized streaming protocol for all-legal music that also allows "recording" of broadcasts by saving the stream.

Secondly, the immediate flaws that I see:

  • Remarkably similar (though non-RIAA), legal services do exist: check out NetRadio for example. Granted, you get less of a specific choice, and you can't save, but it's close.
  • Individual businesses should do this in the same manner as starting a radio station. Radio by subscription, where you're the DJ! Sounds simpler.

Having said that, the reason the RIAA will never adopt such a system is the "ease of copying." Just as they and the MPAA were frightened over the "ease of copying" provided by audio and video tapes, respectively, they are now scared of digital media. Of course, they do have a stronger point this time - it takes me very little effort to propagate a copy of an MP3-encoded song: especially in a LAN environment (which broad band connections could make possible for the internet).

I think that the RIAA needs to be -shown- that they can gain money: someone needs to risk their shirts to start a company that licenses songs for 'net radio play. The client software could include a "record" button -- if they're smart, they might want to downsample on record (i.e. a 128k stream would save as 64k) so that the RIAA doesn't have their "perfect copy" argument! :)
I'm not going out with a "meh". I plan to live, dammit. [ZorbaTHut]

Why (3.00 / 1) (#20)
by thePositron on Sun Oct 01, 2000 at 06:32:07 AM EST

Why ? Greed, fear, sloth,laziness,ignorance, desire to control artists and consumers.

RIAA the biggest DODO in history. (none / 0) (#21)
by modeus on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 10:34:02 AM EST

Technology is the continuation of evolution by other means. The new music paradigm makes the RIAA obsolete. The RIAA has passed the window of opertunity to evolve to meet the new internet environment. The napster revolution exists to fill the vacuum left by the RIAA sticking its head in the sand. The problem that exists is that the RIAA has money to fight against its own demise. The RIAA mistakenly beleives that it has the RIGHT to continue to exist past its usefull lifespan. The citing of copyright to defend itself is spurious. Copyright exists to protect us! Joe public, not the copyright holder, artists and publishers. Copyright law was enacted to provide us with fair access to materials that we could not reproduce ourselves in the days of the printing press. The free market allows companies to exist as long as they provide a service that people are willing to pay for and serve a usefull function. The RIAA is entrenched and has been fighting a war for decades to ensure its own survival at the cost of consumers and artists. The RIAA is a parasitic lifeform on the back of music. Napster is a cure.

future of music online? (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by nap on Mon Oct 02, 2000 at 12:38:09 PM EST

You make a lot of good points in the article. There are some very interesting issues facing the music industry as a whole right now and they really seem to be lagging behind the times in a number of ways. Unlike virtually every other big-business industry, they haven't embraced the Internet as a distribution model. There seem to be numerous reasons for this, any most of these reasons are pretty much nicely summed up by other posters so I won't go into it. Basically, they're scared of the so-called "new economy" and the challenges that it poses them. Maybe they smell their own impending death...

Death? Hrmm.. maybe. The industry itself will live on and thrive, but if some of these media conglomerates can't (or won't) adapt they will eventually die. I don't think there's a doubt in anyone's mind that this new economic model isn't going to disapear tomorrow. More and more people are using the 'net to grab the best new music first. As things become easier to use and access propagates even further to encompass more of their market, it's going to be harder and harder for them to control this mess.

Now I'm not saying that traditional album/media sales will die. They may decrease somewhat but there will always be a market for CDs, LPs, etc. But the emphasis will shift towards the electronic distribution of music and the end user will be able to put the electronic property they have just purchased on whatever media they want. After all, it's *information* they're selling, not the media. Or maybe that's not true. Maybe that's the problem.

The destruction (or evolution, but only the fittest survive) of the traditional record company will be a beautiful thing. It will make it easier to expose audiences to new music because no longer will artists have to get signed in order to compete with other "major" artists. A new paradigm is needed -- not a new service offered by an existing record company. Rather, I envision an online music promotion and distribution network that works with the existing record companies as well as unsigned artists and anyone else who wants to hock music to the masses.

This company (or THESE companies because I believe there will be many of them) will contract out to interested parties to provide users with the best experience possible, customized to their liking. and everything will be centralized and easily searchable. It will be the online equalivalent of both Rolling Stone and your local record store all wrapped into an attractive package. Promotional services could bring the artist news that a user really cares about to them in a nicely packaged, efficient manner. Meanwhile, the partnered distribution end of things would allow access to music downloads via micropayments (removing the cost of pressing media and the money made by in-between agencies and resellers will save a lot of money and will result in indie artists charging less for music than major label contenders. this will swing the arm of persuasion in their favor and maybe get them heard and popularized over mainstream contenders). These two services (promotion and distribution) should work seamlessly, and there's no reason that they can't in this new digital domain. damn, i sound like a salesman.

Please let me know how you feel about this and if you're interested I'd love to talk privately with other people who would want to seriously think about trying to do something like this for real. As a disclaimer, I don't have professional music industry experience -- i was a metal director at a college radio station for two years and got to see that side of the business as well as talk to promotions people at record companies and independent agencies.. most of them very nice. this is just something i've been very, very interested in and really want to take the chance to explore professionally in the future.

Also, if there's anyone reading from the Boston area who's into heavy music and wants to be a little more involved in the scene, email me. i've got something else brewing up my sleeve :).

Thnx all.

And the talk goes on... (none / 0) (#24)
by Obiwan Kenobi on Wed Oct 11, 2000 at 01:14:48 PM EST

We've been here before. This topic is as old as Napster/Gnuetella/Scour. However, let's just cover the basics and be done with it.

1. Slashdot already covered this

Here is the article, explaining how Napster might implement a $4.95 a month charge for using its service, to appease the RIAA (who will probably get taxes out of it, or at least some pay-out). However, pretty much all of us (hopefully all of us) knows that this is doomed, and Gnuetella or Scour would replace it quickly.

2. What could the record companies really offer?

A cool .jpg of the band? Maybe a logo? How far do you think they're going to go for your $.99 or how much ever it's going to be. A real full-scale interview? Extra tracks? Cool websites? Not likely. If this EVER became even the slightest notion of happening, it surely wouldn't go to the scale you suggest. As someone said earlier, there is more information in one fan website (even the lame GeoShities ones) than could ever be put in a liner note or cool picture.

3. The solution: DVD

Think about it. On a single-sided disc, you can hold up to two hours of a film, but this is a film that has subtitles, multiple audio tracks, maybe even a commentary, plus foreign language. If you go straight out audio, that's a lot of space. 4 Gigs of it. Considering CD's hold 650 megs, 72 minutes, a little over 9 megs per minute. So you take the size of a single-sided DVD, 4 gigs, and divide by 9. There's 444 minutes. Divide that by 60 (the minutes in an hour of course) and you get over 7.4 hours of music on one DVD. And this isn't Dolby Stereo that we've been hearing for ages. This is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, where you can use the entire room as your soundscape, not just two speakers. While we've had a few music DVD's (Madonna's latest music video came out with one, but no extras...), no one has really embraced the format. DVDs can hold hours worth of high-quality video, audio, and DVD-ROM material. A band could do a TRUE documentary, a complete live performance, and an LP of new music all one DVD! The possibilities here are endless! I've read in Rolling Stone that the only person interested in this possibility currently is Trent Reznor, and that comes as no surprise (mmmm...just think of a Downward Spiral Dolby Digital 5.1 Remix...yummy)

Now with all those features mentioned above we might be in the realm of dual-layered DVDs, but nevertheless, wouldn't you rather give twenty bucks for a full-featured DVD with all the extras and a cherry on top before you would for a 12-track disc with two-speaker stereo and little booklet?

That's what I thought, too

misterorange.com - The 3 R's: Reading, Writing, and Rock & Roll...
A Change in Music Distribution | 24 comments (22 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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