Robin Whittle firstname.lastname@example.org 7 December 1998 Updated 18
August 2001, 7 October 2002 and 4 January 2011
Back to the First Principles main page - for material
on telecommunications, lossless and lossy compression
of audio signals for music marketing and delivery via the Internet
. . . and many other things.
According to a report by KPMG - The Digital Challenge - Are You Prepared? - http://www.kpmg.com/news/index.asp?cid=660 which leads to: http://www.kpmg.com/Rut2000_prod/Documents/8/The%20Digital%20Challenge.pdf - the recorded music industry is still trying to hang onto old certainties about customers not being able to replicate recordings.
Here is what I wrote about the current situation: kpmg-comment/ But I am not actively involved in analysing the industry, so I am just reacting to the most prominent things I read about in the press, rather than actively researching things and finding promising developments, which I think are slowly gathering pace.
I am not trying to keep this page up to date with all the upheavals in the recorded music industry. There seems to be little actual progress on artists themselves running paid-for Internet delivery music marketing operations as I had anticipated. Part of the reason is that most musicians would prefer to be making music rather than surmounting the hurdles to create a good e-commerce enabled web-site with streaming and downloadable music.
However major sites such as MP3.com are doing a lot of great work making MP3 files widely accessible for the primary purpose of discovering music.
There are enduring problems with payment systems - credit cards are too costly and awkward for small payments, and many or the most avid listeners are too young to have credit cards anyway. Hopefully the payment system http://www.paypal.com will provide an answer. But, based on my one experience to date, watch out for their lousy exchange rates when converting PayPal US dollars into another currency for payment into an overseas bank account.
The polarisation of the Internet music marketing debate is extraordinary. On one hand the record companies refuse to face reality and continue to insist that there must be a way of selling something to someone digitally while preventing them from copying it. This is provably technically impossible. Likewise the various watermarking and fingerprinting schemes are useless or worse, and will have no significant impact on the way music is copied. (Not all copying is bad, as pointed out below.) For some of my arguments about watermarking / fingerprinting, see: http://www.cni.org/Hforums/cni-copyright/1997-02/1005.html .
On the other hand, the listeners and those who seek to profit from their needs (Napster . . . and MP3.com's seemingly mad plan to make copyright music available via its servers) seem to be focused on fighting the record companies than on bypassing them and getting on well with the artists. (This is a cursory observation. I hope I am wrong.)
The record companies, at least to the extent they are represented by the RIAA, seem to be hell-bent on coercing the new world to be like the old one. It is an impossible task, but rather than face reality, they continue to fight it. What's more, they try to change the laws to support their plan. For instance what seems to be a plan by the RIAA (and MP3.com too?) to have the US Congress legislate all sorts of dominion over Internet music distribution and promotion:http://www.earthlight.net/Thoughts002.html
The good news is that many web sites are now devoted to discovering and selling music without all the usual restrictions in the traditional radio-centred arrangement I describe in the paper below. I am especially happy to see organisations establishing excellent sites for types of music which are incompatible with the requirements of commercial radio. For instance:
Our main goal is to create a reliable international portal for classical music, based initially on Russian performers and resources, which offers a global audience access to recordings and related products and services of only the highest quality.They have a 44.1kbps Real Audio streaming "radio" service. (It is a Real Audio "Surestream" server so I think it adjusts to lower data rates for those with slower connections. I can listen to "radio" from Russia! (But remember to turn it off when not listening . . . since it is costing someone some money to send those packets all the way around the Earth.)
Classical music fans can download music, enjoy listening to DiscoverClassics radio on the Internet, learn about classical composers and artists, communicate with our featured performers and get information about their forthcoming tours.
Our Virtual MasterClasses programme is addressed to music students from all over the world, with special attention to the areas of piano, violin, cello and chamber music. Under the virtual guidance of our experienced, internationally renowned professors, students will receive assistance in their preparation for competitions and orchestral auditions and will broaden their artistic experience in preparation for their future careers.
Managers of international artists will have a unique and efficient opportunity to engage Russian artists through the DiscoverClassics.com portal.
I can listen to very listenable and generally glitch-free (I have a cable modem) complete pieces of music at with 44.1kbps Real Audio streamed direct from their server in Russia! It took me 3 minutes 45 seconds to download a 5.3 Megabyte 3 minute 41 second MP3 file . . and get this, it is a 192 kbps MP3, so doubts about quality with 128 kbps are not such a worry. It sounds beautiful to me!
Existing radio stations often have web sites for playlists and links to artist web sites - making it much easier for listeners to fully discover and purchase music they first hear on the wireless. Programs are sometimes available with live streaming and are available for a few weeks from the archives. For instance:
http://www.wmnf.org Vibrant music station WMNF in Tampa Florida. I especially recommend the personal, special, cerebral yet grounded Wednesday night adventures of Clay Pigeon's Mondo Eclectica. I have really enjoyed Sunday night's Sound Safari too. There is underground electronica, "Free Speech RadioNews", reggae and classic and contemporary gospel. Uses Real Audio.I am sure there are many more all over the world.
http://www.pbsfm.org.au Fab community radio station which serves the Melbourne area. Live webcast using Windows Media.
http://www.abc.net.au/rn/music/soundqlt/soundqlt.htm ABC Radio National's Sound Quality by Tim Ritchie. Playist on the Web - and Real Audio streaming of the most recent program. A great place to have your music aired! Adrian Sherwood - Funky Porcini - Solid Doctor - Michael Nyman - John Zorn - Hector Zazou - Neomythic - Suicide - Throbbing Gristle - Bim Sherman - Transglobal Underground - Bill Laswell - Kruder & Dorfmeister - Tricky - DJ Krush - Pop Group - Cocteau Twins - Brian Eno -Dead Can Dance - Holger Czukay - Dzihan & Kamien - Kid Koala - Wagon Christ - Talvin Singh - Asian Dub Foundation - Sofa Surfers - Soup - Goldfrapp . . .
A site of interest regarding streaming media is: http://www.streamingserver.org
Another excellent development is that millions of people are using HFC cable modems and ADSL. Both are "broadband", permanently connected ways of accessing the Net - and while perhaps not the >= 2Mbps required of "broadband" are at least a lot faster and cheaper then using a telephone line and a (typically) pay-by-the-hour dial-up connection via a 56kbps modem which probably delivers 44 to 46 kbps downstream and 33kbps upstream.
I am not actively involved in the current debates, or trying to maintain a link farm, but I would be happy to add links here if anyone suggests them.
One way to find relevant sites is to search Google Advanced http://www.google.com/advanced_search.html for "Internet music marketing", which you can do by clicking here: http://www.google.com/search?q=+%22internet+music+marketing .
In late 1998, there is a lot of action in the distribution of music via the Internet, most particularly in a compressed format known as MP3. This is the beginning of a major change in the structure of the recorded music industry which for a century or so has relied on record companies pressing pre-recorded discs, marketing and distributing them to retailers. Radio plays a crucial role in the discoveryof music - which I believe is more of a bottleneck than the traditional mechanisms for purchase.
In late 1994 I began work on a project for an Australian government think-tank (the Bureau of Transport and Communication Economics) - as part of their Communications Futures Project. My brief was to write a ~150 page paper entitled Future Directions in the Music Market - by the end of they year. Some time later . . . April 1995, I finished the initial 364 page Future Developments in the Music Market. It was a fascinating topic! (Update 17 May 2001: This report was never properly finalised or published. It is copyright Commonwealth of Australia, but I doubt that anyone cares about that, and the BTCE no longer exists as it did - so if you want an electronic copy of this big report, with diagrams, some information of historical interest and a great deal of forward-looking thinking, much of which is still relevant, please let me know.)
A hundred copies were printed and distributed around the Australian industry prior to a Music Industry Summit on 27 April 1995. Plans to finalise the paper and publish it did not work out.
In October 1995, I wrote a paper for a conference: Music Marketing in the Age of Electronic Delivery. It is about 20 pages of text on A4 paper. This has been at my original web site since then.
Now, early December 1998, I don't have time to do a rewrite to take account of recent developments. The paper is relevant in its principles, although the timelines for the availability of broadband (> 2 Megabits/sec) Internet access turned out to be rather optimistic.
What I can do now is:At some stage in 1999, I hope to properly research what is happening and update the paper. (7 April 1999 - don't hold your breath!) I did present a lecture based on this material at the Easter Earthcoreon the Murray at Tocumwal. It was a pleasure to be standing under the red-gums, on a dance-floor in the bush, in front of the DJ tent, talking to and with a hundred people about the fabulous developments I expect to take place in music marketing.
Make the paper available. Make some diagrams I did in 1996 available - these really belong with that paper. Maintain some links to sites where action is currently taking place.
Please email me <email@example.com> with any suggestions and comments, and especially with suggestions for web sites and other material which either discusses new developments in music marketing, or which is getting on with it.
While the paper itself, and much of this discussion, relates to recorded music and commercial transactions - my interest is beyond this. I am particularly interested in the free exchange of music for pleasure rather than financial reward: folk music. I am also interested in music which is not fixed sound recordings, such as with the use of software to generate music, such as Csound and Koan .
- Robin Whittle
Click here to read my paper: Music Marketing in the Age of Electronic Delivery, from 3 October 1995. It prints out to 20 pages on A4.
In particular, this paper defines five kinds of copying:
where the first two are in the interests of the artist. It discusses why it is technologically impossible to stop copying and why it is impractical and, in the case of the first two forms of copying, undesirable to prevent listeners copying music by legal means. Finally the paper argues that artists and anyone else involved in the commercial distribution of their music must build trusting relationships with the listeners, and make the material easily and cost-effectively available - to encourage people to purchase the music properly, rather than copy it without rewarding the artist financially.
- Purchaser copying
- Listener sharing
- Listener theft
- Listener piracy
- Commercial piracy
Here is the abstract:By the turn of the century many music consumers are expected to have fast network access, home computers and CD-R disc writers. This will enable them to purchase music via electronic delivery, rather than on physical media such as compact disks. Existing distribution channels and radio's stylistically restrictive music discovery process will be bypassed as artists and listeners engage in two way communication, without geographic restrictions. Radical changes to industry structure are expected. As amateur musicians share music electronically, folk music - withering in the age of mass media - may flourish in the 21st century, in a profusion of contemporary styles.
There are lots of things for me to consider in updating this paper, but I believe its principles remain valid.
Things I will be thinking about include:
Please suggest some more issues to consider and tell me what you think. I can easily add to this list and include or link to whatever you write, if you like.
- The open-source software movement and what we can learn from it which is relevant to music marketing.
- New technology such as portable flash RAM MP3 players, CD-based MP-3 players, CD-W rewriteable discs, DVD-RAM, new compression technologies etc.
- The political, economic, social and instinctual factors driving the current MP3 revolution, and how much these are dependent on the well known deficiencies in the traditional industry structure. This will be a starting point for discussing the business models which are most likely to succeed in the current MP3 / CD-R / 56 kbps modem world, and in the broadband environment of the next three to five years.
- Detailed discussion of why watermarking and attempts to encrypt files to stop unauthorised playing are doomed to failure.
- Developments in payment mechanisms: SET's slow adoption and Digicash's bankruptcy leaving credit cards via SSL - which is a fiddle neither convenient or cost effective for transactions below USD$10 or so.
- Search engines and directories for music - in particular my idea to have a search engine which works from snippets of sound, to identify the track it came from.
- Fan web-sites.
- New forms of intermediary - web site operators whose risk and cost, and therefore their margin, is very much lower than that of a record company. Also they may have no real limit on the volume of material they can handle and promote.
- Email lists, Usenet and web based discussion fora for spreading the word about artists and their work and for building communities - including listeners and artists.
- Composition royalty collection where the music is not composed by the artist who performs and sells it. The simplified model used in the paper assumes that the artist who performs the music also wrote it - so if they sell it directly (or via a close and well run intermediary) they get the money, which covers their performance and composition.
- Alternative business models to the "pay for the album" or "pay for the track" approach. One is music being made freely available, together with a request for donations - and an easy way of making those donations combined with the donors being lauded on the artist's site. Another is "subscription" - a listener showing their support for an artist by paying a certain sum per year, and in return gaining the rights to and the delivery of all the artist's output, as well as a variety of other benefits and communication paths made possible through the artist's web site. This follows the subscription model used by community broadcasters.
Here are three diagrams, from another paper in 1996, which belong with Music Marketing in the Age of Electronic Delivery.
Today's music industry - bridges and barriersThe recorded music industry has for a hundred years delivered its product to consumers on pre-pressed discs, and since the 1930's has relied on radio, film and television to enable consumers to discover fresh music.
The two primary activities - discovery and sale/delivery are shown on the diagram below. Four major types of industry participant form the necessary bridges between artist and listener. Discovery is shown in black because it only after music is discovered will it be purchased. The bottlenecks in discovery in the traditional industry structure are arguably more significant than those involved in production, distribution and sale of the CDs themselves.
Record companies, distributors and retails form the three span bridge between the artist and listener for the sale/delivery process. Radio, and to a lesser extent the printed press, television and film, is an essential element in the discovery process. Live performance and magazine articles are also an important discovery process.
The diagram depicts direct artist to listener communication for discovery and purchase of music via the Web. In fact it is likely that many artists don't want to run their own web sites - but will leave some or all of their web presence to intermediaries. These intermediaries will have lower costs, lower risks and fewer stylist restrictions and limitations on the number of artists they can handle compared to traditional record companies. The low-cost two-way nature of Internet communication facilitates direct communication between artists and fans - which is vital for many reasons, such as building trusting relationships with listeners, for giving feedback and inspiration to the artists, and for helping the process resemble a community.
The traditional industry participants all face high costs, high risks and significant delays in profiting from their activities. This contrasts with an artist who runs their own web site, or who works closely with a web intermediary - they can be earning money directly from sales within hours of recording their music. They face no significant risk or cost if they place hundreds of their tracks on the site.
The costs and risks of the traditional music industry mean that most of the money which finances it goes into such mundane activities as transport, warehousing, sales tax, retail rental and staff costs, and into financing whatever means are available to promote the product into the popular style feeding frenzy in the hope that its sales will rise, for a time, above the "noise floor" and the participants will actually make a profit.
A second diagram shows quantitatively the flow of money from the listeners towards the artists. Dotted lines represent intermittent or nonexistent flows.
Like the book industry (and the multimedia CD-ROM industry) the CD based music industry has great difficulty matching the proliferation of product with the enormously varied and unpredictable demand of consumers. There is high investment and significant time delays in producing large quantities of discs, packages and promotional material - with little reliable information about how many will be sold.
The risks, delays, costs and multi-layered nature of the traditional recorded music industry structure mean that only a fraction of the money spent by listeners flows to artists. The true industry structure is more complex - for instance collection societies (not shown) collect money from radio stations, and many public places such as shops and entertainment venues (not shown) and distribute an ideally large proportion to the composersof the music. Music industry copyright and commercial relationships are complex and cannot be shown fully here.
While it may be true that certain industry participants are rapacious or way out of touch with the true needs of artists and listeners, the existing industry structure does follow naturally from the technological limitations of mass-produced CDs and uni-directional mass media for promotion and discovery.
The Internet part of the model assumes that listeners have Internet-connected computers with significant hard disk capacity and a CD-R writer - this is becoming common. It also assumes that music at the quality which they want to purchase can be delivered via the Internet conveniently and with relatively low costs. We are yet to really arrive at this point. MP3 at 128 kbps may sound like the original 44.1 kHz 16 stereo recording in most situations, and at a Megabyte a minute, this is about one seventh of the file size of a losslessly compressed version. Still, a 33.6 kbps modem can only download about 10 megabytes an hour - so to gain an hour of music at 128 kbps will take about six hours. There are serious convenience and cost issues for most users at present with this arrangement, but they can be expected to be reduced over the next few years with lower Internet costs, and especially the widespread use of HFC cable modems, ADSL and other broadband local-access technologies.
Assuming this does happen, a listener can discover music by searching and listening in real-time. They can then pay for an hour or so of music, and spend only about USD$5 to download it into their machine. (That is 60 Megabytes of MP3 or around 360 Megabytes for music which can be compressed losslessly to 60% of its normal size.) The CD-R writing can be largely automated, and the cost of the disc is just a dollar or so. This leaves quite a few dollars to go to the artist (to cover their costs and to create profit from their music), whilst still being cost-competitive and a lot more immediate, personal and personalised than the traditional approach of buying music on mass-produced pre-pressed discs at a shop.
These lower costs, lower risks (listener chooses exactly what they want, rather than having to choose between album packages) greater immediacy and absence of stylistic and geographical barriers can be expected to lead to a net increase in the amount of music purchased, with a resultant increase in the funds remaining with artists - even if the total listener expenditure remains the same as it is with the traditional industry model. Considering the many benefits of the electronic delivery model, it would not be surprising if (in the absence of CD-R and Net-based copying) that total expenditure would rise - because there is a vast unmet demand for music which would be translated into more action with a more efficient and friendly business model.
However the effects of the ability of users to copy music are hard to predict. In the current atmosphere of rebellion against the record companies - often held in low regard by listeners and artists - copying seems to be all the rage. I am optimistic that the two-way, low risk, low-cost, immediate, personal communications of the Net will facilitate artists and listeners building trusting, lasting relationships which are conducive to the artistic development and financial viability of music development in a vast range of styles, and especially for artists who are just developing their work and are yet to attain widespread recognition.
The current industry places many stylistic restrictions on the music which can be discovered via commercial radio. These are more fully discussed in the paper.
There is a vast range of music and an equally (or potentially) large range of interests amongst listeners. This goes far beyond the straight jacket of the kind of music which is compatible with commercial radio.
There is an immense potential for an explosion of diversity - in new styles of music as well as the rediscovery (or the fresh discovery for most listeners) of fields of music which have existed for decades or centuries but which have never yet been discovered by an individual simply because no radio station in their area plays it. For instance, a single 1 1/2 hour Indian classical music program on a community radio station here in Melbourne (3 MBS) has opened my ears to a wide range of music (which to my ears is less formal and more varied and lyrical than Western classical music) which I would never have otherwise become attuned to.
Note, some of these links are out of date, but they may be of historical interest. Please see below for the latest update.
Check out http://www.spinner.com! They use streaming audio at under 28 kbps using the Real Audio format to provide over 100 "channels" of music - carrying over 150,000 pieces of music. It is basically like over a hundred radio stations, with music and occasional brief ads. The player has banner ads and the American voice ads are synchronised with them. The current artist and track information is visible on the player, and there are ways of saving this information for future reference and linking to sites with more info about the artist (supposedly - no info was available for the artists I tried). A link is provided to Amazon.com to buy the CD - again, on the those I tried, it just went to a search form. There is a "rate a song" facility which gives feedback to the artist/record company.
There is no published play-list, nor can you request tracks. Sound quality is so-so - 4 kHz maximum or so - and it can sound a bit warbly. Still it is possible to get used to the sound quality and enjoy the music. You need a good Internet link, and plenty of CPU power, otherwise the audio is cut out and replaced by a hiss. The hiss is a nice touch - better than silence. Another nice touch is the long breaks of silence between tracks - to give each piece of music its own space. Unfortunately, Internet usage by other programs can lead to loss of sound for fractions of a second or for quite a few seconds.
This represents advertising supported "radio" - where the ads are targeted and generally not of the audibly intrusive type (because they are banner ads). What's more, the response to the advertising is generally measurable, because the user clicks the banner ad. The scope of the "radio" is global to people with Internet connections of 28 kbps or above. It is 24 hours a day. There is no limit to the number of "channels" one company can produce. Nor is there any limit to the number of companies who could provide such a service. It is inefficient having a single source of 100 or so audio signals all being sent as individual packets from a server in California. However, there is no technical reason why the client software could not work with the nearest server site - where server sites get a single feed and send it out to multiple clients.
The audio traffic to my Windows Spinner Plus 1.5 player was about 5.3 UDP packets a second, each carrying about 500 bytes of data. With packet overhead, I estimate this represents close to 3 kbytes of data a second, or 10 megabytes an hour. Raw Internet traffic costs in Australia (due to the high cost of the fully used Pacific cables) is about AUD$0.19 per megabyte - which is what I pay via my Telstra Internet connection. In addition there would be HTTP traffic for the ads. So at AUD$1.90 (AUD$1.20) an hour, it is not as cheap as listening to the radio. Such costs are not an issue in the USA - but may be in other countries. The sound quality is crappier than AM radio too - though it is generally stereo. What you do get is to see the artist, track and CD details in real-time - impossible on ordinary radio (but possible with Digital Audio Broadcasting). In my brief experience with the trance and trip-hop channels, the music is good.
Spinner.com was established in 1996 as TheDJ. Record labels send two copies of their CDs to Spinner so their music can be part of their library.
What is fantastic about this is the specialisation of the "channels". The top-level categories are:
Rock, Oldies, Themes, Top Hits, Mood Food, Classical, Jazz & Blues, Urban & Dance, Country & Folk, World & New Age.
In the Urban & Dance category are the following "channels". (BTW - I hate the radio/TV term "channel" being used with Internet communications, but here is it probably appropriate.) Here they are, with the tracks playing when I looked:
Hybrid Incorporating Elements of Jazz, Funk, Hip-hop & Soul
English Country Music
Refined Electronic Expression
Don't You Want My Love
Bell-Bottomed Dancers: Shake Your Groove Thang
I'll Be All You Ever Need
Debbie Deb, Lisa Lisa & Stevie B Serve Up Funky Lil' Beatz
Summer Madness (Live)
Kool & The Gang
I Wants to Get Funked Up!
Hi NRG Dance
Won't Give Up My Music
Pop, Miami Bass and Euro Dance Music
Word Up Doc
Armand Van Helden
I Got Two Turntables and a Microphone
Extreme Pressure (Deep Down Dub)
House Music All Night Long!!!
The Lightening (Digital Remix)
Dance Music For The Intelligentsia
20 Tracks Mixed By Kemistry & Storm
Kemistry & Storm
Future Urban Breakbeats...Step to It!
Electronica's Best Found Here
Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll, Pt. 1
Vaughan Mason & Crew
Breakdance to Hip-hop's Roots
R&B - Fresh
Georgy Porgy (radio Edit)
Today's Freshest Urban Grooves
Age Ain't Nothing But A Number
Laid Back Smooth Grooves for an Unobtrusive Mood
Food for the Soul from the Godfather, Queen and King
On Your Own
Regg & Arkin
Breakbeat, Electro & Detroit Techno Beats for Your Feets
Case & Joe
The Beatz from the Chartz
Electronica For an Altered State of Mind
Hip-Hop for Spaceheadz
My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)
Sisters, Homegirls, and Assorted Soulful Singers
I think Spinner.com is an impressive enterprise and a very significant development in music discovery and marketing. Bravo!!
The New York times has a number of articles tracing the ongoing drama in the music industry.
This reqires registration, but that is free. There are articles there by Neil Strauss, Matt Richtel, John Markoff and Jaron Lanier.
The new Real Audio G2 audio (and video) compression system provides extraordinarily good mono sound quality at 20k bits per second - a data rate which is easily streamed in real-time through the Internet and ordinary modems. Frequency response is up to 10 kHz - implying 20kHz sampling, with a compressed audio data rate of 1 bit per sample! How do they do it? Dolby AC3 encoding apparently. I would not have thought this sound quality was possible at those data rates. It is not perfect sound quality at all, but it is 1/6 of 128kbps MP3. The sound quality is quite enjoyable for many types of music. The player is free (Windows and Mac) and so is the encoder.
Progressive Networks: http://www.real.com
I got the free RealPlayer G2 for Windows from here. You can also pay for a version with graphic EQ and display etc. It also plays MP3s.
I got the free encoder from here. There is also a luxury version you can purchase.
Ideally all these compression standards would not involved proprietary technologies - they would be open standards unencumbered by copyright and software patents. Perhaps Progressive Networks is doing such a good job of this field that it will dominate it, largely through excellence and making their players, encoders and software (for integration into other company's programs) available on a reasonable basis. They could become to audio what Adobe is to vector graphics (via the Postscript language, and its derivative, the PDF format).
There are lots of links to streaming "Net Radio" sites at Progressive Networks:http://www.real.com/
Here are some other links to streaming audio sites. The first is to a system comparable to Spinner.Com (described above). There are over a hundred channels, and direct clickable links to artist information and to purchase the CDs of the music currently playing.
The TechnoIndex site lists streaming audio sites for music of specific genres.
There are far too many things happening in the music marketing, copyright and copy protection debate for me to keep track of. Most prominent has been Napster and other file sharing systems such as Gnutella which have no central server and which are designed to make censorship, monitoring and control impossible. Programs which "rip" (note the appeal to hunting, gathering and agricultural instincts) CDs now routinely search remote databases for track listings of the CDs, based, I assume, on the lengths of the tracks. This is simply to save the person from having to type in the track details as they convert them to MP3 files.
One worrying development is the push to have storage devices such as hard disks somehow refuse to store copyright material. I have no idea how this could work, if the file was encrypted, but the fact that it is being seriously proposed and pursued in standards committees represents some ugly combination of folly and the desire to overcomplicate widely used equipment.
Bruce Schneier, author of the crypto bible "Applied Cryptography" wrote about this folly in his 15 May 2001 article "The Futility of Digital Copy Prevention": http://www.counterpane.com/crypto-gram-0105.html#3 .
There is a really dumb watermarking and SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) debate too. Watermarks are essentially useless for all the purposes the record industry wants them for. I am tired of going through these arguments because they seem so obvious to me. Here are some links regarding watermarks, digital fingerprints and the purported benefits and problems they entail:
- http://www.cni.org/Hforums/cni-copyright/1997-02/1005.html What I wrote about watermarks / digital fingerprints in 1997 to a copyright mailing list.
- http://www.theregister.co.uk/extra/sdmi-attack.htm The RIAA tries to suppress publication of successful responses to their SDMI challenge - with the paper they tried to suppress.
- A Google http://www.google.com/advanced_search.html search for "SDMI challenge" turns up lots of links.
Automatic music identification - relatable.com
Around 1994 or 1995 my friend Craig Beard and I wrote to a music DSP Usenet newsgroup (I don't remember the details, I would need to search my backups, and it does not appear to be in Google's archive, which starts around March 1995) about the possibilities of a music search engine based on the user submitting a short portion of audio of the track they were trying to identify. I also has a section on this "automatic music identification" in my big Future Developments in the Music Market report (11 April 1995) which the BTCE printed a hundred copies of.
This involves a daunting and massive database of the most distinctive audio attributes of many tracks, linked to a database of track names, the performer, the composer etc. We made this public because we wanted to prompt someone else to do something about it and as a means of preventing other people from patenting the idea in the future. Now there is a similar technology being developed, but in addition to our proposal for finding music, it is also being used for a totally different purpose: As part of Napster restricting its use for copying of tracks identified as being owned by companies or artists who do not want the tracks copied, they have to identify such tracks in their database. Using the track's name is easily worked-around by people inventing novel names for the tracks and artists.
Napster is working with a company called Relatable to help identify tracks irrespective of their name. Relatable's page on its TRM system http://www.relatable.com/tech/trm.html (a stupidly formatted page which assumes you have a 1280 pixel wide monitor!) describes how this generation of a compact "fingerprint" (a very different use of the word from the way it is used as a synonym or near synonym for "watermark") is intended, as Craig and I foresaw, for helping people find music they want to hear. According to http://news.webnoize.com/item.rs?ID=12681 TRM only uses the first 30 seconds of a track - which sounds sus to me. How would this help if you are listening to the radio, like what you hear and manage to record the last 30 seconds in the hope of identifying it? This article states that Relatable is "founded in November 1999 by CEO Patrick Breslin, a former manager of National Public Radio's music web sites, and Chief Technical Officer Sean Ward, who automated online audio encoding and hosting processes for NPR. Ward and Relatable software developer Isaac Richards, a former employee with MP3 retailer EMusic, are the principal architects of Relatable's technology.". Sounds cool to me!
Relatable has a "patent-pending" music recommendation system for correlating a person's musical tastes with those of others and suggesting music which would interest them. This idea was implemented some years ago, but I don't remember the details now. There's no mention of a patent for the TRM. Relatable is a privately held US company and supports the open-source FreeAMP music player project (an alternative to WinAamp, which is owned by AOL - a somewhat empire, I think). They also contribute to http://www.musicbrainz.orgwhich is an open source and "open content" system for identifying music playing on an MP3 player by analysing it and talking to a server via the Net. Please refer to the previously mentioned WebNoize article for a lot more about Relatable and its competitors. http://www.webnoize.comlooks like it has a lot of material on Internet music marketing. Unfortunately, to access all their articles, it costs USD$20 a month.
Other developments - and hoping for a better future
I am amazed that large record companies sometimes try to sell music in MP3 format, or some less common and more troublesome for the customer format, by Internet delivery, for the same price as a CD.
I understand that there is a car-audio device which takes a 3.5" ATA/IDE hard drive which has been pre-loaded in a computer with gigabytes of MP3s and turns it into a massive jukebox with LCD display. The drive lives in a standard plug-in cartridge which goes into a bay in the PC.
In 1994/95, being an optimist, I foresaw that many artists would establish their own web sites and sell their music directly to listeners, with a variety of methods to engage the listener and encourage their loyalty and support. These include the web site having elaborate methods of the listeners giving feedback to the artist, for the listeners to communicate with each others (such as with web-forum and mailing lists) and especially for the web site to show to anyone who is interested who purchased particular recordings. In this way, friends can see if other friends actually supported the artists or are merely listening to unlicensed copies of their music. There are subscription models too - where someone expresses their confidence and support for the artist by paying a set fee or a donation and so gains access and licensing to all the artist's work for that year, or some other time period.
From what I can tell, this has not happened to a great degree. My original vision of artists hosting their servers at home turns out to be not such a great idea since both HFC cable modems and ADSL were designed to maximise downstream traffic at the expense of upstream. (This is largely a design decision based on preconceived notions of consumers sucking material from central servers, rather then providing material for other people or engaging in symmetrical communications such as video conferencing. These decisions cannot be reversed. HFC cable modems have a very limited upstream path and are typically unsuitable for running a server on. DSL services could be a lot better in this respect.)
In 1995 I did not anticipate MP3 - I assumed that no-one would settle for less than lossless compression, which is about 60% of the bandwidth of raw audio. In fact, many people are happy with MP3 at 128 kbps (thousand bits per second), which is 9% of the 1,411.2 kbps data rate of raw stereo 16 bit 44.1 kHz audio. If done carefully, 128 kbps MP3 can sound pretty good - good enough not to worry about in most listening circumstances. But it is often done badly. I have been given Russian CDs (pre-pressed, with offset printed cover) of MP3s of the complete works of Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and others. One Eno track sounded like the music was being wrung out of a wet sponge. To try to make money by selling other people's copyright work like this is wrong, I believe. To do so whilst destroying the natural quality of the music, and giving false details about the names of albums and tracks, is a travesty.
I have no sympathy for companies who try to make money directly or indirectly from the copying of music against the wishes of the artists. This includes Napster. Napster has many benefits for the discovery and distribution of music which does not fit this description, including obscure music which is no longer marketed commercially, and which the long departed artists are probably happy that someone is listening to. The recalcitrance of the established music industry makes me think that the ongoing polarised stoush will continue for another five or ten years ago before things settle into a new equilibrium.
I still envisage an arrangement in which many artists have their own sites and deal directly with listeners - or at least have their site as part of a larger company which charges moderate fees and is not at all like a traditional record company. In this respect, I think that MP3.com's efforts are excellent! (I think they foolish to extending their service to in some way encompass copyright music from commercially released CDs.)
I expect pre-pressed CDs will continue to be important and probably the dominant method of delivery. But Net discovery and delivery of music will be extremely important - especially for the vast majority of artists who are not in the spotlight of the hit-driven fame and publicity machine (yet). The benefits of this would include:
- The benefits for the "R&D" section of the music "industry" (actually, that it is an industry is of secondary importance to me - what really matters is that the music is made and heard by those who appreciate it) from low-cost discovery and selling mechanisms, free of record company control, and with excellent communication capabilities between artists and listeners.
- For anyone with a broadband Net connection, the ability to browse, discover and listen to music from anywhere at all, instantly, with discussion and access to loads of information about the music 24 hours a day, at home with headphones or a decent sound system, rather than the crappy arrangements in music shops.
- Likewise for artists, the ability to learn about other artist's work, and indeed to collaborate with artists in other countries by sending files over the Net.
Here are some of the things which would have to happen before my vision of the future becomes reality:
- Artist's web sites become more sophisticated. Since musicians are typically not the best programmers or web designers, this means there needs to be one or both of the following approaches:
- A package of software to integrate with the web server - optimised for a music site, with special facilities for payments, registering who purchased or subscribed to the artist's music, delivering the music in the formats required by the listener, browsing and discussion forums etc.
- Companies setting up sites providing all this, with the artist managing their section of the site in a relatively straightforward manner, as with MP3.com.
- Listeners drawing a big distinction between the antics of record companies and the values and needs of the great majority of artists, who would be happy to sell or licence music on a much more cost-effective basis than the traditional record/CD industry is used to.
- Improvements in payment systems, particularly for small amounts of money. The current SSL-based approach to credit-card payments is a nightmare for merchants (as I am finding out myself). The risk for fraud falls entirely with the merchant and it makes little or no sense for small payments of less than, for instance, USD$5 to $10. There needs to be easier ways of making micropayments, and of this being accessible to the most active music purchasers (or at least listeners) who are often too young to have their own credit cards or large sums of money. To some extent, this is happening, with systems such as: http://www.paypal.com .
- Improvements in playback systems for compressed music. This is happening rapidly, but I am still suspicious about the second rate quality of some MP3 compression systems. I use the open-source, highly respected LAME MP3 codec: http://www.mp3dev.org/mp3/ .
- Improvements in the ability of artists to produce one-off and small quantities of CDs, typically as CD-Rs - in both audio and MP3 CD-ROM formats. This requires:
- Cheap CD-R discs and high-speed writers. This has most certainly been achieved!!! Its a miracle, but true. Blank CD-Rs are very inexpensive and can be written at 8, 12 and even 16 times normal speed. Not bad for a reasonably robust medium which stores 160 times the 4 megabytes of text in the Bible or the Lord of the Rings.
- Better methods of printing directly onto the discs to label them. I think it is nuts to stick paper labels on CD-Rs. Over time, the adhesive will oxidise and harden and the paper will shrink and so tear away the dye layer. Also, at the extreme speeds of some CD-ROM drives these days, I would expect these paper labels to tear and fall away, potentially damaging the CD-ROM drive. The last one I bought came with a warning about cracked discs disintegrating! These things arefast! CD printers are being sold now for reasonable prices.
- Better methods of printing the inserts for CD jewel cases, or other methods of CD packaging. I haven't really researched it, but at present the best approach seems to be inkjet on paper, then then manually cutting the thing out and folding it, which is time-consuming and error prone. What is needed is a pre-perforated sheet with the back or front cover sheet ready to tear out, with careful alignment in the printer to make the image goes exactly where it belongs. If anyone knows about such things, please let me know! . . . A friend told me of such a system which he is happy with: http://www.cdstomper.com/stjewelinserts.html . This company has just been purchased by Avery: http://www.avery.com.
Last update 7 October 2002