Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Surfing Safari

Let's download music now, everybody's learning how

By James Hanback Jr.

MARCH 22, 1999:  Music is the soundtrack of everyday life. It is inevitably that to which we turn for entertainment, inspiration, and exposition of the emotions and frustrations we experience day-to-day. It is the stuff of feeling, of nostalgia, and of storytelling.

Ally McBeal isn't the only one with a theme song.

To this day, whenever I walk onto the hot concrete of a public swimming pool, I can hear The Drifters harmonizing "Under the Boardwalk" in my mind, although it's been more than 15 years since I spent my summer dropping quarters into a poolside jukebox just to hear that song. (I used to play it right alongside Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science"--I was a kid, OK?)

And in the winter--when I smell the smoke from burning wood crawling up a neighbor's chimney--the haunted, hard guitar licks and heavy bass drumbeats of John Mellencamp's "Rain On The Scarecrow" play endlessly in my head.

With that kind of impact on people, it's no wonder music has spread easily from the concert hall, to radio, to television with relative ease. It fills every crevice of the human experience, and people want easy access to it. But music's transition to the Internet is another story.

And given the history of the Net, it is no wonder that the move of tunes to cyberspace has brought with it controversy from some in the music business. There are those who fear the current development of fast, easy methods of downloading music from the Internet because, they say, it promotes the illegal copying of songs and violates author rights. The current popular formats make no efforts to protect copyrights and are easily transferred illegally to others.

Most controversial in recent times is the creation of the MP3 music compression format. MP3 effectively squashes music file sizes to about one-tenth of their uncompressed form, making Internet download times smaller and opening the door for more Web sites to offer music downloads to users. A recent article at www.cnn.com reported that much of the music downloaded from sites offering MP3 is in violation of U.S. copyright laws.

Those laws, as a rule, have been pretty laughable when it comes to the Internet. Back in October, in fact, some in the recording industry sued Diamond Multimedia, the makers of the RIO MP3 player, in an effort to keep that device off the market. The RIO is a portable MP3 player. Currently, Diamond Mulitmedia sells approximately 20,000 RIOs per month.

With virtually no chance of tracking down and prosecuting Internet music pirates, or swaying the industry through the legal system, the recording industry has turned its sights on technology, hoping to find some way to protect copyrighted material. Last month, IBM (along with several partners in the music and technology industries) announced plans to develop a new music compression format called EMMS, which would allow the fast and easy download of music, but with "watermarks" and encryption to prevent unauthorized copying.

On Feb. 25, Sony Corp. announced that it had created three new technologies known as MagicGate, Super MagicGate, and OpenMG to help prevent Internet music piracy. All the technologies come after a December announcement debuting the Secure Digital Media Initiative, an effort to create an open specification for digital music security that involves major record labels as well as IBM, Sony, Liquid Audio, and others. The effort's goal is to not only provide a means of secure distribution for music over the Internet, but in other exisiting formats as well (like Compact Discs and DVDs).

MagicGate is meant for mobile devices that use integrated circuits to record. Super MagicGate is the server software Sony has developed to distribute music across the Internet; and OpenMG is encryption software that encodes music. Like the shareware concept that allows people to try software before they buy it, users can buy limited-use music from Internet stores using Super MagicGate, and later upgrade to unlimited-use versions.

Ultimately, like any product, it will be up to the marketing strategy of digital music technology makers plus the demands of the consumer that dictate what compression formats and Internet music technology survive and thrive.

Recent news items about the format at www.MP3.com reveal that an MP3 plug-in is now available for the RealNetworks RealPlayer, a favorite technology for downloading streaming audio and video from the World Wide Web. Developed by Digital Bitcasting Corp., the plug-in may be found at www.bitcasting.com. Technology like it could further standardize MP3 as a digital music format.

Currently, MP3's popularity is booming, although other technologies are already threatening to make it obsolete.

The outcome of how music is distributed on the Net could also affect the distribution of other forms of media. With recent upstarts like ifilm.net and established companies like Trimark and Broadcast.com looking to create an Internet transition for movies, copyright laws and Internet piracy could become an issue in the film industry as well.

More information about MP3 and other music formats is available at http://www.MP3.com.

Information about the Secure Digital Media Initiative is available at http://www.sony.com.

Weekly Wire Suggested Links

Page Back Last Issue Current Issue Next Issue Page Forward

Music: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Cover . News . Film . Music . Arts . Books . Comics . Search

Weekly Wire    © 1995-99 DesertNet, LLC . Nashville Scene . Info Booth . Powered by Dispatch