Innovative musicians are slicing, dicing and electronically reassembling the sound of today's music. Thanks to reasonably cheap, high-tech software, new artists can record and distribute studio-quality material from their own homes.
It's the MP3 revolution-- shorthand for "MPEG Audio Layer 3," a digital audio file format that allows the exchange of music over the Internet .
Meanwhile, music fans have never had so many choices. They can hear and copy thousands of songs from music-oriented Web sites on the Internet
It's a music-lover's dream, right?
Well, there's a cloud around this silver lining of great, free music. Every song that's written "belongs" to the person who created it. It's their "intellectual property." And copying it without their permission can be illegal.
is changing so fast, that the music industry is having trouble keeping
up. Some major artists are angry at the loss of control over their
work. The same technology that makes it a snap for musicians to share
music with fans also allows those fans to duplicate and trade - sometimes
illegally - copyrighted material.
What Sounds Good
In the "old days," young musicians needed radio play or record label support to get their songs out to potential audiences.
The artists and writers got paid not just by sales, but also according to how many times their song hit the airwaves. These payments, or royalties, worked just like books. Every time you buy a book, a few cents go directly to the writer. The more people buy her book, the more money she makes. The more times the song got played, the more money the artist got.
But things are a lot more complicated now. With downloads available on the Internet, it's almost impossible to keep track of who's listening to what. Hundreds of copies of songs can be made and distributed in the blink of an eye in someone's basement and e-mailed around the world. The record company and artist have no way of knowing about it.
Some bands and
musicians are using this technology to their advantage. Unknown bands
play to worldwide
MP3.com sponsored Alanis Morissette's last tour and offered live music to her fans from its site. America Online offered the "Madonna Channel" with the dance diva's clips and songs in a high-tech launch for her "Next Best Thing" CD.
The marketing potential of the Web is clear.
and label sites - with biographies, photos, and tour info on your
favorites bands -
media like Rolling Stone and Spin magazines and MTV offer a constant
flow of music info. At any of these sites, fans might find a
But what if you could go online and get all the songs you wanted without paying anything? That's what record companies are worried about now.
The record industry claims to lose billions of dollars every year because of "bootlegs" - unauthorized recordings. Consumers heard this song before, when home taping became popular in the 1970s and '80s. According to record industry leaders, everyone who grabs music for free means lost income for them.
Despite the harm that downloads are said to be causing, revenues from CD sales hit all-time highs last year. Artists like N*SYNC have achieved record-breaking sales.
Many bands - like the Grateful Dead, Phish and Metallica, too - allow fans to tape concerts, and encourage trading of homemade tapes as long as no money changes hands.
Many music business
workers, including musicians themselves, collect rare recordings which
could be considered bootlegs. Often, the people who collect
But someone who burns a commercially available CD instead of buying is taking money away from the creator, and possibly trashing his or her art.
The sound quality of homemade recordings varies widely. An artist's reputation could be on the line if you share a badly made recording with friends.
And what about bands who are still struggling for a big hit? They obviously need record sales to survive. Organizations like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) have joined the battle, insisting that artists have a right to say how their music is released and to be paid for their work.
Of course, record companies want listeners to buy music. They don't make any money by giving music away. Big retail outfits like Tower Records and smaller, specialized stores like New York City's Other Music have Web sites where you can order virtually any album.
Typically, fans can preview songs they're curious about just by clicking a mouse. Some previews are "streamed," like a radio signal, so that you can only listen to them, and some can be downloaded as a repeatable file. Such free downloads can even be programmed so that they "expire" after a month or so, and if the fan wants more, he or she needs to purchase it.
An exciting twist to online music sales comes in the form of material that can't be found anywhere else. For example, the only place you can buy a new live album by the Black Crowes and Jimmy Page is at musicmaker.com, a Web site that specializes in custom-made CDs.
You can buy a pre-made 2-CD set of 20 songs from the Crows/Page concert - or you create your own CD, choosing just the songs you want for a dollar each. Likewise, if you don't like the track listing on the Beastie Boys CD "The Sounds of Science" that's available in stores, you can make your own, choosing from over 150 songs that the Beasties have licensed to musicmaker.
Usually, such online purchases are a matter of paying up front and getting a disc in the mail, but some services let you download the material to your computer immediately. In the future, you might plunk down your credit card info and order any album directly from the manufacturer, or the artist.
The question of
who owns music on the Internet, and who has the right to copy and
distribute it, will probably be decided in court. But that could take
years. In the meantime, fans have to think about the ethics
What do you think? Should there be restrictions on downloading MP3 music files?
-- contributed by Marianne Meyer
B 4 U Download: A checklist for MP3 users
New Music New Language: A Glossary for MP3 users
Facing the Music A NewsHour report on how technology is changing the music industry. (06/14/00)
Napster A Newshour Extra story on the Napster vs. the RIAA case
Netradio: offers 120 channels of RealAudio music, including many devoted to particular types of music
Sonicnet: choose a style of music, or a set of songs chosen by guest artists
MP3.com: the reigning site for music downloads includes helpful tips for getting started
Emusic.com: artists like Elvis Costello and They Might Be Giants have agreements with this site to make songs available for preview and purchase
Atomicpop.com: an online music label that was one of the first to sell music directly to fans
Liquidaudio.com: will direct you to 60,000 downloadable songs from 500 sites, including previews, free rare tracks and songs to purchase
MAKE YOUR OWN CD's
Musicmaker.com: you can play producer, custom designing your own CDs
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and rap entrepreneur Chuck D debate the Napster issue on Charlie Rose's PBS talk show [note: this is not an actual transcript, but a place from which a video of the show can be purchased]
The lead singers of Live and Counting Crows discuss Napster, bootlegs and other issues
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