Monday, May 5, 2003

The Future of Online Music

There have been few times that a single industry fought change as hard as the music industry has. With the height of Napster they should have seen the writing on the wall – and maybe they did – but still they fought to keep their music out of the virtual world. Instead of embracing this digital trend they have revolted against it, throwing around lawsuits and demands; screaming of the problem without offering an answer.

Apple, however, may have found the answer. Where the music industry lacked initiative, Apple has taken up the slack and developed a new online music store. This is not the first attempt at this, by far, but it is the most successful. They are using their own AAC (Advanced Audio Codec) developed by Dolby Labs to both improve the sound quality of digital music files and protect record companies by inserting user information into each song purchased. This technology allows for only a few file transfers to other computers while still permitting users to burn CD’s or transfer songs to their iPods. This keeps the music industry happy and brings everyone one step closer to the solution.

The problem has been around as far back as I can remember – you had your duel tape player/recorder and made copies of your favorite tapes. Then came CDs. They took a little longer to figure out – since they required a little bit of technical sense to really get a handle on it – but soon we were burning CDs and that was that. Then a little something happened that we like to call the Internet revolution and, in no time, you could just download your favorite songs online. This was the beginning to Napster and the many other file swapping services that followed in its wake. Now that Napster has fallen to the wayside, those services that remain have their own problems. The Recording Industry and the government are beginning to crack down on individual file-sharing users and recording artists are beginning to saturate the file-swapping systems with bogus music tracks of only static.

I guess I miss the good old days when pirating was safe and easy with my trusty dual tape player/recorder.

Liquid Audio and Musicnet are two contenders with Apple that have had a lot of press. Liquid Audio’s owners are selling it off piecemeal and Musicnet has been the host of much criticism. They both follow the same payment plan, where you pay a subscription fee and gain access to more and more songs the longer you pay. The problem is that when you stop paying they close your access to the music you were listening to off of their servers.

This is where Apple steps in and is different: they charge you for each individual song, 99 cents to be exact. Then the song is yours to do with as you please, as long as you don’t transfer it to more then 3 different computers (but who is counting, really). In order to make this work Apple has brought in the big 5 record companies BMG, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal, and Warner. They have brought over 200,000 songs to the digital table and continue to add more. My only hope is that they continue to add in the smaller labels to fill more then a few holes that appear in the online selection. Many new popular bands, such as the White Stripes, and even some old pillars of the industry, like Madonna, are absent from the roster. Even with a few set backs it will be interesting to see where Apple takes this and what will happen in the future of online music. fb

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