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Feature Article
Music

March 1, 2003
By Scott Lewis

I forgot my MP3 player at home one morning and plugged my ear bud style headphones into my PC to run the LAUNCHcast applet on my computer. Low and behold LAUNCHcast (a part of Yahoo!) Forgot who I was. My user ID no longer existed. Oops! I supposed I should have logged in once in a while, but it hasn't been that long, maybe a few months.

My New LAUNCHcast ID

LAUNCHcast requires you to sign up for a Yahoo! account. I did that, picking the same ID I had before. I was sorry that none of my rated songs or artists were there. After all, this was a new account. I actually liked the setup screen. It asked me to select the genres I like, providing examples of artists in them. I selected my genres. Then there was a place to list four artists of my own. Cool. I entered Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Bob Seger and John Cougar (I spelled it Melloncamp, but I will always think of him as John Cougar). 

The first song that played was Billy Joel. Cool! They were paying attention. I click on the artist tag to rate Billy a 100... he is my favorite. When I did that it told me I needed to log in to access that feature. Gee, I thought I did log in through the multi-screen process. No problem, I said yes. Oops, they shut off the music and I blew my chance to here Piano Man.

At least once I was logged back in I was greeted with another Billy Joel Song. Not Piano Man, but still Billy. In fact, the first 11 songs were all Billy Joel or Bruce Springsteen. (The 11th song was Piano Man.) I still haven't heard any Bob Seger or John Cougar yet.

When I finally got to the button to rate the artists I found that Billy and Bruce were set to 90 for me. I bumped them to 100.

I told LAUNCHcast that I like Red Hot Chili Peppers (I rated them 60) and I got hit with 4 Chili Pepper songs in a row... the last three I did not like. I then told it I liked Queen and got 4 Queen songs in a row. At least this time I liked 3 out of 4 of the songs.

Apparently this service, which I have praised in the past, still has a few hiccups. And now I have to "retrain" it to the specific artists and songs I like. I don't know exactly how they actually use the information. I could speculate about comparing similar peoples' tastes, similar artists, yada, yada, yada. Suffice it to say that it is a lot better than than the brainless Clear Channel music machine with its canned playlists that let me hear the same song more times in a week just driving to and from work than I hear at my desk all week with only 500 songs in my MP3 player. I Especially like being able to eliminate an artist from ever being played on LAUNCHcast. I wish I could do that with the radio.

Now that I have my "dream" MP3 player (it holds about 500 songs at a time) I don't need LAUNCHcast as much. Maybe I should tell LAUNCHcast that I don't like the artists I actually do. Kind of reverse psychology, so I can listen to new music when I am not playing my own collection.

Burn CDs for 49 cents each... Legally

I read this article with much anticipation. Walt does a great job of putting things in perspective, and does one of the best jobs of turning technical topics into easy to understand topics.

Rhapsody (part of listen.com) allows you to burn as many songs to CD as you like for 49 cents each. So, what's the catch. The article mentions two catches, I see at least three. 1) You have to pay $10 a month membership to use the service. 2) The price is an introductory offer until March (which is about when you might be reading this) after which the price will go back to 99 cents. 3) And the one not mentioned in the article... you are not getting CD quality music. 

For the service to churn for only a couple of minutes and then burn a song to a blank CD in your drive it must be downloading an MP3 (or similarly compressed) copy of the song and converting it to a WAV format which is not compressed. MP3, WMA, and the rest are "lossy" compression schemes. That means that something is lost in the translation. Serious audiophiles will tell you that MP3s are poor quality compared to CDs.

Personally, I can't here much of a difference from a good quality MP3 and a CD. I have made CDs from MP3s. This provides the same kind of "loss" in quality that Rhapsody must be providing. This may be "good enough" for most people, but it is not CD quality. Let's call it near CD quality.

For $10 a month, and $1 per song (after the introductory offer) I would expect CD quality. At least it should be an option for people with high speed Internet connection to download the 50 MB files for burning to CD.

MP3s & File Sharing

It has been a long time since I wrote about this topic. My main reason for writing this is far different than anything I have read over the years. I have a simple question...

When will it end?

When will we have a worthwhile file trading service that is legal? When can we stop bothering with free file services that are unreliable, unsecured, probably illegal, and generally a pain in the ass? When will the music industry finally settle on doing something?

I don't expect answers to these questions anytime soon. The music industry has every right to do whatever it wants to protect its "products" from being "illegally" used or acquired. But if a business seems to be so bad by so many of its "customers" can they really survive in the long run. My initial thinking is... YES!

The music industry can do everything to alienate its customers. Why not? Do any of these customers have any other "legal" place to go to get the product. The Music industry, spear headed by the RIAA, is a monopoly. They have a massive distribution channel that does not allow outsiders in. When was the last time you saw a CD for sale at Best Buy, Wal-Mart or Target from an independent musician that was not part of a RIAA member label. Never!

I am curious about Bon Jovi's latest CD that is a Target exclusive for only $6.99. Clearly this would never have happened before the SEC's investigation of price fixing by the music business.

So you... the music lover, the casual music listener, or the devoted groupie... have no place else to go. The music industry keeps starving musicians. Those musicians that are now rich don't want to give up on the good life by going against their meal-ticket.

Napster is worthless. I don't know anyone that ever mentions it anymore outside of articles online that tell of "what happened" to it. Are they still out there? Is is useful? Even a little? All the Gnutella derivatives seems to be holding all the file traders and MP3 fanatics for the time being. How long can this last? They claim numbers that add up to tens of millions of users easily. Wow! But how many people really use them? Do they buy CDs, or do they just get all the music they want to listen to for free?

The music industry is trying to get legislation through that will allow them to hack into computer systems to get the illegal traders. Does it matter that this very hacking is already a computer crime? No. They have billions of dollars to burn on this. Does the government care? No. They just help those who provide the massive campaign contributions... the music industry, not the common voter. The courts recently said an ISP had to turn over an individual that was sharing over 600 files. If this fails on appeal then you can have your computer hacked and your Internet access disconnected without recourse. Guilty until proven innocent. That's the American way. Right?

The way I see it is this... the current system of paying $12-18 a CD is going to continue for a long time. There is no reason for it not to. Unless a vast majority (say over 75%) of all music customers just stop buying music. There is no real reason for the industry to stop its practices. I cannot imagine that ever happening. Take a look at your parents. Are they tech savvy? If not, I will bet that they don't even know how to download a song. No less what to do with it after they downloaded it. This accounts for enough business to keep the RIAA and its members to maintain the status quo.

A lot of people write articles online saying how the music industry must  change its ways if it expects to survive. I say they don't need to do anything more than they are doing now... except going house to house to stop piracy. Although I think that might be the step that gets people up in arms to finally boycott them.

Without a massive boycott the music business will never change. Yes... you will eventually be able to download music. The Rhapsody service above is a big step in that direction. Yes... you will eventually be able to subscribe to worthwhile music services. But make no mistake about it, you will only be able to do that when the music industry can make more money than it does now... a lot more money. They have nothing to loose because we don't give them any reason to think they will lose. If we don't boycott them, they will never feel the effects of a boycott.

So enjoy your music. If you are downloading it I'll bet you make less than the music costs. Why else would you spend two hours of your time and frustration acquiring a CD's worth of music you can buy for $15... unless you are making less than $7.50 an hour.

I make more than $7.50 an hour... so I can afford to pay. I choose not to pay. That is what a boycott is all about. I will just sit back and wait until the dust settles... maybe that will happen before I retire and stop making more money than a CD costs.

Rock On!

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