MP3/CD-R combo rattles music industry
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1999. First
published in Toronto Computes,
You?d think the recording industry would be content to
be sitting on
the cash cow of pop music hits. But no?even more than the software
they seem haunted by the spectre of piracy?people making copies of
A decade ago, these fears resulted in digital audio
being kept out of the home consumer market?DAT recorders are available,
but in a price range that pretty much limits them to recording studios.
Has that lack kept anyone from making (analog) tape copies of their
CDs? I doubt it.
But while the record companies (somehow, it doesn?t
sound right to call
them the CD companies, even though there haven?t been ?records? mass
for over a decade) relaxed with their victory over home-digital
the enemy snuck into millions of homes through a couple of unexpected
Start with millions of home computers. Add near-CD
quality sound cards
and multimedia CD-ROMs. Well that?s fine. If computer owners want to
audio CDs in their home computer, the record companies still get their
But three new factors have made the industry take a
- CDs are no longer a read-only medium. Only a few
years ago, computer
CD-recorders cost $2,000, blank disks were $25 each, and the technology
was touchy enough that it wasn?t unusual to blow away a recording
wrecking an expensive, write-once disk.
Now, with hardware prices hovering around the $CDN400-$500 level,
and blank disks costing just a couple of bucks each, CD-R
is on the verge of being commonplace. It?s not quite there, but the
question is whether it will be replaced by recordable DVD before it
mass levels of popularity. And while it?s less tragic to ruin a $2
then a $25 one, the faster CPUs and larger buffers on modern drives
the recording process much more reliable.
CD-R makes it possible for computer users to backup
their data, archive
little used programs, and create other custom solutions. But it also
it possible for them to make exact, digitally perfect copies of CD-ROM
software and audio CDs?in the later case, copies that will play quite
on home and car stereo CD players.
- The Internet provides a new wide that digital
information can be widely
disseminated. And digital information, a stream of ones and
doesn?t care what its content is. It can be my web page, passing on
on setting up a Win95 network. Or it can be an unsigned band?s demo.
just ones and zeros.
Still, the recording industry wasn?t worried. CD-quality music takes
an awful lot of those ones and zeros?about ten megs worth per minute of
CD-quality music. Thirty or forty megs for a single track from a CD.
an awful lot to download, just for one song.
And streaming audio, like RealAudio, simply provides
sound quality that,
despite the name, doesn?t compare to the real thing.
So the Internet didn?t cause the record companies to
work up a sweat.
Another way to sell CDs? and if RealAudio let bands, stores, or record
companies demo a CD?s contents, well that?s great!
- An old (1991) technology made new again
brings all these pieces
in an ominous way for the record industry, however. Just as JPEG
allow large, colourful photos to be compressed into much smaller files
(with a real, but acceptable loss of quality), MPEG-3 compression
a little quality for a lot of the size of video and audio files.
Using the freeware MP3Box program (www.gti.net/fannet), I ?ripped?
a track from a favourite audio CD?as expected, I ended up with a 40 meg
WAV file. But MP3Box let me compress it into an MP3, shrinking it down
to 7 megs in the process. Put it on the Net and it?s still a hefty
if you?re using a modem, but not a big deal using one of the
popular broadband connections like Wave or ADSL from your local phone
Once you have the MP3 file, you can play it on your computer, using
or even newer versions of Microsoft?s free Windows Media Player. Or
it back to that 40 meg WAV file using MP3Box again.
Put together the Internet, MP3 compression, and CD-R
for storage and
suddenly, music can be distributed in a way that bypasses the record
and music stores. Perfect for music enthusiasts searching out
bands or minority tastes. But also perfect for people just looking to
popular but expensive mass market CDs.
Even with the Recording Industry Association of
America (RIAA) actively
trying to track down and close down web sites offering pirated MP3s, it
would seem that this means of distributing music is here to
to the authors of the popular shareware WinAmp, ?MP3? is the
popular phrase on Internet search engines (after ?sex?).
You can find legal MP3s MP3-news at (where else?)
www.mp3.com. Or check
Goodnoise (www.goodnoise.com) who are trying to be a new-medium
?record? company, that the company?s president, Steve Grady, hopes will
grow to be the next Amazon.com. Grady . He also suggests that the
recording industry may just have to learn to live with it?just as the
industry has. After all, even with widespread software piracy, no one
claim that companies like Microsoft aren?t profitable.