Say What You Will, Microsoft Understands Branding

From The Register’s Napster 2.0 public beta to go live next week

Samsung is launching a Napster-branded music player for the online service hoping that the new, legal offering will pull in the punters as well as the old, not-so-legal one did.

Napster 2.0 will launch against pay-per-download services Musicmatch and BuyMusic, and subscription-based offerings like Real Networks’ Rhapsody and MusicNet’s band of retailers. iTunes Music Store will be up and running on Windows by the end of the year, and Dell is expected to launch its music store later this month too.

Roxio has already said Napster will offer both one-off downloads and a premium subscription service. It will almost certainly be based on Windows Media 9 technology, not the MP3 format that made its name – particularly since it has a tie-in with Microsoft’s Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004, which launched earlier this week. Roxio has long licensed its CD burning technology to Microsoft as the basis of Windows XP’s CD-R/RW functionality.

Another look at the Verizon/SBC suits

An opinion piece in NetworkFusion, RBOCs stand tall against recording industry, is used as a kickoff for a Slashdot discussion: Telcos Stand Against RIAA

Well, the discussion is OK, but I thought the real key to the article was this segment — repetition of a key set of thoughts that, IMHO, need to be repeated until the public gets it:

What doesn’t pass the smell test is the RIAA’s own position with respect to copyright enforcement. Ultimately, its approach is outdated, impractical and Orwellian – and benefits neither the artists whose interests the RIAA supposedly represents, nor the fans whose dollars fuel the entire music industry.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe in copyright protection. Artists, software developers and other content creators have the right to be compensated for their efforts and deserve protection of their intellectual property.

But that’s not what the RIAA is really fighting for. The RIAA acts on behalf of record companies, not artists. And record companies are fundamentally distributors and promoters – not creators – of content.

What’s going on is that the Internet has dramatically cut the costs and enhanced the efficiency of distribution and promotion mechanisms, in the process is making obsolete many of the core business processes of record companies. In other words, record company executives are in approximately the same position that manufacturing workers were in during the ’80s and ’90s: Their jobs have been made redundant by technology.

The real reason the RIAA is attempting to force telcos to drag their customers into court is to protect the jobs of record executives, not the rights of artists, who benefit from less expensive and more effective distribution mechanisms.

What the RIAA needs to do is wake up and develop cost-effective distribution and promotion models that serve fans and artists well. If it can’t, the organization should be replaced by one that does.

Slashdot on the EFF’s Trusted Computing White Paper

Followups to this and this: EFF Position on Trusted Computing. Entertaining reads, although not a whole lot of light. There are a couple of arguments that suggest that the worst case scenarios will not come to pass because of market competition. A reasonable argument, although Fred carefully points out that a functioning competitive market will have to exist, which is at least a debatable point in some of this industry.

Access to Recording Studios

Wired News’ article on the accessibility of sophisticated recording tools, The Incredible Shrinking Studio, gets the Slashdot treatment: The Incredible Shrinking Recording Studio

Working on the go has become standard operating procedure in the music industry. Times have changed: Twenty years ago, a studio was the only place where professional recordings could be made; even five years ago, desktop computers were just starting to get enough horsepower to make great records. Today, a laptop offers plenty of power to make a great-sounding track — and that portability is changing the way music is made.

For instance, guitar hero Steve Vai recorded his Alive in an Ultra World live album on location using an Apple PowerBook and Logic, a multitrack recording program. “Technology changes, and you really have to stay on top of it,” Vai said.

In another sign of the increased prominence of laptops in the recording process, as of this fall, new students at the Berklee College of Music have to buy a PowerBook, a MIDI keyboard controller and a copy of Reason, a popular software synthesis and sampling program.

[…] Bierylo, who also composes scores for movies and television, knows that familiarizing Berklee students with laptops is a crucial part of their education as the technological landscape of the industry changes.

A key point made in the article is done better in this Slashdot comment:

Re:Apples and Oranges (Score:5, Informative)

by dasmegabyte (267018) on Thursday October 02, @12:35PM (#7114589)

( | Last Journal: Tuesday August 20, @12:23PM)

I’d like you to listen sometime to the difference between well mixed computer produced music and poorly mixed, poorly sequenced computer produced music. It is UNCANNY. The former is a seamless creation which allows each instrument to express itself without overpowering the others, while the latter can be quite horrible. Just ask my buddy, whose lack of skill in using Protools lead to the downfall of his studio venture after only three sessions. Not that I mind, I got his effects boxes when he liquidated ;).

It is a fallacy that using better tools eliminates the need for skilled labor. What you’re talking about is nothing more than an advanced form of recording, which artists have been doing since the advent of a four track. “Professional” recording, getting the music into an editor, is only the first step of making a “recording” of a song. The talents that make a great audio recording technician — the ability to turn recorded audio into something that is meaningful when played back by muting overpowering sounds, enhancing important sounds, and seamlessly combining multiple takes — do not appear merely because your soundboard is a digital. It is a skill that has a MASSIVE impact on the end product. Take a listen sometime to an unmixed digital demo and compare it to a studio version of the same song. They won’t sound anything NEAR the same, and the difference can be the killing point of an album. My favorite band, the Screaming Trees, released an album mixed by Chris Cornell that was mixed completely wrong. The songs were better written and performed than those on their commercial “success” Sweet Oblivion, but the grunge dynamics did not play well, and killed the sound for a mass market.

However, the simplicity of LEARNING the new digital tools means that a lot of people who would be very good at old style mixing are getting the chance to hone their skills without going to school for them. That’s the real promise of cheap, uniquitous audio: it allows the amateur to try his hand at musical skills that are otherwise reserved for $100/hour technicians. And perhaps new “bare bones” styles of production will be adopted, resulting in the end of overproduced albums (like last year’s Audioslave disc, check out the “Civillian” demos for some REAL rock & roll).


Wired News has an article on Icarus, an supposedly open source tool (*I* can’t find it online) devised to limit P2P traffic on networks: Florida Dorms Lock Out P2P Users

Not all schools will be eager to embrace this application, however.

“There are some legitimate uses that are stifled as a price for reducing illegitimate uses,” said John Vaughn, executive vice president of the Association for American Universities and a staff member of the joint committee. “Different institutions take different approaches.”

But critics say that Florida is going down the wrong road.

“This is what happens when you try to fight the peer-to-peer revolution,” said Jason Schultz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “You either ban the technology completely or censor people’s access to content.”

When universities start to make decisions about what students can read, watch and listen to, they are changing the nature of student research and thought, Schultz said.

“It’s essentially turning interactive computing into television. This has huge implications for academic freedom,” he said.

See this August article and the associated comments from dmusic: University of Florida and Icarus

DVD format battles

Two articles on the fights brewing over the next generation DVD format.

  • Wired News’ Waiting for DVDs, the Sequel suggests that, while the consumer electronics companies replay the last battle over DVD formats in anticipation of HDTV-quality playback systems, Microsoft is working an end-run on the industry, promoting Windows Media Video 9 as an alternative that does not require the blue laser technology because of its compression ratios.

  • Over at CNet News, there’s a very extensive article on the fact that DivX is getting more credibility as a potential DVD format through recent moves in the consumer electronics medium. Plus, it’s not a Microsoft encumbered format.

    DivX is already a hit with consumers, who have downloaded more than 100 million copies of the software and encoded more than a billion files in the format, according to the company.

    That popularity has helped attract consumer-electronics makers, who have less to lose from piracy than content owners. DivX CEO Greenhall said the company has been working for the past two years with leading DVD chipset makers, signing up 15 partners so far that either are now, or soon will be, shipping products.

    Those deals are set to pay off with a flurry of new DVD players that support the DivX format, said Envisioneering’s Doherty, who said generic Chinese contract manufacturers are slated to begin production on behalf of some well-known brand names, such as Apex.

    That’s put DivX well ahead of its main rival, Microsoft, which has announced development deals with several DVD chipset makers but has no products that support its video technology on store shelves. The first such device is expected from Samsung in the first quarter of 2004, said Jason Reindorp, group manager for Microsoft’s Windows Digital Media division.

    Reindorp denied that Microsoft has had trouble getting consumer-electronics manufacturers to support Windows Media, pointing to new licensing terms unveiled in January that he said have smoothed adoption of the format. In all, some 350 devices currently on the market support Windows Media audio technology, he said, and dozens more are in the pipeline.