Audio & Music On The Internet
by Edward O'Leary
Music oriented sites appear to be the single largest category on the World Wide Web, even though it is difficult to determine the number of music Web sites. The experts at Netscape Communications, the company that created the famed Mosaic Web browser, believe that music sites are growing faster than any other Web sites. The Yahoo Internet index lists over 4,300 music Web sites while sports Web sites are a distant second with 2,100 sites. The popularity of music Web sites have caused many to explore the possibilities for expanding the Music Web sites from textual information about lyrics, tour dates, biographies of the band members to include music sound clips.
Current technology makes it easier to transmit music over computer lines than moving pictures of television and movies. Sound requires less bandwidth to carry data than video by a ratio of less than 1 to 10. Many large music web sites including Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA)(http:// www.iuma.com) and World Wide Web of Music (http://american recordings.com/wwwofmusic) have been extremely successful with IUMA recording more than 250,000 “hits” a day. These large web sites contain listings of1,000 bands, many of which are not signed with recording companies . The browser is often able to listen to a sound clip from these small bands. The sound clips are usually very short ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Although the sound clips are short, they give the listener an opportunity to hear small bands. The bands have recognized the potential of this new medium as an excellent way to promote their music world wide in a cost efficient manner. Smaller bands have also established their own “home pages” which allow the browser to discover more information about that particular band. These homepages often contain additional sound clips from live concerts and current releases. Music homepages containing textual information and sound clips have been used for promotion by record labels, professional marketers, and the bands themselves. Entire industries have emerged to meet the demands of the growing music homepages. Jim Evans, owns rVISION, a Santa Monica company which designs Web pages for bands. Evans states that music oriented Web sites are becoming like music video productions with writers, designers, directors and programmers.
Fans have also created music homepages to share knowledge, opinions and gossip about the bands. Although the fans often include copyrited sound clips of bands on their personal homepages without permission, there have been virtually no cases of bands or record labels shutting down web sites.
Bands and record labels are not threatened by these homepage sound clips because the technology makes it impractical to download an entire album onto a hard drive or floppy. Current technology requires five minutes to download one minute of music. At this rate it is not cost efficient for the user to spend several hours on-line at at average cost three dollars an hour to record an album. The second technological problem with pirating entire albums over the Internet is that the browser is unable to store or convert the music recording. The music must be encoded in order to play over the computer. An entire digitalized album sent over the computer would maximize most personal computer hard drives. It is unlikely that the user is willing to sacrifice an entire hard drive in order to store one album. Even if the user were willing to store the album on the hard drive, the user would have difficulty in transferring the music to a tape or compact disk. The tape has to be a digital audio tape in order to transfer from the digitized code from the computer. This is unlikely because digital audio tapes never gained popularity among consumers, because of expense and the popularity of the compact disk.
Visionaries in the field, however, do recognize the possibility of recording music over the computer through the use of writeable compact disc’s. This technology is currently available, but remains expensive. Experts believe that technology will advance to the point that the consumer will be able to download an entire digitalized album onto a writable compact disk for five dollars. This will have an adverse effect on traditional record distributors. The potential of downloading music onto a compact disk through computers will enable smaller bands to sell their product world-wide without the added expense of distributers.
Although the technology has not advanced to the point where it is practical to download music over the computer, a new company in Seattle called Progressive Networks has pioneered a new audio technology. The technology is called Real Audio and it works as radio on demand. Real Audio eliminates the need for users to download large audio files in order to hear their contents. The process of Real Audio allows the user to gain access to the Host computer and listen to words and music in real time. In attempt to expand the Real Audio to the public, Progressive Networks has decided to give away the Real Audio software. The user can enter the World Wide Web and visit the real Audio Homepage. The user can register with Real Audio as a beta user at which point, Progressive Networks will send a password to the user permitting download of the player software.
Real Audio has the potential to enter the market as an alternative to traditional radio broadcasts by offering programs on demand. However, the current technology has not advanced to the stage where music can be transmitted with high quality. At 14,400 b.p.s. modem speeds, the quality is not much better than AM radio. The lack of quality sound precludes bands from using Real Audio for music. However, Real Audio is used for internet talk and news shows which can be heard in real time by the user. Rob Glaser, President of Progressive Networks, is confident that the technology will advance so that sound on demand will improve substantially. Glaser states that users gaining access to increasing bandwidth and better computers will ensure better internet sound quality.
Audio and music on the internet is available and popular. There is long term potential for quality internet sound. On demand internet radio stations, inexpensive promotion for new music and a new method for record distribution are only some of the benefits. Many experts involved with internet audio and music are convinced that the technology will meet the aspirations of the internet music visionaries.
The greatest advantage for Real Audio technology is that enables entrepreneurs to enter the “radio” business on the Internet without a license from the Federal Communications Committee (FCC) and without a broadcast tower. This alternative method for audio and music communication will enable most people to generate words and music and post this information for all Internet users. It remains to be seen the true potential for this new, inexpensive, and unregulated medium.