Infinite listening lounge?
This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on December 8, 2000
The Internet just may be the perfect place for buying music. You can shop at any store you like without ever leaving your living room, you can listen to the music before you buy it, you can even read a nearly unlimited number of reviews of an album before plunking your hard-earned cash down.
Most of the large retail music chains now have an Internet presence: Tower Records, Wherehouse, Sam Goody, Borders. And even other outlets, like bookstore Barnes & Noble and online-only etailer Amazon.com, offer CD sales to rival those of the music stores.
What has yet to be determined is what digital format will become the standard? mp3 has the inside track right now, and as an open-source standard, it has a lot going for it. But the music companies are scared to death of open standards, and want proprietary formats that can be key-encrypted to try to slow down piracy.
Created by AT&T, a2b music is built around a proprietary compression system that offers CD-quality sound at roughly the same size as high-end mp3 files. a2b sound clips can only be played on the free a2b player. The a2b system supports both Windows and Mac (but no Linux yet). There are only about a dozen songs available from the a2b music site apparently the a2b standard is intended to be licensed to record companies for them to sell music in a copy-protected format. So the a2b music site isn't really a music portal.
Liquid Audio is another high-fidelity (CD quality) music format that offers the record companies copy protection: As with a2b, you can download a song and listen to it, but you can't make copies for friends. (Which also means that unless you purchase the upgraded license, you can only listen to a song you've bought on one computer and one computer only you can't even make copies for yourself over your home network, for instance. And what happens if your hard drive crashes and you have to reinstall? If you backed those songs up to tape or a home server, can you now reinstall and still have access to them? Or are you out of luck? Those are questions needing hard answers before I'm going to start investing my money into a digital download as opposed to a CD or tape.)
Unlike a2b, though, Liquid Audio has a ton of popular music available in its format. CDNow.com, for instance, uses the Liquid Audio format for its digital sales, so there are hundreds, probably thousands of songs for sale in Liquid Audio format, with dozens at least for free.
OrangeAlley is a Web site selling regular old mp3 files, but mostly by bands you've not yet heard of. It's owned by and for musicians, and has a collection of affordable music rivaling that on MP3.com. The prices are decent, the files aren't copy-protected (so you can make backups or listen to them on both your computer and your portalbe mp3 player), and the site actually gives money back to the musicians.
Spinner.com doesn't sell music, but it still represents a new face of music distribution. It's like the digital cable radio, only on the Internet: Pre-programmed "stations" organized by musical style: blues, country, jazz, rock, classical. And within each style are many sub-styles: dinner jazz, avant-garde, big band and swing are all subcategories of jazz. There are literally hundreds of these "stations," playing streaming music 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Like radio, it's advertiser supporter, but the song selection tends to be good, the sound quality around that of a good AM radio.
NetRadio's formula is similar to that of Spinner.com. There are 120 music channels here, with the same breadth and variety as on Spinner.com. NetRadio plays up the ability to buy songs you like more so than Spinner.com does (although Spinner does link you to a portal where you can instantly buy any song you hear and like). Couldn't get their system to work with my firewall, so can't vouch for the sound quality, but the site itself is well-organized, slickly designed and easy to use.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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