Assistant General Secretary, John Smith believes that we are on the edge of another music distribution revolution. The Union is already negotiating.
Music has been available on the World Wide Web for a number of years now. One of the first music-related websites was the Rolling Stones site for their Voodoo Lounge tour in 1994. This site attracted more than 100,000 visits in the first few weeks. Since then many more music-based web sites have appeared. However, most of them have been for promotional purposes only. New technological developments mean that this is about to change in a big way and it is the intention of the Union to ensure that UK musicians are at the forefront of any new innovative projects.
Some members will be benefited from the ‘digital juke box’ operated on the Internet by Cerberus. Although one of the major record companies have licensed their recordings to Cerberus, many indie labels have given access to their catalogues. Cerberus allows compilation CDs to be burnt to order and also allows the downloading of music via a modem or ISDN onto a hard disc. Consumers now have the option of using CD recorders which recently came onto the market and retail for less than £300, with blank discs costing as little as 60p each. Cerberus pays a royalty to its artists based on sales. This market is now to expand for a number of reasons, not least technological improvements.
Early Internet music consisted of downloadable low-resolution sound files. This produced questionable audio quality and was at the mercy of ‘Internet congestion’ which can impede the delivery of music. There have been recent advances in technology and one of the companies at the forefront of these advances is a US-based Internet music systems manufacturer by the name of Liquid Audio. They have developed an enhanced system which will provide online delivery of CD quality audio on the low band width of the Internet. The system includes an enhanced version of Dolby digital compression technology which means that, with a 28.8 kbps modem, a CD-quality three-minute song can be transferred in approximately 12 minutes. To protect rights Liquid Audio employs an encryption system and they insist that the key behind this system could only potentially be decrypted by a super computer running for several months at a cost of millions of dollars. In addition, a digital watermark will be randomly embedded into the audio data. This is an undetectable signal which contains a host of copyright information including an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) and a user ID. This will deter the wholesale copyright and piracy of digitally delivered music.
Music is exploding on to the Internet. The Internet search engine, Yahoo, lists an average of 31 new music sites daily and it is estimated that by the year 2002 there could well be in excess of 90,000 music-related web sites. While we are looking at statistics it is interesting to note that, according to Jupiter Communications, 67 million households will be on-line by the year 2000.
Some famous rock and pop stars have already demonstrated the potential value of on-line music. In September 1996 David Bowie made his single Telling Lies freely available on his web-site for one week only. During that period 450,000 copies were downloaded to people in 87 countries. Subsequent market research demonstrated that many users opted to download a 16-bit CD quality file that took 45 minutes to download with a 28.8 kbps modem. With the availability of the new technology previously described, the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) forecasts that 15% of the traditional retail record business will be lost to online sales. This could prove an underestimation. Another famous artists, George Michael, has made it clear that he view the Internet the way to distribute music in the future. His label, Aegean, is the first to be solely dedicated to on-line music distribution. Aegean claims that the Net will eliminate expensive packaging which will consequently drive down prices in traditional retail outlets.
What of classical music? According to Aegean, classical music ‘streams’ particularly well and a company has now emerged which wishes to use the Internet as a means of making available classical concerts and previously unreleased archive material. The company originated in the USA and is called Global Music Network (GMN). The Union has recently concluded an agreement with GMN which will allow concerts originating in the UK to be ‘streamed’ or ‘web-cast’ on the Internet. This material will be available ‘on demand’ and after a credit transaction will be downloadable into PC’s or directly ‘burnt’ onto recordable CDs. GMN recognise that many people will not possess CD burners and will offer a mail order service to provide customised CDs. The technology for this operation has been provided by Liquid audio. GMN intends to limit its activities to a ‘family’ of artists to be coordinated by its artistic director, the conductor David Atherton. The UK managing director is Paul Findlay who is well known to British musicians from his time at the Royal Opera House and the RPO. Orchestras enlisted into the ‘family’ so far are the Philharmonia, the London Sinfonietta, the Bournmouth Orchestras, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the London Chamber Orchestra. The deal that the Union has signed is for two years and will give the musicians a £40.00 up-front payment as an advance against a 5% royalty. This is a step into the dark and we have no idea what level of royalty payments the 5% might realise. It is an exciting project and has the potential to realise a very high volume of sales for this genre of music. We sincerely hope this venture will be successful and that in the future this method of distributing recorded music provides a considerable new source of income for all UK recording musicians.