Roll over Beethoven, your music is now streaming from concert halls to desktop computers via the Web with the aid of San Diego based Global Music Network.
World-renowned conductor David Atherton, founder of San Diego`s Mainly Mozart Festival and the man who wields a white baton in concert halls from Hong Kong to London, has joined forces with Michael Lubin, a former theoretical physicist professor-turned online music distributor. Atherton, Lubin and pianist Peter Donohoe founded Global Music Network, or GMN, a year-old start-up that delivers live and recorded classical and jazz performances via the Web.
Visitors also can watch informational and rehearsal video clips from some of the 50-plus artists and groups in the GMN stable, which include the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Kirov, Billy Taylor, and of course, Atherton, who was music director of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra from 1980 to 1987.
Similar to MP3.com - the scrappy San Diego online music distributor that delights in giving the recording industry fits - GMN will sell standard or customized CDs: users select the tracks from GMN`s site. In addition, users can listen to and download free tracks. GMN does not support the popular MP3 digital compression format that has made MP3.com the darling of the online community - nor it is likely to. The MP3 format enables relatively fast downloading of CD quality music, the bane of the established recording industry becuase it lacks controls to protect bootlegging and illegal distribution of copyrighted material. GMN is working more in concert with major labels and supports more secure versions of MP3 such as Liquid Audio, which stamps music files with so-called digital watermarks to at least identify copyright material.
`For me the excitement has come from the knowledge that GMN combines my passions for music and computers, in a business which is in the right space at the right time,` Atherton said in an e-mail interview from London. `As with running an orchestra, something I have done for 30 years, my main concern has been the quality of the product,` he said. `Our ability to satisfy the demands of some of the most highly regarded classical musicians in the world has ensured that our artistic standards are superb.`
Atherton also said he has complete confidence in Lubin`s business and technical acumen. Lubin also possesses a fevered work ethnic. Lubin worked 19-hour days for months, gathering content and making deals. GMN was the first to forge a licensing agreement with the British Musicians Union, allowing GMN to stream and resell U.K. symphony performances.
GMN also has struck strategic relationships with Microsoft and RealNetworks to support their respective Internet media players - the software used to download music and video. In return, those companies will help drive traffic to GMN.
Nancy Laturno, executive director of the Mainly Mozart festival, said GMN will give the local event greater global exposure. `The opportunity to be seen, heard and understood through GMN has great advantages for us,` Laturno said; `But is also gives people a chance to know the artists.` And she has no concerns that sound quality of classical performances will suffer when piped through the Web which for all its gee-whizz technology is still a work in progress as a medium for delivering multimedia. `The person who has the most at stake is the artistic director, ` she said. `The fact (Atherton) is part of this is built-in protection.
GMN intiated a soft launch of its site in December and relaunched in February. Lubin said that ideally the site will see 100,000 visitors a week, up considerably from the 1,000 a day it gets now. Lubin said he expects the company to make about $2 million this year through sales of banner ads, CDs, performance downloads and audio software. Prices are pending.
GMN has 23 employees and most of them are Web developers in London. Lubin, the company`s chief executive, spends a week or so a month in the company`s home base here.
Lubin, who worked under Qualcomm founder Irwin Jacobs when both still in Linkabit, joined the board of the Mainly Mozart Festival in 1994, two years after he had sold Pacific Communications Sciences Inc, to Cirrus Logic for $60 million in stock.In 1996, Lubin found himself at a Mainly Mozart dinner, seated with the international award-winning Atherton, whom contemporaries call `a genius`. Atherton asked Lubin what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Lubin told him competence in a chosen field, discipline, passion and a willingness to take risks. `But this is also true in my field,` Atherton replied. Lubin and Atherton were of one mind and later decided to form an Internet music company.
By early 1998, the timing for forming an online music venture was ripe. Artists were expressing widespread dissatisfaction with the music industry, which favored boosting a handful of superstars, making it harder for promising newer performers to get noticed. At the same time, audio Internet technology was beginning to blossom.
In March last year, Lubin began collecting hundreds of hours of recounted classical performances and arranging licensing rights to deliver. Lubin and Atherton launched the company with $3.5 million in venture capital. However, Lubin said that investors initially were hesitant, despite the cache of Atherton`s name. `We had to overcome the misconception in the investment community that the target audience was too small,` Lubin said.
Venture capitalists eyeing Internet start-ups are primarily concerned with raw numbers of eyballs visiting a site. Yet Lubin and Atherton were able to demonstrate that an upscale demographic followed classical and jazz and had deeper pockets than many other breeds of Web surfers.But, Lubin said, money isn`t everything. From his perspective entrepreneurs whose primary goal is to make money invariably fail. `You have to have not only passion, but an obsession`, he said. `You have to weather dark moments and solve problems that appear insurmountable`. `However, creating something out of nothing, imposing your values and having a global impact is very rewarding.` Indeed, GMN`s Web site tells visitors it not only wants to change the way the world experiences music, but `We hope that GMN uplifts your spirit`.