It seems like just about everyone has a website these
days. Want to know more about the toilet paper in your bathroom?
Just visit www.charmin.com, where you can brush up on tissue
trivia (the average consumer uses 20,805 sheets of bath tissue
annually), or learn more about Mr. Whipples triumphant
return to television as the companys spokesman. Or maybe
youre writing a report on famous clowns, so you need
some biographical information on Hershel "Krusty the
Clown" Krustofski. Everything you could ever want to
know (and more) about Krusty is just a few keystrokes away
at www.thesimpsons.com. What does all this have to do with
the music industry, you ask? Nothing, but it does illustrate
just how much information, both obscure and specific, is readily
available to those of us with a computer, a modem, some basic
investigative skills, and a fair amount of patience.
and recent advancements in technology have dramatically altered the course
of the music industry, thoroughly upsetting the traditional power structure
established too many years ago. Consumers can now access, acquire, and ultimately
enjoy the music they desire from almost unlimited sources. But is the society-at-large
ready for this new era of digital music and cyber convenience? Not entirely,
but given the pace at which new technology is developing and improving,
it wont be long until it is.
To Our Ears
community has probably been affected more positively by the Internet than
any other single group of people. By running a few wires into the proverbial
closet, those of us who choose to remain quiet about our sexuality, for
whatever reason (i.e., religious purposes, youths who live at home, rural
existence, etc.), can now live active gay lives in cyberspace, connecting
with others like us to share thoughts and ideas, while establishing new
business relationships, forming friendships, and maybe even finding romance.
These same opportunities exist for urban, "out" gay men and women
as well, who also benefit immensely from properly utilizing the Internet
and other new technology.
Everyone likes music, and gay men and
women are certainly no different. Anything and everything
you could ever want to know about your favorite musicians
can be found online. Most record companies, including many
independent labels, offer websites where visitors can learn
more about their artists, purchase their CDs, and sometimes
even download a song or two for free. Numerous gay-oriented
CDs have been released in recent years, but Centaur Entertainment
is the only major gay-owned and -operated label that specifically
targets the gay community. A rarity in the dance compilation
arena, Centaur carefully obtains the proper licensing for
each song it uses, thereby ensuring that each CD is legal
and the artists get paid. In addition to the new Global Groove
series, Centaur has showcased the extraordinary talents of
DJ/producers Julian Marsh, David Knapp, Tony Moran, and others
in a variety of benefit projects in Miami and elsewhere, including
recent Winter and White Party commemorative CDs.
there are the parties. How could the countless circuit parties that take
place almost every weekend around the world possibly be so well-attended
without the marketing and promotional assistance the Internet provides?
Even nightclubs and bars have their own websites (www.salvationsobe.com,
www.crobarmiami.com, www.scorebar.com, www.roxynyc.com, and www.twilo.com).
Club owners and party promoters are constantly sending out electronic newsletters,
advertisements, and other promotional e-mails. Some websites are even solely
dedicated to making sure each one of us knows exactly what is going on in
the gay party world (www.thecircuitdog.com, www.circuitnoize.com, www.partylist.com,
and www.justcircuit.com). Others are less party-specific, but still offer
a good amount of information regarding music and gay life in general (www.gaywired.com,
www.planetout.com, and www.gay.com). For more mainstream dance music and
nightlife information, try www.dancemusic.about.com and www.clubplanet.com
(ClubMiami.coms parent site). Both offer regularly updated music news
and reviews, feature articles, DJ profiles, and comprehensive event listings
that will keep you well-informed and up-to-date on the latest nocturnal
unfortunately, is not all fun and games though. There are the legal issues.
There are the corporate issues. There are even the moral issues. Many aspects
of the music industry have been unable to keep up with the rapidly developing
technology. Because of this, many copyrights have been compromised, causing
serious debates within the industry, as well as the filing of several lawsuits.
The music industrys watchdog, the Recording Industry Association of
America (RIAA) is responsible for most of these debates and lawsuits. Their
mission is to "foster a business and legal climate that supports and
promotes [their] members creative and financial viability around the
world." In support of this mission, they "work to protect intellectual
property rights worldwide and the First Amendment rights of artists."
Unfortunately, the RIAA has not been very successful when it comes to securing
digital music and enforcing intellectual property rights where the Internet
advancements in software now allow consumers to easily download their favorite
music at home, which is precisely what concerns the RIAA most. This issue,
however, is not as simple as it sounds, nor as damaging as the RIAA would
have you believe. First, until increased bandwidth services, such as cable
modems and DSL lines, are more commonly used, much of the new technology
will remain unavailable to most people, or at the very least, operate in
a painfully slow manner. In fact, Indiana University had to shut down access
to the popular site Napster.com (where digital music is illegally traded
by visitors without ever being stored on the site) in February because students
usage of this downloadable music service monopolized 50% of the Universitys
Internet server. Usage now holds steady at a tolerable 10%, but it sparred
a heated and well-publicized debate at the school just last month. It is
important to keep in mind that although these digital media issues make
headlines almost every day, the market is still very small compared to traditional
and perhaps more important, are the legal and ethical ramifications of downloading
music off of the Internet. MP3 software, which shrinks songs into small
digital files that can be easily moved through cyberspace, is the preferred
format for compressing digital music (other popular formats are Windows
Media, Liquid Audio, Lucents EPAC, and Mjuice). The RIAA recently
filed high-profile lawsuits in federal court against MP3.com and Napster.com,
alleging copyright infringement. MP3.com disputes the RIAAs claims,
as it simply considers itself to be a virtual CD player, and says it only
allows members to download and copy music that they have already purchased.
This may be true, but the MP3 technology itself is widely available elsewhere
on the Internet, and is used constantly to illegally download music from
the Internet onto computer hard drives, as well as to freely trade these
files with others on the Net.
is the fine line between artist compensation and promotion. The Internet
is a great place to actively and independently promote new artists, but
there is a price for this freedom. Sometimes an artists song may be
downloaded illegally, but for the relatively small profits that are lost,
it can be argued that the increased exposure and publicity eventually produce
even greater revenue. The record companies are either unable or unwilling
to see it this way. Traditionally, all artists had to rely on the major
record labels for their "big break." In the new digital age, an
artist could conceivably promote him or herself to the general public and
offer his or her music directly to potential fans via the Internet, thereby
retaining most, if not all, of the net profits derived from record sales.
This levels the playing field somewhat by opening up the world of mainstream
music listeners to a plethora of new and independent entertainers.
formula, however, the record companies are left out. Unsurprisingly, they
are vehemently opposed to this method of independent promotion and distribution.
In a March 3, 2000 article on Wired.com, Robert Haber, CEO of the journal
CMJ and president of Change Music Network, said, "To take a low- to
mid-level act and make it a superstar act, people are realizing that youve
really got to have the juice, the infrastructure, and the relationships
of the major [labels]. In other words, you are not going to break a Ricky
Martin on the Internet." The bottom line is that there is room for
everyone to make a profit, but it appears that the major record labels are
just unwilling to share.
their hesitation is justified. Until a fully secure digital format is developed,
perhaps it is not in the best interest of the music industry to embrace
all current technology. In this regard, the RIAA has created the Secure
Digital Music Initiative (SDMI), a "forum for the worldwide recording
industry and technology companies to develop an open, interoperable architecture
and specification for digital music security." In other words, the
SDMI will "provide an open and voluntary set of ground rules for any
technology company that wants to develop a way to play or store digital
music and any artist or music company that wants to distribute digital music."
The concept is great, but it is reminiscent of Universal and Sonys
costly VHS vs. BetaMax video battle, and the eight-track vs. cassette tape
battle before it. In the 21st century, one single format for digital music
will most likely not be enough. Therefore, it could be many years before
digital technology is truly embraced and any general standards agreed upon
within the industry. However the formatting dilemma plays out, it is likely
that a subscription service, similar to that of cable TV and wireless phones,
will be the standard method of payment for such acquiring of digital music.
issues aside, there is an astounding number of websites on the Internet,
most of which actually benefit both the music industry and the music aficionado.
Fans no longer have to rely on only a few magazines to learn about artists
and their music, nor do they have to purchase print media from a conventional
store. Instead, most traditional entertainment and music magazines now offer
online versions of their publications on the Web (www.billboard.com, www.dmadance.com,
www.rollingstone.com), where selected articles can be read without ever
leaving home. A host of music "webzines" have also flooded the
market (www.webnoize.com, www.iuma.com, www.artistdirect.com, and www.riffage.com).
The format of these sites and others like them vary, but most include music
news and features, and some offer the ability to download digital music.
MTV.com and VH1.com are also great sources for music news, artist features,
tour updates, contests, and other innovative musical promotions.
streaming, which includes webcasts and Internet radio, is much less controversial
than most other digital music phenomena. Copyrights are not threatened because
streaming only allows MP3 and similar digital files to be played for listening
purposes only, thereby protecting the music from being downloaded or copied
onto computer hard drives. One example is GrooveRadio.com, a self-described
"one-stop electronic dance music outlet, available round the clock
anywhere on the planet." This interactive multi-media website is basically
an online version of the now defunct Groove 103.1 FM radio station in Los
Angeles, which now enjoys more creative and artistic freedom through the
use of advanced technology and the Internet.
site, StopProductions.com, was created by former South Beach resident and
club DJ, Marc Kelly, who now resides in New York City. The site features
pre-recorded mix programs during the week, live mixing on Saturday nights,
and will eventually feature the latest music charts, reviews of new releases,
artist and producer profiles, as well as a variety of promotional materials
along with links to other music sites. The idea behind both of these sites
is to bring the nightclub into the living room, something that was unheard
of just a few years ago. For more musical variety, AOLs Spinner.com
boasts over 120 different channels of uninterrupted music, and RealNetworks.com
will guide you through the sometimes complicated maze of streaming possibilities,
including a comprehensive listing of online radio stations in the U.S. and
Music For All
these sites create additional and integral outlets for artists and record
labels to promote, advertise, and ultimately sell their music. Like all
businesses, money is the driving force behind the music industry. Obviously,
if more avenues are available for the labels and artists to sell their music,
and consumers can find and purchase it easily, everybody wins. Amazon.com
and CDNow.com are two of the largest and most popular online music retailers.
Many music-related websites also link to these sites, among others, offering
us the ability to instantly purchase an artists music with just the
click of a mouse. For instance, if you are reading about Britney Spears
recent head injury while filming her latest video (at www.britneyspears.com,
of course), you will likely be able to click on a link that will take you
to a site where you can purchase her music online. Or maybe youre
trying to find something a little more obscure, like Victor Calderones
new remix of Dynamix featuring Tina Ann's "Dont Want Another
Man." Your best bet will be to visit either www.ytmusic.com or www.12inchdance.com.
These music stores, Y&T Music in South Beach and 12" Dance Records
in Washington, D.C., can boast impressive databases and extremely knowledgeable
employees who excel at locating those hard-to-find records and CDs.
The Internet and technology have clearly affected the
music industry in a myriad of ways. Because of the rapid growth
of the Internet and the remarkable advancements in technology,
a definite division within the industry has emerged. Changes
in media formats have occurred throughout history. Although
these changes are often disruptive, they are also necessary
to promote positive changes and advancements in the music
industry. As in the past, the current debate over digital
music will eventually work itself out. It is far more important
right now to concentrate on fostering the development of new
technology so that the Internet will evolve into an even more
stable and valuable resource where all music is easily accessible
by and readily available to the general public. Although the
society-at-large may not be quite ready for all that technology
has in store for us, we will eventually embrace and utilize
these new digital formats and equipment, thereby enhancing
our overall ability to acquire and enjoy our favorite music.