Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Music goes entirely digital and a revolution looms

Technology history is made as a digital album wins a Grammy and record companies shake.
Feb. 15, 2005

No one with any taste or sense watched the Grammy Awards on television this week, but if you did you saw a technology history being made—and it is not a minor matter. A musician named Maria Schneider won the award for best large jazz ensemble for “Concert in the Garden.” What was historic about it is that no such album exists, either on tape, CD or even vinyl. You download it digitally from the web. We all know that audio tape is so 20th century, but Ms. Schneider is the harbinger of the death of CDs or, for that matter, any physical music container. And if you saw pale faces in the crowd, they would be record company executives. The album was financed entirely by Ms. Schneider’s fans (to a tune of about $87,000) and distributed on the web by www.artistshare.net. No record company, no middle-man, no distributor, no record shop. There were 10,000 copies (downloads), 9,000 of them available for pre-order for participants and the other 1,000 for later auction. Those quarter of a billion songs downloaded into all those iPods are a good sample of what’s coming. It also explains why 11 percent of the U.S. population own iPods or other MP-3 players. In what must drive Bill Gates crazy, an estimated 80 percent of Microsoft employees bop to iPods. Now if we can only work this out for books.... But wait, we can!

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