MusicGiants Floats High-Rez Files without DRM

Scott Bahneman, CEO of MusicGiants, called earlier this week to announce what he called big news. "Actually," Bahneman said, "we're not going to issue an official press release—yet—but MusicGiants is going to offer Windows Media Audio (WMA) lossless music downloads without DRM.

"We'll do a press release when the parties we're working with are ready to make announcements, but our first DRM-free title will be Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full. Our HD releases aren't 256kbps files, they truly are 'true CD quality' at almost four times that bandwidth—up to 1100kbps."

You've always offered WMA files at high resolutions, I said. What's so different about these?

"The lack of DRM, mostly," Bahneman said. "We had to make changes on our end in order to accommodate that, but we think it's important because we anticipate offering a lot of content as we go through the summer. By fall, we should have a substantial group of lossless, DRM-free content."

Does lossless mean there is compression?

"Windows Media Audio lossless is a bit-for-bit match of the original CD. It would be more correct to say that it's condensation rather than compression. ALC does that, too—it's not new."

Scott, there's been a lot of brouhaha over Apple's embedding account identification into its iTunes Plus files. Does the WMA wrapper embed similar information?

"I'm not aware of our being able to embed any information of that sort into a file. Actually, I don't think it was a secret that Apple was doing that, I hear that most people just never bothered to check.

"People can buy our ordinary 'HD Stereo' DRM-free download version for $15.29 or buy our deluxe version, with 26 minutes of McCartney talking about recording Memory Almost Full, for $21.93. I need to point something out, which is that all of our releases are 'HD.' You download the file and then you can use whatever bit-rate or compression scheme you want for your portable—but you have the full-resolution file for your serious listening.

"I view lossily compressed music the way I view watered-down drinks. Why would anybody pay for that?"

So for you, it's not about portability as much as it is about quality?

"Oh man," Bahneman said. "Our lives would have been so much easier if we weren't all about high quality. But when people get it, it's all worthwhile. We go to trade shows and events with our fully kitted out Airstream trailer and we sit people down in listening stations and play our files for them. Recently, I was watching a guy listen to [the Elliot Mazur mastered] Harvest by Neil Young. He just sat there with a stunned look on his face.

"So I asked him, 'What was that like for you?'

"He just sat there for a minute, and then he looked at me and said, 'I'm 54 years old, but for three minutes, I was 18 again.'

"Music is powerful stuff if you don't intentionally dilute it."