MyCD Latest Entry in Custom-disc Biz

Remember when you weren't too busy to make your own cassette tapes to play in the car? How you could link one song to the next by genre or theme or beat or musical key? Remember how much more satisfying it was to listen to those tapes than it was to listen to the radio? No commercials, no announcers, no filler---and you liked every tune.

The need for personalized music has survived into the digital age, but apparently the time for compiling it hasn't. Several companies are now in the business of making custom CDs. The latest to enter this growing market is MyCD, which debuted May 1.

My CD joins competitors, MusicMaker, Volatile Music, and SuperSonic Boom. After hearing 30-second samples, MyCD customers can choose the songs they want included on a 70-minute CD, and the cover art they would like, for $16.95 each plus shipping. The songs are "burned" onto a CD-R in the order specified by the customer. The company claims that it complies with ASCAP and BMI, and pays royalties to record labels for each song it duplicates.

Denise Shapiro, MyCD's chief marketing officer, says soon customers will be able to upload their own artwork for the covers. Custom CDs would make ideal birthday or anniversary gifts: imagine a one-of-a-kind disc with a picture of your Uncle Joe and Aunt Mary on the cover, with more than an hour's worth of their favorite songs. It's an outstanding bargain at $16.95.

But for the concept to work, the compilation services have to have enormous libraries of music: not just collections of greatest hits, but really deep catalogs of recordings. "Something for everybody" is the key to success.

Shallow depth is the problem at present, due to the record labels' reluctance to license their best-selling performers, according to Jupiter Communications analyst Patrick Keane. "You need to have a rich catalog of music to succeed," he said, "and so far, a lot of the big record labels are averse to giving that out." The result is that most of the compilation services offer less popular recordings of big-name artists, or the works of obscure musicians. Keane noted that movement into the Internet by major record labels has proceeded at "a glacial pace." CNET's Beth Lipton observed that instead of desperately clinging to control of distribution, they could be using these services to generate extra revenue.