The Future of Music Distribution?

New companies are springing up all around the web to provide songs for custom CD compilations. (See previous articles 1, 2.) You go to the site, choose up to 70 minutes of music from their catalog, and the finished disc is mailed back to you in a couple of days for between 10 and 20 bucks. The challenge for these companies is to have an attractive catalog of artists and songs to choose from.

One such company, Musicmaker, has just announced the addition of several "New York Punk" bands to their stable of recording acts. Blondie, Chrissie Hynde, and The New York Dolls have been added to what the company describes as "the first and largest custom compilation music site on the World Wide Web." The site now offers over 160,000 songs.

"Our collection of various rock genres---from the classics on the Sun, Viceroy, and Sizemore labels to leading heavy-metal rock labels Roadrunner and Platinum to punk rock on ROIR---is by far the deepest and the broadest for music lovers to search and from which they can create their own CDs," said Irwin Steinberg, vice chairman of The Music Connection Corporation (owners of the site) and former chairman of PolyGram USA.

The Musicmaker site also features "The Music Advisor" for helping customers choose music by identifying tracks similar to the ones they are selecting, based on that customer's previous order history as well as selections chosen by others with similar tastes. Every song on the site can also be sampled, using RealAudio, prior to being ordered.

But wouldn't it be nice if you could just download some new music every few days onto an inexpensive, re-recordable portable storage device instead of waiting for a CD?

Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp (NTT) and Kobe Steel said in a joint statement that they have developed a credit-card-size network audio recorder/player. NTT and Kobe plan to commercialize the product, currently named SolidAudio, sometime around April 1999.

The 16-megabyte device is said to store 25 minutes of "CD quality" or 50 minutes of "FM radio quality" audio using custom downloaders as well as computer ports at homes and offices. The player uses a 1:18 compression technology developed by NTT called TwinVQ. According to the companies, it is "superlative to the MPEG Layer 3 compression [1:10 to 1:12] format; TwinVQ yields CD-quality sound." Kobe Steel is responsible for combining TwinVQ with digital signal-processor semiconductors, as well as developing the audio player.

The recorder measures 85.4mm long, 54mm wide, and 8.4mm thick, and weighs 45 grams---including an ultra-thin lithium-ion polymer battery. Annual sales are predicted to be one million units by 2002, and the two companies plan to create a new audio distribution system using various security measures to prevent illegal copying.