While Consumer Music Sites Struggle, Professional Use Thrives

The buzz about digital audio downloads from the Internet would lead one to think that the only way we'll be buying music in the not-too-distant future is through the Web. But the reality this past holiday season looks quite different. Reuters is running stories saying that there was "No Santa for the Internet Music Industry," and record companies attempting to get online are having a tough time (see related item). MP3 for Dummies author Andy Rathbone states bluntly: "It [the digital music business] hasn't taken off as much as analysts expected," and EMI Records' Jay Alan Samit laments, "this year, over a billion songs were downloaded. None of our artists got paid."

Looking at the pro end of the audio market reveals an entirely different story. Downloadable music for the professional market is a side of the Internet audio world not often discussed, but movie, television, and multimedia producers say they are well into the MP3 revolution, using downloadable audio for their productions. Meanwhile, Gerd Leonhard of LicenseMusic.com says that "the consumer world is online music's hyperactive child, clamoring about piracy, fairness, credibility, and revenue."

While most consumer-based online music companies are experiencing low sales numbers, business-to-business sites like LicenseMusic.com claim they are entering 2000 with a healthy market, stating that although the public didn't quite adopt Web music in 1999, the content-creation industry did. Leonhard says that "while digital music will most certainly be adopted by the masses soon, the online music industry is starting to recognize that business-to-business could be a more appropriate and revenue-generating use of the Internet. The media understands that too; they just like the controversy of the consumer music debate."

Leonhard continues: "At the moment, many consumers are not really that excited about downloading music via the Internet. The pricing still reflects old-world, offline thinking. The selections are limited and there are few really compelling sites to go to. In other words: Nice try, guys; better luck next year."

According to Leonhard, his company is recording one sale after another. "At times it seems like we are in an entirely different business. The digital music sites targeting consumers seem to have more hurdles than they have customers. LicenseMusic.com is quite the opposite. Piracy isn't a concern because we focus on licensing to business professionals. Our customers are actually trying to avoid the inefficiencies of discs and jewel cases, not build a CD collection. And we're racking up sales to professionals who won't ever e-mail the music around a dorm floor."

LicenseMusic.com claims it has sold and distributed production audio tracks online to customers including PBS, feature films, commercials, corporate projects, and even the website for New York's Whitney Museum. Karen Morrow, music supervisor on the film Company Man, says she used the service for "some last-minute music cues that had to be filled. I was able to preview the music from the website and receive the cost and credits for the tracks, which is a valuable service, especially considering the tight post-production schedule I was facing."

Allan Fried of Knitting Factory Records states, "There aren't many people doing what [LicenseMusic.com] is doing. Our music lends itself to visual productions, much of it being instrumental, but we don't have a person devoted full time to pitching music supervisors in the film and television community." Something to think about for all of the young audio nuts trying to figure out how to make money on the Internet.