ATN's Music News of the World: Controversial Internet Audio Format Exploding
Controversial Internet Audio Format ExplodingChris Nelson reports:When the near-CD quality sound files known as MP3s began taking the Net by storm last year, many fans began talking about an "explosion" -- the one-two punch of the MP3s' high sound-quality and small size encouraged supporters to post thousands of songs in MP3 form on the Net within months, making them available for free download to anyone with access to cyberspace.But the sudden proliferation of sound files is actually just the tip of the iceberg in the burgeoning MP3 community, which in recent months has been abuzz with activity.Several efforts are underway to make the computer files more portable, and earlier this month, the first hand-held MP3 player hit the streets. Meanwhile, an international convention for MP3 developers is on tap for July, and a listener-programmed, MP3-based Internet radio station is attracting 20,000 visitors a day.What looked like an explosion for MP3s may have actually been the Big Bang.PortabilityWhen the tiny MPMan officially hit the streets in mid-May, it was the strongest signal to date that MP3 technology may transform the way we listen to music. The 65-gram (without batteries) player is smaller than a standard floppy disk and requires no tapes or CDs -- just plug it into your PC, copy MP3s to its RAM memory bank, and in an instant you're ready to take music that was formerly tied to your computer off to the gym or into the car. Contrary to small size, however, the price is currently quite huge: $479 (including shipping) for a player that will hold two CDs' worth of music.Although sales figures were unavailable by press time, U.S. distributor Michael Robertson says orders are coming in from across the globe. "It's been a worldwide interest -- we're definitely moving some MPMan players," he said.Comments from the MP3 community have thus far taken one of three forms, Robertson said, the first being simple praise for Korea's Saehan company (a spin-off of Samsung) for developing the machine."The second is, 'This is really cool, but it's too expensive; e-mail me when it's a hundred dollars,' " Robertson said.At this point, there's no price reduction in sight, but that could change if demand for the MPMan continues to grow.Finally, MP3 advocates want to know when there will be another component released that will play both regular CDs as well as CDs encoded (or "burned," in the vernacular) with MP3s.Because the files are so small, listeners with a $300 recordable-CD drive can copy up to 200 songs in MP3 form onto a $3 recordable compact disc. So far, however, the discs are only playable on computer drives.All that could change, however, as soon as July, when a small group of British developers hope to introduce a stereo system component that will play traditional CDs as well as those packed with MP3s, according to project participant Matt Wood. Although salable models are not yet ready, Wood anticipates a price tag of $475.A Widespread PhenomenonWith the increasing portability of MP3s threatening to catapult the format to an audience much broader then cybernerds, the recording industry is gearing up for an increasingly vigorous battle.While some bands, such as Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins, have largely turned a blind eye toward MP3s of their work, an industry trade group has been monitoring the Web on a 24-hour basis in order to stem the tide of web pages with unauthorized music -- which is to say, almost any page with MP3s, which are typically copied and passed on without regard for copyright law.One problem with shutting down such sites is simply finding them. Oftentimes MP3 traders will post songs for only a few hours, announcing their brief existence in a chat room, and shouting a virtual "Get 'em while they're hot!" There are about 300 "permanent" websites that feature MP3s from myriad artists, according to the best estimate of the Recording Industry Association Of America, which has in recent months increased its resources devoted to Internet piracy. (The RIAA does not track MP3 pages dedicated to a single performer.)MP3 sites of all stripes are generating an increasingly large flow of Internet traffic. For instance, over the past five months, the "Pearl Jam MP3 Archive" attracted 86,000 visitors who downloaded 110,000 MP3 files, according to webmaster Josh Wardell. A smaller, newer site, such as S. Tulk's "The American Billboard Hitlist," which posts MP3s of Billboard magazine's current top-10 singles, might only attract 50 downloads per day.MP3 RadioIf Wolfgang Spegg gets his wish, the number of MP3 users will only get larger. Spegg, the President and CEO of Toronto-based Musicmusicmusic Inc., is the founder of Radio Moi, which streams MP3s across the Net instantly, just like a radio station."Radio Moi is a truly interactive radio station: You go into the radio station's music library and you pick the music," Spegg said.Listeners can chose from an online MP3 vault that currently bulges with 12,000 songs in all categories of music (including tracks by the Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, the MC5, Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers), programming up to 50 tunes into a single radio setlist that can be saved for other web surfers to hear as well. While Radio Moi is currently a free site, advertisements are inserted into each set. Among the blue-chip companies negotiating for ad time are Pepsi and IBM, according to Spegg.Advertisers' interest is generated largely by Radio Moi's impressive stats. The site attracts 15,000 to 20,000 visitors a day, according to Spegg. While only 5,000 listen to music, the average time spent listening is 55 minutes, with the average listener returning for more broadcasts 14 times per month.Because Internet broadcast is a new medium, licensing the rights to music has not been set in stone. "The legality of Radio Moi is certainly under discussion," said Brian Robertson, president of the Canadian Recording Industry Association.Spegg counters that his venture pays the required royalties to the appropriate parties. "We intend to do nothing but cooperate with the industry," he said.Meeting Of The MP3 MindsOf course, such a widespread buzz of activity would not be complete without some sort of confab; the first annual "MP3 Summit" will be held in San Diego on July 2. Guest speakers include Geffen Records' "entertainment technologist" Jim Griffin, as well as music-licensing expert Robert Kohn addressing the legality of downloadable music.Since MP3 is an "open standard" technology, people across the globe can develop products and content for it, said MPMan distributor Michael Robertson, who organized the summit. "It makes for a very rich and exciting development with all these people contributing. We wanted to bring them all together."The inaugural convention is limited to 100 participants. If MP3s continue their explosion, look for that number to be dwarfed by next year's event.***Legendary '60s Bob Dylan Show Due For ReleaseChris Nelson reports:In the history of rock 'n' roll, few concerts -- save perhaps the Sex Pistols' farewell at Winterland and the Rolling Stones' disaster at Altamont -- have achieved the notoriety of Bob Dylan's May 17, 1966, performance in Manchester, England.Then again, few concerts have provoked fans to scream "Judas!" with all sincerity at the performer, as Dylan's did.When that show, held at Manchester's Free Trade Hall, is officially released later this year (as sources at Columbia Records have indicated will happen), the world will finally have in legitimate form what has been one of the most bootlegged concerts of all time -- and what Dylan collectors have long hailed as one of the most amazing performances of his storied career."This music is so powerful, it puts anything that's being played today and pretty much anything that's been played since to shame," said Greil Marcus, author of "Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes," which in part chronicles the tour that climaxed with the Manchester show. Marcus is one of the world's most respected authorities on the music of Bob Dylan. "It's music that is so glamorous, so exciting and so extreme that I think people will be utterly dumbfounded by it."News of the concert's release was announced earlier this week on the official "Bobdylan.com" website but was subsequently removed from the site. On Tuesday, however, a source at Columbia Records said, "No release date has been set, but it looks likely to be coming out sometime in the late summer or early fall."If issued as planned, the concert will carry the title The Bootleg Series Volumes 4 and 5 (the first three volumes of the series were released in 1991 as a single set).In the 32 years since the concert took place, only one song from the performance -- "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" (RealAudio excerpt) from 1985's Biograph -- has seen official light of day. The two-CD Bootleg Series Volumes 4 and 5 will feature Dylan's full acoustic and electric sets with the Hawks, who would later change their name to the Band.Within Dylan circles, the Manchester concert has achieved legendary status as the culmination of the world tour on which Dylan first turned away from his folk roots toward new electric work such as "Like A Rolling Stone" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Subterranean Homesick Blues." While he was roundly booed for his electric sets in America, the reaction of audiences abroad was nearly hateful."It wasn't until the tour went out of the United States that the reaction became a lot more fierce, a lot more violent," said Marcus, who first heard the show back in 1970 from soundboard tapes passed on by an engineer at the concert. "The music, in response, took on an intensity, a desperation, an extremism that it hadn't had before. The music reached a pitch of power that absolutely couldn't be sustained, couldn't be taken any further."The Manchester performance found Dylan at the top of his form as a singer, delivering definitive versions of material from such albums as Highway 61 Revisited and the just-released Blonde On Blonde, including "Like A Rolling Stone," "Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat" and "Ballad of a Thin Man." The album begins with the one-two punch of "Tell Me Mama" and "I Don't Believe You," which may just be some of the greatest rock 'n' roll ever made. Matching Dylan in intensity is his backing band, the Hawks, with his then-young lead guitarist, Robbie Robertson, spitting out wiry guitar lines that snap and crackle with a rage akin to that of an arsonist torching an unsuspecting suburban ranch-house.Of the many bootlegs from that first Dylan and the Hawks tour, the Manchester show was the first to surface, in the early 1970s. Early bootlegs called it "The Royal Albert Hall Concert," and for years fans mistakenly believed that the show had taken place at the Royal Albert Hall in London. That bootleg has since been issued under various titles, the most recent being a CD-remastering called Guitars Kissing and the Contemporary Fix, which is said to have been taken from an official release that Columbia had planned to issue in 1995."This will show a lot of people what it was really about, people who haven't bothered to seek out the bootlegs," said Peter Stone Brown, a musician and essayist for the official Dylan website, "Bobdylan.com." When Brown was 14, he saw one of the earliest of Dylan's electric shows, at New York's Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in August 1965."It was a very divided crowd, where half the people were booing the electric stuff and half the people were cheering it," Brown recalled. "Kids were running across the stage and cops were chasing them, and Dylan's trying to present all this new material at the same time. It could've turned into a riot. It didn't, but the potential was there."In Manchester, the battle between Dylan and his audience was so vehement that it has inspired a new book focused squarely on that performance. "Like the Night: Bob Dylan and the Road to the Manchester Free Trade Hall" by C.P. Lee was issued this month by England's Helter Skelter publishing house."It was a war between the audience and the band," Marcus said. "When you listen to it you'll know just what I mean, in terms of people doing everything they can to stop the band from playing, to interrupt their playing, to drown them out. Then at the very end when Dylan is about to go into 'Like A Rolling Stone,' somebody stands up and screams, 'Judas!' And Dylan reacts like [adopts scornful tone], 'I don't believe you.' Throughout, Dylan is both on top and in control, and rattled and beaten back." ***Courtney Love Sued By JournalistTeri vanHorn reports:A Los Angeles journalist filed a lawsuit against Courtney Love on Thursday, claiming that the rocker/actress kneed her in the groin, pulled her hair and hit her in the face at a fashion show in L.A. on April 21.Belissa Cohen and her high-profile lawyer, Gloria Allred, are claiming assault, battery, negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress and are seeking general and punitive damages. The amount sought for the damages will be announced at trial, said Allred, who has not yet received a response from Love's lawyers.Filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, the lawsuit alleges that Love was posing for another photographer when Cohen tried to take her picture. Immediately after taking the shot, Love attacked Cohen, the journalist claims."I was extremely frightened by the violence and viciousness of Ms. Love's physical attack upon me in front of others at a crowded fashion show," Cohen said in a prepared statement at a press conference Thursday. "The attack caused me pain and a great deal of humiliation. I make a living as a journalist, and my reputation for good judgment is crucial to my ability to do my job. Ms. Love's unwillingness to control herself put my health, safety and reputation at great risk, which is unacceptable."As a journalist I need to know I can cover an event as benign and public as a fashion show without putting myself in direct physical danger," Cohen continued. "For her own sake and for the community with which she will have future contact, I'd like to see Ms. Love get some help."Allred, who recently represented videographer Henry Trappler in his case against Motley Crue rocker Tommy Lee, sees Cohen's case as a pivotal example in a growing number of related incidents. "This case is important because journalists have a right to do their job, free from physical attack by celebrities," she said. "Because there seems to be an escalating trend of physical attacks on journalists or photographers, I think this case sends a message that journalists are not going to tolerate such attacks."Love's publicist, Heidi Schaffer, said this allegation "is just another example of an out-of-control paparazzi who's targeted a celebrity."Courtney intends to defend herself vigorously in court and will not fight this in the press," she said.This alleged incident is not the first time that Love has been accused of assault. In 1995, Love pleaded guilty to assaulting Kathleen Hanna, former frontwoman of the riot-grrrl group Bikini Kill, during a Lollapalooza concert. She was reportedly sentenced to anger-management classes.