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MP3 Dot Bomb
Sifting Through the Wreckage of an Internet Innovator

As a former user of (right up until they were acquired by Vivendi, and then CNET), we've been looking for a smart way to market music cheaply on the internet for some time. We sat back for awhile while the dust settled as a lot of ill-conceived sites sprang up to try to cash in on the demise of, and a recent perusal of the sites still in existence in 2005 suggested it was time to do another review of what's out there.

We initially thought this would be informative, maybe even fun.
How wrong we were. About the fun part, that is.

We've always know that programmers are usually pretty inept at interface design, and vice versa, but good god...are these sites designed by musicians? The old joke about the drummer who locked himself in a car springs to mind. Using these sites is like being the bass player that takes an hour to get him out. Flash everywhere, epilepsy-inducing banner ads, expired domains that have those "Make This Your Home Page?" alert boxes...our heads (and our browsers) were ready to explode in the first hour of research. The seizures have subsided though, so we're here to tell our tale.

The aptly-named was one of the first to instill true terror. We should've known when we saw the "MSN Music" logo that we were in for a ride (they should also think about doing away with that very tiny, but very scary picture of "Sir George Martin, our advisory chairman: Industry legend who signed and produced The Beatles").

In spite of the fact that's offer was to "Recover your songs" (a little scam some Vivendi execs pulled on CNET), we felt like we were jumping through quite a few hoops for some rather basic features. The most painful of these hoops being the blood-debt they make you pay for "upload credits". This appears to be an ingenious scheme they've devised to create actual paying customers. After using up your initial free web space, you're required to either pony up some cash, or subject yourself to reviewing other bands' material to earn "upload credits". The reviews you create allegedly affect the chart rankings of the artists you review. If this is the case, I wouldn't put much stock in the charts on; although there must be some artist out there who loves sitting around listening to some decidedly bad music by other artists just to while away the time, the only other reason to endure this process would be because you're a cheap bastard and can't afford USD6.95 a month. In which case you're also probably an unemployed drug addict with a band who has no capacity for writing or critical thinking whatsoever, and deserve to be subjected to this. Especially if you have a hangover. All of which doesn't bode well for the "Charts" on, which - like many sites - are either completely gamed or otherwise fed by unemployed musicians writing bad reviews for upload credits.

We never said this would be an objective review. has some other significant drawbacks. Their brand identity is almost non-existent. Talk to a number of listeners, and if they've heard of GarageBand, they've heard of the Apple software, not the music site. They also don't provide any kind of sales channel for physical media, other than through their partnership with CDBaby. Why join GarageBand if your product's going to be buried in the thousands of existing artists on the site, there's little in the way of web space or customization, and they have no value-add like on-demand CD's? You're basically putting a lot of time and effort into something that lets them sell ad space. Not an especially clever business model on either end.

What can we say. A Site perceived as a software and computer geek site (CNET) acquires the name from a global media empire (Vivendi), and gets tricked into believing they can't bring the artists with them.

In the words of Ali Partovi, chief executive of GarageBand (formerly Trusonic) and a former Vivendi executive:

"We're basically slightly beating them [CNET] to the punch by resurrecting the [] archive."

At the time, this was apparently news to CNET:
"We were told we could not buy the artists' music files and personal information because of the Vivendi privacy policy," a CNET spokeswoman said. "We tried everything imaginable to save those files." (Source: Carl Bialik, WSJ OnLine)

While some of the backend is a little easier to navigate and deal with than GarageBand, the site is still in Beta as of this writing, so they still don't allow streaming, only downloads. You have 50MB available, and they require 192Kbps mp3 files. That's about 30 minutes depending on content and encoder.

So what happened to in all of this? CNET relaunched as a "digital music information portal site" in 2004. So now you can get a more commercial version of, with links to annoying commercial services that require you to download all sorts of applications like Napster (the irony...) to download, stream, or buy commercial music. I think they got this backwards. At, you can stream music, and at, you can download Napster? Hmm.

Next Up:

We'll be taking a look at some other, less corporate players like SoundClick, IDNMusic, Broadjam, and dMusic

Ian Gray
April 2005

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