MP3 Dot Bomb
Sifting Through the Wreckage of an Internet
As a former user of mp3.com (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 mp3.com, 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
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 GarageBand.com
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 GarageBand.com's offer was to "Recover
your mp3.com 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 Garageband.com; 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 GarageBand.com, 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.
GarageBand.com 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 mp3.com 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 [mp3.com] archive."
At the time, this was apparently news to CNET:
"We were told we could not buy the artists' music files and
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 mp3.com in all of this? CNET
relaunched MP3.com as a "digital music information portal site"
in 2004. So now you can get a more commercial version of AllMusic.com,
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 Music.Download.com, you can stream music, and at mp3.com, you
can download Napster? Hmm.
We'll be taking a look at some other, less corporate
players like SoundClick, IDNMusic, Broadjam, and dMusic