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Facing the digital music


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Downloading music online is now legal and explosively popular
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Twelve months ago, if you wanted to download music from the Internet, the only way to do it was illegally.

But the music industry has undergone a digital music revolution in the past year with record bosses no longer scratching their heads about how to stop Internet pirates.

Instead, they're making money out of them, as downloading music online becomes explosively popular and absolutely legal.

And it's not just the big bosses who are focusing on money making -- artists, particularly new artists, want a slice of the pie, too.

In Europe, Apple recently launched iTunes, the world's first legal large-scale online music download system, which sees it hooking up to the digital revolution, which is meant to help the little people.

Kav Sandhu, member of indie group Sonic Audio, believes selling music online is the way forward for bands.

"It's not going to be about EMI and Sony records owning and basically putting whatever they want out," he says.

"Now, it gives the opportunity for other bands to get out there, use the Internet as a tool to promote their music without the major labels, the huge advances, without the agents and stuff, and they can develop as their own independent business."

Osman Eralp, of the Independent Music Companies Association (IMPALA), is also a firm believer in using the Internet as a tool to sell music, particularly for young bands.

"They should be on the Internet immediately they should be on their own site, they should be on the sites of their label, and they should be on the sites of their favorite bands," he says.

"The [most] important thing in the beginning is to build an audience -- the sales will come [later]."

Apple Computer grabbed headlines in June following the Europe launch of iTunes, more than a year after its U.S. launch.

But although Apple has struck deals with the major five multinational record companies -- Sony, BMG, EMI, Universal and Warner -- to sell their songs, it hasn't been able to reach an agreement with Europe's smaller independent record companies, which account for about 25 per cent of music sales.

This is seen as one of iTunes' downfalls, as is the need for broadband to download songs.

Legitimate music downloads, on a smaller scale, have been available in the UK for some time, including former Genesis frontman Peter Gabriel's OD2 and the now-legal Napster.

But there is still a big question over whether it really makes life easier for new bands starting out -- whether it changes the money balance, between record labels, and the little guy.

Gabriel, whose other project Mudda was established by artists for artists, believes the so-called little people must stick together if the digital music revolution is to benefit them.

"I think it's only by staying together, and consolidating as a lump, that has some leverage and some power, that the little guy can have a chance to compete. The great thing about the economics of the digital world is that it's much cheaper to do everything and to reach people."

Otherwise, he says, the little guys will be burnt by the big guns.

" I think it's very important for artists to get involved in the distribution. A new world is being created -- one is dying -- and if artists don't get involved, they're going to get screwed, like they usually do."

CNN's Tony Campion contributed to this story


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