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Buying one song at a time on the Internet

graphic July 2, 1997
Web posted at: 11:23 p.m. EDT (0323 GMT)

From Correspondent Greg Lefevre

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- In the music business, they call it filler: non-hit songs that take up space on a disc and help to justify production of an entire CD.

But what if it were possible to download just a single song into your computer for $1, without forking over the $12 to $16 sticker price for the complete disc? Electric Records is trying to offer just that service through the Internet.

"They click and purchase songs, they download it to their hard drive and then we help them transform their hard drive into a digital juke box," Electric Records President Anthony Stonefield said.

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Todd Rundgren, who produced a string of successful albums the conventional way, is now one of the featured artists on Electric. The company allows him to release one song at a time to his loyal audience.

"I have told people that I will deliver to them, on line, the music that I make as I make it," Rundgren said.

Digital music has millions of bits that can take hours to download, so services such as Electric Records and Liquid Audio compress it.

The system works like this: A scrambler encodes the music so it can't be copied. A computer on the World Wide Web, the server, records the transaction over the Internet and sends the scrambled music to your home computer.

"Player" software in the home computer takes decoding information, descrambles and plays the music.

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"The Internet is a great way to test market," Gerry Kearby, CEO of Liquid Audio says. A case in point: Liquid Audio put out a 30-second test clip of a Sammy Hagar recording. "We had 100,000 downloads of that song. And Sammy had an e-mail list of 100,000 people he could contact when the record came out," Kearby says.

New technology enhances one's capacity to shop for music over the Internet. It's possible to take the tunes portable with a compact disc recorder, now less than $400. Coming next year is a solid-state memory card that holds an hour of music.

To thwart pirates producers encode into a song information on who bought the disc and when. That data is "an indelible, inaudible code that tells us who owns the sound," Kearby says.

Will this change the world? Probably not. But it's likely to alter the landscape of the music business. Experts say that by 2002 Internet customers could be buying $1 billion worth of cybertunes.

 
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