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Trent Reznor of the band Nine Inch Nails walked into the Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters of Musicane last month and stunned the start-up's employees with his tech knowledge and fierce attention to detail.

Typically, when artists sign on with Musicane, a company that helps musicians distribute their music online, they are satisfied with letting Musicane's programmers, administrators, and designers make the decisions, said CEO Sudhin Shahani. (After all, William Adams, or "Will.i.am," of the Black Eyed Peas is the company's marketing chief.)

But Reznor had his own ideas about bit rates, Web design, and pricing. He even toiled over the text messages customers would receive when their purchases were confirmed. And all this work was for someone else's album. Reznor had hired Musicane to provide fulfillment for The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust a record by rapper Saul Williams, which went on sale Thursday on Williams' site. Reznor was the album's producer.

"Trent is well-informed, articulate and is very knowledgeable about technology," Shahani said. "We had a great meeting, but he didn't hesitate to disagree or say what was on his mind. He was extremely detail-oriented. There's not a word on the site that he didn't read or, most likely, write himself."

Reznor last month left music label Universal Music Group, and the administrative tasks he undertook for Williams could teach him some valuable lessons. Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Oasis, Madonna and a growing number of other artists have fled the big record companies and are taking more control of their music distribution. While striking out on their own offers more freedom, the performers also lose the label's prodigious distribution and marketing muscle.

Vikramaditya Jain and Sudhin Shahani
Credit: Nabil Elderkin
Vikramaditya Jain and Sudhin Shahani,
the Musicane co-founders.

In the future, these musicians may find themselves being forced to make decisions about technology, customer service, and marketing. That's where companies like Musicane, Indie911, Fuzz, Snocap, TuneCore, and dozens of others come in. They offer to free artists from the music-label yoke by helping them manage the chores that come with selling music online.

In the case of NiggyTardust, Musicane distributes the digital downloads, accepts credit card transactions, and provides customer service. Shahani declined to say what the company charged Williams for the service, but he did say Musicane typically receives a 20 percent cut of all transactions.

The company, founded by Shahani, 24, and Vikramaditya Jain, 25, also provides promotion assistance by providing artists with a media player that fans can embed on Web sites, blogs, and social-network profiles.

The player presents a performer's music, videos, photos, and text, and allows fans to buy music or merchandise without being sent to a new Web page. Snocap has a similar tool, which it refers to as a digital-music vending machine.

Music promotion is vital to Internet music sales because this is the area where the labels are supposed to be strongest. As Shahani pointed out, the "labels are expert at making stars." While the Internet allows anyone to boost their profile by posting a Web page, how is an unknown act supposed to get heard when legions of performers are doing the same thing?

Cover art
Credit: Saul Williams
Cover art for Saul Williams' The Inevitable
Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust
.

The Internet shouldn't be sold short as a platform to introduce new stars, Reznor said in an interview Tuesday. The Web is starting to replace some of the traditional methods that record companies have used to promote acts, such as radio and music magazines. Yet, he's not totally sold on the popular belief that MySpace.com can help up-and-coming bands find an audience.

"I don't go on MySpace," Reznor said. "I find it chaotic, and it looks ugly to me. I've been going to more and more blogs to discover music. I think they're replacing radio stations and music magazines. I don't trust what Rolling Stone has to say. I don't believe them anymore. I go to a few Web sites that have similar tastes as I do."

Another factor that has irked music fans about downloads is copy-protection schemes. Musicane allows artists to choose whether they want Digital Rights Management (DRM) software attached to their music or not. In Williams' case, he and Reznor chose to deliver the songs in an MP3 format free of DRM. This allows users to play the songs on iPods, Zunes or any digital-music player.

CONTINUED: Learning curve…
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27 comments

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And it's about TIME
Artists need to be paid what they're worth - the digital age waits for no one and the RIAA has lost a lot of momentum now that they're stuck playing catch-up.

I applaud the efforts of any and all artists making the plunge but I would warn with a bit of caution that coming out of the frying pan doesn't always mean the flame's off.

Artists need to do just one more thing to make this all work, and that is to provide their music in multiple formats for multiple types of devices or stay with MP3 as the defacto standard for playback - not AAC and not WMV.

Having one universal format that everyone plays back is THE BIGGEST piece of this puzzle. My players all do MP3 and Creative makes their Stone only play back non-DRM'd material, including MP3, so it stands to reason that the universal format used be non-DRM'd and MP3.
Posted by `WarpKat (275 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's wrong with AAC
AAC is a superior format designed as the creator of mp3
(Fraunhofer).

It's only when Apple adds Fairplay DRM that it becomes an iPod
only product, and the days of Fairplay are quickly coming to a
close.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Link Flag
FLAC Format
The most interesting format is FLAC as this is a compressed lossless sound format unencumbered by patents.

Being lossless means it can be used to burn a CD with the exact same quality, and it can be converted to mp3, wma, ogg or whatever after being downloaded. Doing the same with an already compressed format (such as mp3 to wma) produces ugly artefact that ruin the sound quality.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://flac.sourceforge.net/" target="_newWindow">http://flac.sourceforge.net/</a>

The format being free software does not mean music encoded with that format must be free, only that it can be the best quality, use a reasonnable amount of bandwidth for transmission and there is no need to pay royalties.
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
Link Flag
If artists want to sell their music for nothing, it's up to them.
If artists want to sell their music for nothing, it's up to them.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Umm...
You can't *sell* something for nothing. That's called "giving it away". Selling implies that you've received something else of value in exchange for your product, not that you've gotten "nothing".
Posted by ferricoxide (1125 comments )
Link Flag
to "SELL" -- requires "CONSIDERATION"
btw, which label are you affiliated with?
Posted by digitalshaman (69 comments )
Link Flag
Another example of the left's bias against intellectual property
The left seems to think that music and software should be free. They hail bands that give away their music as being heroes when they're really idiots. The record companies have the right to sell their property for as much as they want. Listeners don't have the right to steal just because they don't like the price.
Posted by lingsun (482 comments )
Reply Link Flag
RE
I have to wonder if you're reading the same article as the rest of us.
Posted by unknown unknown (1951 comments )
Link Flag
Another example of the wrong's bias against the right
This isn't about stealing intellectual property, it's about how distribute intellectual property in a digital age.

You are right that just because people don't like the price people don't have the right to steal it, but that's just another issue entirely. I'm very interested in this because I've long since lost interest in going to brick and mortar stores looking for music. I'd rather have a good way to find music online rather than wasting the gas and time going to a store where I'll likely leave empty handed.

And I'm willing to pay for online stuff too.
Posted by mattumanu (599 comments )
Link Flag
Looks more like artists taking their business in their own hands
If you did actually read the article, you wouldn't make a fool of yourself.

BTW, what is the records companies 'property' is only their as long as artists agree to sign contracts. If artists stop playing the game and they refuse the terms of those contracts, I doubt the proverbial "fat guy with the Lexus" will be able to replace them and start singing !
If / when artists (songwriters, musicians, interprets) refuse to do so and conduct their own artistic business, they get to decide all the conditions. That's what the article is about, and it's about time !
Posted by My-Self (242 comments )
Link Flag
Aww...
Is somebody scared that, as the people who actually do the real work start waking up and selling directly to the music-consuming public, the leaches who've been bleeding the artists for the last several decades will suddenly be left out in the cold? Are you concerned that *your* free ride is over?
Posted by ferricoxide (1125 comments )
Link Flag
Myopia
This comment is a good example why this nation is in trouble. Everything reduced to a left/right polarity and it becomes obvious that even the... obvious... can't be seen by those holding onto their position. I agree with "Awww..." - lingsun seems to be hanging on to his entitlements tooth and nail. The joke is that the "right" used to be against entitlements!
Posted by enovikoff (170 comments )
Link Flag
Being free, is not the same as without cost.
Music and software should be more free than what it currently is, not just money mind you, free of limitations imposed by monopolistic agencies. Electronic reproduction and distribution we all know has created an efficiency that all end consumers should be able to realize in some sort of cost savings, but the big label companies refuse to pass that savings on to the consumer. This is quite evidenced by the fact that I can make a reproduction of a CD, with all the label and artwork included in full color, for a tenth of the cost to buy it at the store. If I can do this for a tenth of the cost in single unit runs, where is all that money going on something they are producing for a fraction of my cost?
Answer: Fat Exec Salaries of big labels.
This is the drive behind this whole issue. Even if I can download a song or software title for free, with no obligation for a purchase, if I really like it, use it, or need it, I will eventually purchase a dedicated copy on production media, music or software. I am much happier about my purchase if more of the money goes directly to the persons who actually did the work. For Software, Intellectual Property is a very tricky subject, but in the end it is supposed to stimulate useful innovation and developement, not ensure profits and create IP monopolies. For Music and Software, the property should always belong to the artists (or inventors), but that rarely occurs, again being appropriated by corperate entities with fat exec salaries.
If artists want to give away their music, its not stealing. If programmers want to give away their work, its called freeware, and there is nothing wrong with doing that. Something given away for free, can in many cases have unlimited value. The question is always this, are you doing it for the money, or are you doing it for the merit of the work or idea itself? If it is only for the money, eventually there will not be any money in doing it, but if its the latter it has its own value built in, that may never diminish.
Posted by chash360 (394 comments )
Link Flag
here you go AGAIN - not a RECORD biz - a MUSIC biz
here you GO AGAIN
here YOU GO AGAIN
HERE YOU GO AGAIN

the "record" companies have failed because it is now a "MUSIC"
INDUSTRY -- get a clue
Posted by digitalshaman (69 comments )
Link Flag
Poor man's promotion
Obviously the Internet is scattebrain and not everyone goes on it in the way you may want to see your band.
Can't there be a media company that can promote bands like a "Battle of the Bands" and put them as opening acts on tours. Isn't that great advertising enough, without them owning your music too?
If not then this process can't work totally.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Internet is really amazing advertising for new bands though
It's so difficult to down the Internet as an advertising medium for new bands though. I don't think we really had anything like this when it was just Flipside record stores.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
Link Flag
new music models
Excellent article. Record co's need to wake up and be fairer to artists and fans, and embrace new partnerships, like www.sellaband.com, where artists and fans are in business together. More music initiatives are popping up all the time, but it still takes alot of money to promote an artist, as you can have the greatest album in the world, but if no-one knows it exists....
Posted by stormz69 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
... they usually come crawling back!
Thats what happens.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://fakesteveballmer*blogspot.com" target="_newWindow">http://****************.blogspot.com</a>
the leaving is just a ploy to negotiate more money!
Posted by ceoballmer (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DOUBT IT -- but good HYPE
once you get your freedom from the MACHINE, you get to negotiate
what YOU want ...
Posted by digitalshaman (69 comments )
Link Flag
A Missive from a Nowhere Man
When royal patronage quit being the source of composer/performer income, the music business adapted (see Beethoven). Some didn't and some incredible artists died young. (See Fraz Shubert).

While I enjoy the new business starts and applaud what they are trying to do, the fact is music is a culture with no middle class. There is a top and a bottom and not much between them. Perhaps we'll have that as a result of the internet sales combined with tours (No, not all musicians want to tour. See Kate Bush.).

The rest of us have to make choices. We adapt. I choose to have a day job to pay for a music jones. I *give* the music away, meaning you can download my songs in mp3 format for free. If you like those and want CDs, send $$$. Otherwise, fill up that iPod and enjoy. ITunes? No thanks. That is the oldMusicBiz in a brand new wrapper complete with middle men taking bites and a monomaniac at the top.

But here is the kicker: I Do What I Want To Do.

I don't compose for your tastes or try to impress an audience anymore. I don't hang out in bars trying to get sleazy gigs from sleazy owners. I can say "No Gigs With Cigs" and if they don't like that, I don't play. I can write music for a porn site or a church play with equanimity and not a ripple of remorse. It's all good.

What do musicians want? I can't speak for all of them, but I know what I have: control of my environment and absolute control of my music. If a listener likes what I do, please go download and enjoy. Drop me a line. Fair Dinkum. If they don't, keep it local because I don't care.

I don't have to. The freedom is marvelous. Is this Jeremy, the Nowhere Man? Sure. Anonymous, satisfied, and still standing.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
And hopefully MUSIC can return to it's roots
"I Do What I Want To Do" -- Now THAT is good too hear! How many times have bands changed there "sound" to try to attract new listeners while at the same time isolating the fans that made them popular in the first place? The first few albums are full of passion and fire because the bands are singing about the things that they love (or hate). But with success comes the desire for more success and more money.

Heck, I can't blame them in the least. But it really sucks to "see" it happening to bands you love.

Anyway, I hope that you achieve success with at least one thing: being happy in what you are doing. That always seems to be the hardest thing for the famous to accomplish.
Posted by AnotherReader (30 comments )
Link Flag
So where is your site?
I have downloaded free music from places like People Sound and Campus music. They offer some cuts free and sometimes free CD "samplers". I downloaded one song I got used to ( I didn't like it at first) and tried to contact the band to find they had disbanded 2 months before I downloaded the song in the first place. I was going to see if they had more stuff I might be willing to cough up money for. What a shame.
Posted by willdryden (271 comments )
Link Flag
FREEDOM'S JUST ANOTHER WORD ...
... may you get ALL the success you seek!!
Posted by digitalshaman (69 comments )
Link Flag
 

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