Digital Music, Part 4: Goin' Mobile
"The rapid spread of Internet-enabled mobile phones ... has forced the U.S. carriers to, at least passively, permit 'off-deck' offerings of content that are out of their immediate control. Once this crack widens and any company on the planet can distribute content in a consistent manner to any mobile device, the lid's going to come off," said Myk Willis, mVisible Technologies cofounder and CTO.
Part 3 reviews the ways contemporary artists and distributors can use blogging, streaming, downloading and other nontraditional methods of marketing to get the word out about their creations.
Now, following on the phenomenal success of Apple's iPod, there is a second wave of companies looking to ride the digital music and media convergence waves -- assembling a mix of music artists, private label "indie" music producers, and the giants of the PC and consumer electronics industries.
It is too early to tell who will be left sailing to the horizon and who will be dashed on the rocks, but one thing seems certain: There is plenty of energy behind the digital music technology storm front.
You Gotta Fight for Your Rights
Digital rights management (DRM) is perhaps the most controversial, thorniest issue currently facing the music industry.
The debate has reached the halls of Congress, where in late May, the Recording Industry Association of America launched its latest legal assault on digital radio in Washington.
The Perform Act of 2006 further hamstrings the ongoing growth and development of nascent digital satellite and Internet radio businesses in the name of protecting musicians' and recording companies' musical property rights and leveling the playing field for traditional radio broadcasters.
"I get angry as a consumer when I realize the limited uses to which I can put the music files I have purchased online," Dave Douglas, jazz trumpeter, composer and founder of the artist-run Greenleaf Music label, told TechNewsWorld.
"I don't believe the future lies in selling intentionally hobbled merchandise. We use no DRM at all," he pointed out. "That said, as an artist and business owner, it breaks your heart when you see someone selling your stuff and not giving you anything. I'm flattered that the bootleggers are out there -- it means people want the music. I also feel that in the area Greenleaf Music is in, it is a relatively minor problem."
Leveraging the iPod
Addressing attendees at the WOMEX World Music Expo in Seville late last month, IODA (International Online Distribution Alliance) CEO Kevin Arnold proposed an International Music Discovery Initiative, which he and proponents believe can overcome commercial and cultural barriers to online niche market music distribution.
IODA plans to introduce its own version of a new "regional filtering" technology, which is based on readily available geographic information already gathered by digital music producers, on its Promonet Web site.
The International Music Discovery Initiative follows IODA's work with iPod advertising marketplace and digital technology developer Kiptronic. On Oct. 11, 2006, the two companies announced a partnership and the launch of the Kiptronic Podcast Marketplace, an online iPod service that automatically inserts local and regional advertising and promotional campaigns into popular podcasts.
"Through use of the Kiptronic Podcast Marketplace, IODA will be able to create geotargeted promotional campaigns for its artists. For example, a band currently touring various cities in the U.S. Midwest could use the Kiptronic Podcast Marketplace to deliver a promotional message about specific concert dates and locations, embedded in popular podcasts, to specific Midwest metro areas in advance of an upcoming concert," the partners announced.
IODA's clients include more than 2,700 independent music labels, and its content library includes more than 600,000 tracks.
"The music industry is in constant flux in the digital age. IODA addresses a fundamental problem facing independent record labels and artists -- how to take advantage of new technologies, such as podcasting, in an open and flexible way that allows [artists] to retain control of their content and raise their profile with potential fans. Using Kiptronic, IODA will enable its clients to deliver targeted promotional messages to specific audiences that will be receptive," said Kiptronic founder and CEO Jonathan Cobb.
The iPod and the growing number of competing handheld network access devices aren't the only wireless music game in town, however. Companies such as mVisible Technologies are already providing wireless connectivity to a growing range of musical content via the convergence of cellular and digital telephony.
mVisible's MyxerTones, MyxerTags and Myxer Codes offer anyone with original content a growing range of tools to distribute it to mobile phone users via text messaging.
"One of our primary audiences is that of independent artists, such as 'indie' and local bands, that have previously been unable to create mobile content because of bureaucratic and technical barriers," Willis explained.
"All of our products and technologies are focused on fulfilling the promise of the mobile phone to become the first truly personal computer, [and these are] a prime example of the kind of thing that is possible when 'off-deck content' is realized. Thousands of independent and local bands that have previously been completely shut off from the mobile world have now been empowered to get their stuff to their fans regardless of device, regardless of carrier. We're just at the beginning of this," Willis continued.
"The rapid spread of Internet-enabled mobile phones ... is the key development that will ultimately lead to a huge advance in the digital-mobile music market. Already, this has forced the U.S. carriers to, at least passively, permit 'off-deck' offerings of content that are out of their immediate control. Once this crack widens and any company on the planet can distribute content in a consistent manner to any mobile device, regardless of manufacturer or carrier, the lid's going to come off this thing," he added.
mVisible is one of a new breed of technology developers and mobile phone evangelists actively bringing music and other content to users. "I think the industry is still waiting for the 'ah-ha' moment that will make a converged mobile phone-digital music player the only natural choice for consumers," Willis explained.
"I don't think anyone knows the exact formula that will make it work, but it's going to be some permutation of tweaked-standardized user interface, consistency in service offerings across carriers and devices, and reasonable billing mechanisms. The mobile phone will inherit much of what is currently the domain of personal computers and the iPod," he noted.
Are We Ready to Get Down?
It hasn't been clear skies and smooth sailing for innovation -- and innovators -- in the digital music world.
"From a technical point of view, the modern mobile phone is essentially a little computer and digital media player with a permanent Internet connection, but the mobile carriers have all but firewalled the device from the existing Internet," explained Willis.
"The closed, proprietary nature of the telecom industry from whence came the mobile carriers stands in sharp contrast to the openness of the Internet. The technical openness of the Internet -- anyone [with] something to offer can offer it -- has enabled the emergence of a much more natural and fluid economy than what the mobile carriers are used to.
"At the same time, perhaps because of this, people have started to realize that many of the players in the music industry are really unnecessary in a world where an artist can record a track, post it on their MySpace page, and have it immediately available to all of their fans everywhere in the world," he concluded.