The war on music downloads, the Circuit DJs' spin, and Apple's new iTunes

by Doug Rule
Published on May 15, 2003, 12:00am | Comments

W.M.D.s IN YOUR COMPUTER… We almost exclusively focus on CDs in this space, because that's how we primarily listen to dance music. And that's what the industry wants you (actually, needs you) to do, as well. Actually, neither wants nor needs works as the verb to describe the actions of the hyper-defensive, preemptive music industry. “Force” is more like it. You could be forced to pay a five-figure fine to the industry, as was the case with four college kids recently, for assisting others in downloading music for free. But apparently that's not forceful enough. The New York Times reported two Sundays ago that the industry is concocting its own weapons of mass destruction, all aimed at we the people: from causing downloaders' computers or their personal Internet connections to freeze for as long as several hours, to scanning and then deleting pirated music files. Many of these W.M.D.s are of questionable legality, meaning the industry is considering fighting illegal activity with more illegal activity. What's that old saying about two wrongs not making something?


Yes, yes, the industry has lost billions of dollars over the years, at least some of which really, truly can be blamed on online downloading and not inferior, overpriced product.  But really, is this the type of behavior -- attacking current or at least potential customers -- we want to encourage, through our hard-earned dollars? Brett Henrichsen, fresh from Cherry 8's Main Event, isn't precisely defending the industry these days, but he is singing its tune, literally and figuratively. He started his impressive MASTERbeat series of dance compilations out of sheer frustration over the lack of dance music available to the consumer, and now six years on he thinks the industry has shaped up and is committed to a consumer culture for dance music.

“When I first started MASTERbeat in 1997, the general consumer could not go into a music store and buy the full-length extended mix [on CD] of most of the dance music that DJ's were playing in the clubs,” Henrichsen said via email. From where we sit, though, too much of dance music still remains unavailable to the average, non-vinyl-oriented listener -- especially the tracks and remixes that have DJs spinning right round, which aren't made available until they've nearly peaked in DJ popularity. Unavailable, that is, except for at refuges like KaZaa, Grokster and all those other dirty, nasty, illegal sites.

Another Cherry 8 DJ, Billy Carroll, who's been immersed in the industry since his guest-DJ days at Studio 54, can relate to consumer angst, but his sympathies lie with the depressed, demoralized industry.

“Downloading concerns me,” he said in a phone interview. “It doesn't give record labels money, so they're not making money, and if they can't recoup their costs, why should they bother producing music? Something's got to give.”

THE APPLE OF OUR EARS… Could Apple's new industry-sanctioned iTunes Music Store be that something, the pulley that will help bring musical peace and harmony to us all? The favorably reviewed service offers a large, broad database of songs available with limited restrictions for 99 cents apiece (although it's Mac-only until later this year). I haven't yet had a chance to check out the collection of dance music, but being Apple, I suspect it's impressive. It is already spurring competitors to offer alternatives, so maybe it's the diplomatic roadmap that will stamp out a long, ugly battle.

Apple's service is just the latest effort to revive an industry stepping up efforts to push products it hopes will replace CDs. Initially, this takes the form of releasing the advanced discs -- featuring superior audio as well as multimedia content, playable either in a CD player or DVD player -- at the same time as the traditional CD. And already this year, six of the largest music retailers, who must be feeling more threatened by the day, created a joint venture to explore ways of offering consumers online and in-store deals. Will either work? Stay tuned.

Just how do you satiate your appetite for dance music? Through CDs, radio, fee-oriented online subscription site, or free illegal ones? Are you satisfied? Do you have ideas for improvement? E-mail me at to get a discussion going.


Masterbeat: White Party

Circuit Boy: Vol. 1

10 GB iPod

30 GB iPod

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