Better Late Than Never

Remember Qtrax?

Or, more specifically, remember Qtrax at MIDEM last January? It was at the music industry trade fair when the peer-to-peer service owned by Brilliant Technologies Corporation made headlines by announcing deals with all four major labels, allowing people to share the record companies’ catalogs online.

But the positive spin lasted less than 24 hours when the individual labels said they had not signed off on any deal with the P2P, although Universal Music Group and EMI Group both said they were "in discussions" with the company.

Well those discussions finally bore some fruit. Qtrax recently announced it had landed a deal with Universal. And this time the label confirms what Qtrax is saying, although a UMG spokesman did not give details of the agreement or say if label execs had actually signed anything.

But a joint Universal/Qtrax statement did say artists and songwriters would be compensated. Furthermore, a Qtrax representative said users would be "able to purchase music-related items."

"All of UMG’s music available digitally will be available for free, legal downloads on Qtrax," Qtrax representative Shamin Abas said.


A Formula Worth Millions

A federal court on April 30th established a formula for computing online music-streaming royalty payments to authors, composers and publishers. And, as can be expected, one side is crying while the other is breaking out the bubbly.

The crying side would be Yahoo, AOL and RealNetworks, the major online services affected by the new formula. Meanwhile, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) is expected to reap millions of dollars in royalties.

For example, although U.S. District Judge William Conner did not specify total amounts owed to ASCAP, computations have AOL owing the society $5.96 million for 2006 and Yahoo owing 6.76 million for the same year. What’s more, the new formula computes royalties for up to a seven-year period ending in 2009.

For Yahoo, that means having to pay royalties according to the formula for each year starting with 2002, while RealNetworks must start with 2004 and AOL is looking at paying royalties starting from 2005.

The royalties are for authors, composers and publishers only, and do not affect what the companies must pay record labels.

How did the royalty issue end up in court? Simply put, all sides disagreed on the rates.

The online companies wanted to pay less. Much less. For 2006, AOL proposed paying $632,879, and Yahoo felt it owed only $889,402.

Furthermore, the companies wanted a multi-tiered rating scale, paying more for on-demand audio, and less for Internet radio and music videos, according to

ASCAP wanted more. And that resulted in a stalemate.

So it was off to rate court, which resulted in the new formula.

"This historic decision, for the first time, provides a clear framework for how the online use of musical works should be appropriately valued," said John LoFrumento, ASCAP’s chief executive.


The Latest NIN Freebie

Trent Reznor has released the new Nine Inch Nails’ album, The Slip, as a free download available from the band’s Web site.

Unlike when Radiohead shocked the music world by issuing its latest album, In Rainbows, as a name-your-price download, the new NIN release cuts through the confusion with one low price – free.

But fans do get to choose from a selection of digital formats. What’s more, all but one download option relies on torrent technology for delivery.

The first download, which is the only option that doesn’t rely on torrents, is described as "high-quality MP3s."

Second is FLAC lossless. Although FLAC is CD quality, some fans might not have a player capable of handling the format. If that’s the situation, fans will have to find a file-conversion utility capable of converting FLAC to something their systems can deal with. The good news is that plenty of FLAC converters are available.

The third format is M4A Apple lossless. As the name implies, fans will be able to play this format in iTunes.

The fourth and last format available for the free NIN download is high-definition WAV. Described as "better-than-CD-quality," this bad boy comes in 24bit 96kHz audio and weighs in at 1.2 gigabytes. Fans will need broadband to grab it, and, according to the Web site, high-end audio equipment to enjoy it.

All downloads include a PDF with credits and artwork. The store version of The Slip is scheduled for a July release.

"Thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years," wrote Reznor on the Nine Inch Nails Web site. "This one’s on me."


The New Dynamic Duo

Since Apple launched iTunes, the labels have had second thoughts on pricing for online tracks. Now, Warner Music Group, through a deal with Digonex, will have additional information on which to base its pricing decisions.

Digonex operates the patented DigitalOnlineExchange, described by the company as a "dynamic commerce engine" that helps companies determine the right prices for their wares by studying the marketplace. By gathering real-time sales data and analyzing purchasing data, Digonex says it can discover the pricing "sweet spot" satisfying vendors and customers alike.

The labels have expressed displeasure with iTunes ever since the recording industry realized Steve Jobs wasn’t joking when he said most individual tracks would cost 99 cents and most CDs would sell for $9.99. Lately the labels have wanted iTunes to allow for price changes reflecting consumer demand, charging customers more for popular tracks and less for songs barely moving off of the digital shelves.

Warner Music Group isn’t saying which artists, CDs or tracks will be used in the pilot program. Nor is the label saying which online music services might serve as a testing ground.

"Digonex’s technology provides us a unique window into one of the variables that impacts consumer behavior and by employing tools such as these we can continue to refine and improve our digital offerings," said Larry Mattera, of WEA Corp, WMG’s U.S. sales and marketing company.


Hard Rock’s Online Memories

Would you like to see John Lennon’s original, handwritten lyrics for "Don’t Let Me Down?" How about Elvis Presley’s military identification affidavit, apparently issued after The King lost his original military I.D.? Or how about Madonna’s corset? John Entwistle’s bass? Or the flannel shirt Slash wore for the Guns N’ Roses video "November Rain?"

Now you can peruse rock history in the comfort of your own home or office (when the boss isn’t looking), when you visit Hard Rock International’s collection of rock artifacts at

You’re going to need Microsoft’s Silverlight 2 with Deep Zoom browser plug-in to see the exhibits. But there’s no need to bother the computer nerd in your family to install the plug-in. A link on the collection’s home page provides easy installation. Once installed, Silverlight allows you to zoom in on those lyrics, those guitars, those … corsets, to your heart’s content.

In fact, Hard Rock International is trumpeting the fact that their memorabilia site is the first live site powered by Silverlight, saying the plug-in gives visitors the opportunity to "experience iconic music memorabilia in tremendous depth and quality, capturing a level of detail unseen at even the real-life artifact display."

Other exhibits include Lennon’s handwritten lyrics for "Imagine," and the TV tuner knob Bo Diddley used for his first hand-built guitar.

"Hard Rock’s memorabilia is extremely valuable and must be handled with extreme care, so we wanted to find a more practical way to bring the collection to a broader audience," said Sean Dee, Hard Rock International’s VP and chief marketing officer. "With Silverlight, we were able to build an application that allows us to make our collection accessible and highly interactive for millions of fans worldwide."