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Monday, September 10, 2001

Selling music for a song
Vandana Paul

Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water-bath is to the body

— Sr. Olive Wendell Holmes

THERE are rhythms in a flowing river, in the thundering clouds, in a child’s whispers. Probably from cradle to coffin…every tick of the clock brings a musical moment in life. Physical products like cassettes and CDs have been hot favourites. But, MP3s swept the music market in 1990s. MP3 is an abbreviation of the term "MPEG-1 layer-3." It deals exclusively for audio compression. In creating the MP3 algorithm, the technique employed is called perceptual coding that takes into account the perception of sound waves by human ear. This technique makes it possible to eliminate parts of a song without reducing sound quality for the listener. MP3 combines this method with more traditional compression techniques to achieve a high level of data reduction while retaining near-CD quality sound.

A three-minute song that requires about 32 MB of disk space in its original form can now be compressed utilising MP3 technology into a file of about 3 MB without a significant reduction in sound quality. Using a 56k modem, the song can then be transmitted over the Internet in a few minutes, rather than the two hours that would be required, had the file not first been compressed. RealAudio and Win Amp are other compression formats available. This kind of music can be easily bought and downloaded from the Internet from specific sites that sell copyright protected music.


Soundbuzz is a new kid on the block making waves in the online music trading industry. The Company sells music with Microsoft’s DRM (Digital Rights Management), which ensures a secure exchange of intellectual property, such as copyright protected music or text, in digital form over the Internet or other electronic media, such as CDs and removable disks. It allows content owners to distribute digital products quickly, safely and securely to authorised recipients. Soundbuzz is a digital music aggregator that provides an online and offline multi-label platform to distribute digital music securely. Online music can be bought by simply searching for a song on their Web site and paying for it through a credit card. Each song costs somewhere between Rs. 35-50 as compared to a CD which costs around Rs.350-500 for 10 to 15 songs, 80 per cent of which are not of your taste. In Asia, Soundbuzz customers can pay through micropayment system that is through their ISP (Internet service Provider) like Tata Nova. Micropayment is a neat way of billing. When we pay our ISP the rent for a particular month our music bill could also be adjusted in the same! In India, initially it would be through credit cards, but they hope to be able to introduce micropayment through ISP billing shortly. The offline business strategy of Soundbuzz, apart from online trading with partner sites like Lycosasia.com, MSN.com (Singapore), Bluehyppo.com(Telecom Malaysia) etc. would be selling of their music content to various ISPs and mobile products which in turn would distribute it through their product CDs and sell to their customers.

This way they will sell say first few songs for free and the license to rest of the tracks could be purchased online. The consumer would benefit maximum in the process as the company has tied up with almost 56 various record labels in the international market as well as in India such as EMI, BMG, Lahari music, Tips, Archies music to name a few. Music that is bought from Soundbuzz is encoded and encrypted. The encoding process allows music to be converted into digital files ready for consumers to preview and purchase over the Internet.

Soundbuzz has encoding facilities located in India, Singapore and Hong Kong. When a consumer downloads an encrypted (packaged) digital music file, he is automatically (and invisibly) issued a unique license. This license contains a key, which the Windows Media Player uses to unlock the package as the user tries to play the track. The license is unique to the PC (or other device) that the consumer uses to play the track, and as such attempts to pirate or copy music is pointless, because the track can only be played on the device to which the license is issued. Licenses can’t be transferred from one machine to another (other than to a portable player should you choose to allow that).

Distribution of music directly through digital stores has added advantages not only to the consumer but also artists as it would eliminate miscellaneous costs involved in the marketing of music. The recording artist and the composer do not get more than 20 per cent of the sale price. It’s an opportunity for amateur music artists and bands who are a hit within their niche markets as they will no longer have to struggle to reach the entertainment industry. Through the digital downloads they will have a worldwide gateway to present their talent. Also through direct selling they would earn more and the consumers would pay less or both! There are companies in the USA and Europe such as Rioport.com, Emusic.com, Vitaminic.com doing similar business, but their focus’ is on the USA and Europe music markets, hence all their content is only relevant there. Apart from Soundbuzz, there is no local player in the Indian market as of now that has focussed on digital music across Asia. "The business is still in its nascent stage but the music catalogues shot up the 50,000-mark in July and the company sees a ‘boom’ in digital music happening within 12 to 18 months". With children getting computer education at elementary level, there is bound to be a technology-driven generation where persons would buy music from the Internet just the way they have adapted to online banking and shopping."