By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
subject: Bowie MP3
I am looking for David Bowie's new album on MP3 for download.
LET'S LET THE RECORD COMPANIES IN ON A little secret: This guy was notlooking to pay $13 to $18 on September 21, when Bowie's new album, Hours, became the first major-label, full-length CD to be available for sale via Internet download -- at the full retail price of a "hard" CD -- two weeks before it came out in stores.
What he and every other Bowiephile on the Internet wanted was a free or advance copy of the release. I, or any of the thousands of others with promotional copies of the recording, could have made zikidisc's dream come true. Simply by extracting audio data from the CD with a program called a "ripper," converting it to compressed, easy-to-download MP3 format with a program called an "encoder" (both available free) and uploading, I could have made the music available -- for free -- weeks before it came out in the stores.
Free downloadable recordings: The MP3 revolution has conditioned music consumers to expect no less. Bowie and his record company (Virgin), however, are banking that advance digital releases such as Hours-- encoded by the Secure Digital Music Initiative (SDMI) or the similar Windows Media Rights Manager so they can't be traded later for free -- will change all that. If music downloads are the modality of the future, they want to make sure the toll booth is in place before the hordes come stampeding through. Let's take another look at the newsgroups . . .
subject: DownloadingHours -- what format?
I will be downloading the buyable version ofHours for download through the Net. But I will only do so if I am sure that I can burn the music onto a CD to play on my stereo. If I cannot burn a music CD, the download will have to be extremely cheap, as I will only be able to play the music on my computer and not on my stereo (or in my car and Walkman).
Good point, iggg! How much fun is it to listen to Bowie's new album exclusively on your computer? Even assuming you have a pro-quality sound card and audiophile computer stereo (Soundblaster-compatibles need not apply), will the music "glitch" if you try to surf the Web and write an article while you're listening? And can you burn a CD to listen to on your home stereo or Walkman?
Before I could answer those questions, however, I had to find the Bowie download on the Net. Virgin Records said it would be sold through established Internet music retailers, such as Tower Records (dot com) and CDNow! But days before the release, I couldn't find promotional information on any Web site, just rumors in the discussion groups. Was this the least-promoted big event in the history of the music business? Even Bowie's publicists sent me boomeranging from site to site without getting any answers.
When D(ownload)-Day finally arrived, I still couldn't find any reference to the Hoursrelease on the major music sites, even ones with separate "download" sections. Still another call to Bowie's publicist produced a list of participating companies, but no URLs. Only the Virgin Megastore site had added the download to its front page (for the full price of $17.98), and only in the Liquid Audio format (it was also available via Microsoft's Windows Media [WMP] format). (A week later, as I actually write this article, several more sites have added the download.)
Finally, I went directly to Microsoft (www.msn. com) and Liquid Audio (www.liquidaudio.com), which, in the interests of promoting their playback software, did have links to the download. Oddly enough, most of the Microsoft links took me to a third-party company (amplified.com), which offered to let me buy Hours "from" various retailers at different prices ranging from $12.99 (Tower, Rasputin, Barnes & Noble) to $17.98 (Harmony House, Mybytes).
As the Liquid Audio download was more than twice the size of the WMP download (56MB vs. 24.5MB), I decided to try both. Downloading the files was somewhat harder than buying a cheeseburger while easier than building a home cyclotron. Various hangups in Web design and performance added several hours to the process, but by the time I got going, the 56.6Kbps download took one and a half hours for the WMP version and just under three and a half hours for the Liquid Audio version of this 51-minute album. Because I didn't want to put the Liquid Audio download on my c: drive, I had to manually specify the location for each track on the disc, which meant I had to hang around for the three and a half hours while it was downloading. The Liquid Audio payment server was also down that night, so I had to wait till morning to fork over the cash and finally listen to the thing.
Both the WMP and Liquid Audio versions sounded very good when played through my computer's pro-quality sound system. Liquid Audio has playback software for both Windows and Mac, while Microsoft promises a Mac version of Windows Media Player "sometime next year." There was a slight digital feel to the ocean waves on the track "No One Calls," but coincidentally, this is the download's bonus track, so I couldn't compare it against the hard-copy CD.