The Downloadable Music Future Is Here


In case you have been imprisoned or been in a coma over the last year or so you should know that short acronym spells trouble for the traditional music industry and spells victory for independent music makers in the battle for the promotion of new and niched music.

Do not be confused by all the talk about MP3, and the competition of other downloadable music formats from either Real Networks, Liquid Audio, IBM's a2b, or Microsoft's Media Player. There is a revolution going on and with any revolution there is going to be a lot of chaos for awhile, until all the nuts and bolts and maneuverings of competing systems work themselves out. Just know that you will remember the last year of the twentieth century as the year when control over the delivery and selling of music changed the natural order of things forever.

So much of the attention given to MP3 has been focused on the downloadable music revolution that allows musicians to promote, distribute and sell their music directly to their fans, but one of the more significant threats to the old guard music industry has been neglected in most op-ed pieces I have read in the music trades and online, and it is this issue; any music stored on any CD can now be changed into bits and bytes by any person with a computer in their home.

With my trusty Music Match MP3 player installed, I can put any manufactured CD containing the music of the last century into my computer's CD-ROM drive and copy it to the MP3 format. Why do I think this is such a big deal that is being ignored? Well, as my short flirtation with major label land taught me back in the 80's, the real profit center for any label big or small is it's catalog of music!! Tell me one reason why (if I want to build a collection of my favorite music) why should I spend one cent on any CD when I can beg, borrow, or steal any new or old CD from family, friends, and music business buddies and simply copy the music onto my computer. Oh, you say ... most people will want the packaging that goes with the music. Well, if my choice is mucho dollars vs. FREE music, as an appreciator of good music in many varieties ... I can live without the cheap artwork and pictures, and/or wait for them to be available to be printed on my color printer via some Internet website. Further, surveys galore prove that historically, the people who buy reissues are the aging baby boomers who wax nostalgic anytime they can. Look for a steep decline over the next decade in the purchasing of catalog albums as the popularity of converting existing CDs to MP3 files takes over.

There's more. Once I transfer this digital signal from my CD to my computer hard drive, I can send and re-send these songs ... legal or not ... from my home computer to anyone anywhere anytime. And we are going to control or police this inevitability? Get real record industry! As of the spring of1999 there were over 60,000 MP3 web sites and 6,000,000 people a day downloading music! This is not a fad.

I have seen no data regarding how many of these MP3 users were doing the CD to MP3 format transfer. The Diamond Rio has already sold large quantities of the portable Walkman MP3 player, and a 2 to 4 gigabyte car radio player will be here soon. Hmmmmmm, yeah I wonder how many people will listening to their funky home-made cassette tapes in their cars 5 years from


As a former record label owner (415 Records) and as a music business consultant who currently works with northwest acts, helping them put together career and product marketing plans, I am concerned about the MP3 issue when it comes to the rights and needs of a recording artist making money from their music. So, I love what and other such artist friendly sites are doing. Instead of fearing and fighting the new technology, which so many old guard labels are doing, the example set by should be praised and supported by the industry at large. They are partnering with new artists and sharing in the new revenues that are being realized with downloadable music.

The biggest uphill battle any new or independent artist has, is getting noticed. MP3 is a godsend for new artists. If you are thinking about getting into MP3, think no more ... just do it. Get online, search for MP3 on a search engine of your choice, and sit back with your jaw dropped in wonder at the new universe of music that is with us now. I applaud any bands and musicians who are using MP3 to make their mark online. Hell, give your music away ... .do you want fans or not?! Limit the number of songs, not that it matters really ... read my comments above about what I can do with your actual CD once I get my hands on it ... and don't worry about what will happen to your precious music. This is what will happen:

By putting your music out there on the Internet, free for the taking the Early Adopters (the hard-core music collectors and fans) are currently the number one profile of downloadable music. That's great news! I found an artist named Alan Andrews on and through email to Alan learned that since August of 98 he has had over 6000 downloads of his music. (He is GREAT too by the way).

When I ran my record store Early Adopters (hard-core music fans) were the lifeblood of my cash flow. They are the avant garde for new music. They are the type of person who lives for music and not much else. They are your friend. Whether you are rock, rap, blues, jazz, country or any offspring of music styles ... Early Adopters are those local fans who first come out to your shows, first to buy your CDs at your live shows, first to play your music on college radio stations, first to write about you in the magazines, fanzines and e-zines ... Early Adopters are no longer LOCALS ONLY. The Internet has made them all come out of the collectors closet, and when they find your great music they will copy your song, send it to their friends, burn it on their own compilation CDs at home, and do everything they can to pass the word around about your music.

You should love Early Adopters. They will be far more important to your career than any record label, personal manager or booking agent ever will be in the formative years of establishing your careers. In fact, with the dawn of the MP3 era, they are your free promotional agents. Long live MP3 and Early Adopters.

How will artists make money with their music from now on. First of all, many people will not want to mess around with downloading music until it is as convenient as turning on their TV sets. So see your MP3 commitment as an extended free promotional tactic to get yourself recognized. Your live performance fees, your merchandising (shirts, et al) will always be there, and your potential income as songwriters from publishing income sources will still be there too. Just get use to the idea of revisioning your definition of what traditional copyright protection is. You will have a lot of company in this regard.

That's why this is called a revolution!

Throughout his fprty year career in the music business, FourFront Media & Music's Christopher Knab has shared his experience at many industry conventions and conferences, including the New Music Seminar and the Northwest Area Music Business Conference.

Knab was owner of a San Francisco music store, co-owner of the 415 Records label, and station manager at KCMU Radio in Seattle.

He currently provides a unique consultation and education service for independent musicians and record labels. His new book is entitled "Music Is Your Business".

Christopher Knab