PICKING THE HITS INTERNET BECOMING HOT SPOT FOR LISTENER-DESIGNED CDS
(Arizona Republic; 04/20/98)
Ever wish your favorite band had called you first before it put together the
lineup of tunes for its new greatest-hits package?
You like some of the songs, but there always seems to be a load of clinkers
you don't want to pay for. So you either buy the CD - overpaying for the songs
you want - or decide it's not worth the money.
A handful of Internet retailers is trying to eliminate the hit-and-miss
frustration of music shopping by letting customers pick which tunes they want
on their CDs.
Custom CD sites are offering a growing list of titles but, for now, don't
expect to find the hot hits from radio and MTV.
"We're getting excellent response. The only obstacle to it really booming is
the music content," said Julie MacKinnon, chief operating officer of SuperSonic
Boom, a Vienna, Va., company that sells custom CDs at www.supersonicboom.com.
The Internet has such established music retailers as www.musicboulevard.com,
www.towerrecords.com and www.cdnow.com that let customers buy CDs with a credit
card and a few clicks of the mouse.
The sites offer thousands of titles in musical styles ranging from Classical
to heavy metal, and shoppers can listen to audio clips before they buy.
Custom CD sites take Internet music buying a step further, letting the
customer decide what goes on the CD. The CDs can cost from less than $10 to
around $20, depending on how the site charges.
Sites also let shoppers download tunes to their computer hard drives, where
they can be stored for playing on a computer audio system, or zapped to a CD
recorder for the person who wants to make the disc himself.
"For people who have their own CD-R, this is very attractive thing. If you
don't have CD-R, it's a very attractive thing to cherry-pick their own CDs,"
said Bill Woods, director of marketing communications for Liquid Audio, a
Redwood City, Calif., company that develops online music delivery systems.
Woods' company provides a pipeline for music downloads onto hard discs and
lets Web sites send audio samples to computers. He sees a music explosion
coming on the Web, with much of it happening this year.
The Web can make music available to people who live far from a Virgin
Megastore or a Tower Records. Streaming audio also lets people listen to radio
stations all over the country, and there are Web sites like www.sonicnet.com
that cater to fans with music news, reviews and online chats.
"Music on demand is here to stay," Woods said. "The genie is out of the
bottle. Plus, you've got a global marketplace vs. a local marketplace for
But some record industry professionals think letting customers pick and
choose from an artist's catalog, or collection of recordings, may be the wrong
way to do business. Mike Farrace, vice president of publications and electronic
marketing at Sacramento-based Tower Records, said custom CDs might cut into
sales of older records.
"This is all about management of intellectual property," he said. "The
labels own the stuff. They look at any opportunity but I think they're very
cautious about this. I don't think anybody wants to take a bundle of expression
like an album and cherry-pick the best parts."
Farrace looks at the custom CD sellers as niche players and said the music
industry will never undercut traditional retailers by selling the latest and
best on the Internet.
"No record company in their right mind is going to let a new record be sold
this way," he said.
Internet researcher Jupiter Communications says online music sales are
"tiny" now but should reach $1.6 billion by 2002, accounting for 7.5 percent of
the total market.
Jupiter believes the Internet will act as a "blender" that shatters and
mixes the compartmentalized music business, breaking down distinctions among
performance, broadcast and distribution.
Makers of custom CDs are pushing to persuade artists and record labels to
get on board. They've had success attracting smaller labels and artists who
specialize in styles such as jazz and blues. But the big players aren't yet in
Makers of custom CDs think that will change when labels wake up to the
potential of turning their dusty archives into a revenue stream.
Bruce Block, vice president of business development for custom CD seller
Music Connection Corp. of Herndon, Va., (www.musicmaker.com) said record stores
can display a limited number of artists while a Net retailer can warehouse
thousands more, bands such as the Shangra Las that still might sell but aren't
"Can the labels invest marketing money to push the Shangra Las now? No, not
when they can push Celine Dion and sell 40 million albums. But they also want
to sell the Shangra Las," Block said.
Music Connection tries to be user-friendly for customers not tuned into the
Web. It sells through advertisements and catalogs and soon will put kiosks for
ordering custom CDs in airports, college student unions, and book stores.
"If all you are is a Web company, you're pretty much ignoring the rest of
the population," Block said. "You're not providing maximum access for
Where is it all heading? Net music advocates say the Web will give unknown
bands a way to get noticed and sell their music without hustling a record
They say established bands also can up put teasers for their works-in-
progress, and that mainstream music sellers could augment what's on their
shelves with disc-making machines in the back room for just-in-time production,
eliminating the need for big inventory stockpiles.
They also expect interest to grow as Internet connections get faster,
speeding download times. They think that the rollout of the high-capacity
Digital Video Disc also will spark more interest in delivering things like
music videos over the Net.
And some observers say there's no reason a shopper shouldn't be able to put
together something like Bill Gates' Smash Hits just like music fans pick their
"Anything that's digital," Block said. "You could have a software catalog
and just choose what you want." Glen Creno can be reached at 444-8972 or at
firstname.lastname@example.org via e-mail.