The revolutionary promise of digital music became reality with the rise of Napster. The file sharing network pioneered a functional and comprehensive catalog of music with its enthusiastic users. Developed by then-teenaged Shawn Fanning in 1998, Napster became a worldwide phenomenon in less than a year. Co-founder Sean Parker helped develop Napster into a company. Mass acceptance came quickly, but legal challenges ultimately doomed the original service. Despite the controversy and lawsuits, Napster changed the music business and paved the way for iTunes, Rhapsody, Spotify, and other music services. The divide between the cultural establishment and technology innovators was defined by the disputes raised by Napster. After more than a decade of declining sales of recorded music and imperfect attempts to present a licensed alternative, the influence of Napster continues to be felt.
At SXSW, I listened in on a discussion with Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning where they discussed these issues in an effort to promote their film Downloaded. The panel opened with a montage of clips from the VH1 rockDocs Downloaded film. The trailer touched on the start of Napster, the revelation of how easy it was to get music based on a search term, how quick the results were in the age of dial-up, and the growth of Napster as a company. There are a couple of gems there as well, such as when Fanning said back in 1999 that he believed the future was instant music access from multiple devices, including stereos and smartphones (well, he said "cell phones," but still.) this is a movie about kids revolutionizing an industry they knew nothing about.
I belong to the MP3 generation. Mine was the first to confront the choice between an $18 CD filled with marginal tracks and free MP3 downloaded from Napster in minutes. It was a test of character, and like many of the MP3 generation, I failed. But my days as a copyright violator, music pirate, and intellectual property profiteer ended long ago, and after enabling iTunes Match, previous guilt is gone.
To be fair, I haven't actually stolen music in years. I actually have multiple music service subscriptions, mostly because I am too lazy to cancel when I switch. So I have access to Rdio, Zune Pass, Rhapsody, Slacker, and Spotify Premium. But the truth is, I have a 32GB music collection sitting on my home PC that was built illegally downloading from services like Napster, Limewire, and BitTorrent. But now Apple is offering me amnesty for just $25 a year.
Apple's iTunes 10.5.1 launched yesterday, and it includes the much-anticipated Match feature. Install the software and it will scan your hard drive for music and make high-quality, 256-Kbps AAC versions of every file available to you in the cloud. The kicker is that this includes not just songs you purchased through iTunes, but any music file on your system, no matter where or how you got it. It will cost $25 a year to maintain access to this newly rebuilt and legal library, but for that price you can have access to up to 25,000 songs. Apple will pay the labels a small fee for the rights, but all you pay is the $25 per year. For those of us in the MP3 generation, this is library liberation.
We’ve been waiting for Apple to launch some sort of iTunes subscription music service for years now. Seeing other companies like Rhapsody, Napster, and Microsoft’s Zune offer it while leaving Apple out has been pretty frustrating. However, today Reuters is reporting (alongside CNET and the New York Post) that Apple is in talks with all the major record execs to pitch a new subscription music service. Basically, for $10-15 per month, you’d get unlimited access to pretty much the entire iTunes music library. It’s definitely a move to ward off Spotify, since they are trying hard to get into the US, as well as the impending launch of Windows Phone 7 which will include a hyped up and renewed push of the Zune Pass. We’d love to see this one happen.
Just a heads up to any of you who want to add the Sonos ZonePlayer S5 to your current Sonos setup, or those of you who want to jump into Sonos for the first time for the lowest cost possible - the S5 is now shipping, and can be had for $399. We have one set to arrive later today, so we will hit you with a review after we play with it a bit.
Read More | Sonos ZonePlayer S5
Sonos is looking to market to the iPhone and iPod touch crowd with their new ZonePlayer S5 wireless music system. If you’re familiar with Sonos, you know that the price of entry has always been a bit high historically. The ZonePlayer S5 brings that price down to about $400. You plug it in to a router, and you are good to go with the ability to play your entire music library, as well as music from services like Rhapsody, Napster, Last.fm, and others, by using your iPhone as the remote control.
The price rises if you don’t have an Ethernet port handy for the S5, as you would then also need to buy a ZoneBridge, which allows you to connect the ZonePlayer S5 (as well as any other ZonePlayers you have) to your network wirelessly. We definitely think this is a positive step in the right direction for Sonos. By adding an all-on-one ZonePlayer/speaker to their line-up at this much lower price point, they’ve made it enticing to check them out to see what all the fuss is about. We’d pick up a ZonePlayer S5 over a Bose Sounddock any day of the week.
Read More | Sonos ZonePlayer S5 Demo
Tom Cullen of Sonos stopped by to give us a first-hand look at the new Sonos Controller 200 CR200 remote control. A marked improvement over the original Sonos Controller 100, the CR200 is a full touchscreen device that allows you to interact with music from a vast amount of sources and services, both on your network and from the Internet, with relative ease. We give you a look at how it all comes together in this episode.
So this morning we gave you the scoop on the new Sonos 2.7 features, along with the news of the new (and free) Sonos Controller for iPhone and iPod touch, but we figured you’d be interested in seeing how all this worked. Luckily, Sonos CEO John MacFarlane was able to stop by to give us a first look at all the announcements. In this episode, John walks us through all the new hotness that Sonos announced this morning. That includes a walkthrough of the new iPhone app, which incorporates and supports all those slick new Sonos 2.7 features that we’ve been raving about so early in the morning over here. If you are a music fan, you owe it to yourself to look into Sonos, if you haven’t already.
Oh, and be sure to check our Sonos for iPhone gallery if you wanna see some screenshots of the app in high resolution.
If you thought we were done with today’s Sonos news, think again - they’re on a roll, having just announced the availability of Sonos Controller for iPhone and iPod touch, for free. If you’re a Sonos fan, then you immediately understand what this means. If you own an iPhone or iPod touch, you get a touchscreen Sonos controller, at no extra cost. Seriously, that rocks. The new app gives you access to all the new Sonos 2.7 features we told you about earlier as well, like Rhapsody, Sirius, Last.fm, and tons of radio from across the globe. In fact, with the Sonos Controller for iPhone, you can access music from any computer on your network, a NAS drive, or even a Time Capsule. When you realize that one of the standard Sonos Controller remote costs $400, you begin to see how big a deal this is. Releasing this as a free download makes Sonos instantly easier to use, especially in a multi-zone, multi-iPhone household, like mine.
Napster has decided to change their service to a web-based platform so users will no longer be required to download its software. Napster’s current subscription service is offered for $10.00 to $20.00 per month for unlimited usage, but they don’t seem to be able to keep up with the iTunes store which has a flat fee of 99 cents per tune. Christopher Allen of Napster feels that the move will be easier to integrate than their present method and foresees the end of DRM with major music companies by the end of 2008. If this idea becomes reality and other companies follow suit, we may soon see the end of small music shops the way that neighborhood video stores have gone now that downloading is easily and readily available.
Read More | Reuters
New company SpiralFrog has just signed an agreement with UMG (Universal Music Group) to include them in their catalogue. SpiralFrog’s service is a no-cost alternative on the net that allows users to legally download music. Included in this service are quick-loading legal digital files with no worry of spyware or viruses.
Robin Kent, SpiralFrog’s CEO claims, “SpiralFrog will offer those (young) consumers a better experience and environment than they can get from any pirate site.”
How can they do this? SpiralFrog is ad-supported and you have to log in to their service at least once a month, or your music files cease and desist. Scheduled for a December beta launch, the company is currently talking to other major record labels for inclusion. Their target audience is the 16-34 crowd, but that’s good news for all of us former Napsterites. We really dig the logo, too.
Read More | SpiralFrog Press Release