The other day I discovered that Amazon would conveniently sell me an MP3 of the “Three Stripped Gears” 1931 rendition of “Black Bottom Strut” for $0.89. What a find! I’d been inspired by Mike Seeger’s version for nearly forty years but only knew of the T.S.G. version through Seeger’s liner notes. (I attempted my own recording for the soundtrack for Jack Moore‘s Sandscript in 1975.)
Then I started seeing comments on Wired’s article about Doug Morris, chair and CEO of Universal Music Group, particularly where he’s quoted: “There’s no one in the record company that’s a technologist.” Given all of the technical wizardry of musicians, audio engineers and producers, that disclaimer is hard to accept. For example, I’ve thought of Peter Gabriel as a technologist ever since being dazzled by a concert at the old Austin Coliseum in 1982.
But what is more striking in the article and commentary is the lack of homage to MP3.com. The Wikipedia summary of MP3.com history seems approximately correct. (In searching though http://web.archive.org for charts with Kay Buena’s songs, I discovered archives of MP3.com a little older than Wikipedia’s report of a 1998 founding date.)
Michael Robertson‘s MP3.com (not the c|net one) started to make us aware of “MP3”. But more than that, My.MP3.com seemed a plausible way for the music industry to monetize MP3s almost eight years ago. What would be the fortunes of that industry if significant MP3 sales had started in the year 2000?
Universal Music Group prevailed in stopping Robertson. U.M.G. had another chance to leverage the MP3.com concepts and technology when Vivendi Universal acquired MP3.com but then Vivendi sold the domain to c|net in November 2003 and abandoned the rest.
There were other eulogies four years ago. This week I still wonder what could have been.
P.S. Billboard.biz considers the Wired article a “hatchet job” but goes on “Morris and the other labels need to stop living in the past as well. They need to quit their bellyaching about how digital piracy decimated the business and start communicating the steps they’re making for the future.”