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My Story (Background circa 2001)

March 01, 2001

the below was how I described myself as of early 2001, fresh out of college.


I had been on the Internet for some time playing with MUDs, FTP, and Archie, when my Dad showed me the first public beta of Mosaic for X at work. We were running off of a (then incredibly zippy) 56kbps leased line company connection. At first, I was not impressed at all, but I “got it” when I started downloading some Hungarian folk music. Sure it took over half an hour for five minutes of cheesy-sounding music, but it really struck me with the reality of Internet audio distribution. My father, wise man that he is, said “someone’s going to make a lot of money figuring out how to compress this stuff.” About a year and a half ago, I was chatting with a friend and I mentioned that I had composed some music in .MOD & .S3M formats. He asked if I did any stuff in MP3. I didn’t know what he was talking about. So I poked around on the web some…


What I found was certainly interesting: a few fledgeling sites describing a technology that would allow people to quickly and efficiently listen to CD quality music. I grabbed a player and a few pieces of music. Wow! I’m not sure I could ever look at my computer in the same way again: it was now my stereo. The sites that were out there were pretty slow and had a lot of music that I didn’t really like, and I was already sitting pretty on Stanford’s Internet connection, so I took my favorite pieces of music and put ‘em on a quick little site. I put up a description of what MP3s were and links to a few of the players that were around. I talked with a few of the webmasters who were running the sites out there and they started pointing to me. Within about two weeks, my 486 DX2/66 (which I had pretty much dedicated to web serving) was going crazy. I was getting thousands of people a day on my site, appreciating the music that I loved and learning about this new technology. I was high.


Then it ended. I got two calls on the same day: one from a bemused Residential Networking staff member who was curious as to what was chunking out over 80% of Stanford’s outgoing ‘Net traffic. Oops. So I told them. I soon thereafter got a call from Network Security who had just been called by Geffen Records. Dang. So the site closed. No more music. But as I looked on my site one last time, I saw no one else but the VP of Technology of Geffen Records in my chat room: Jim Griffin. He didn’t see me come in and left right away, but I had his email address. So I sent him an email passionately defending MP3 as a format that could potentially benefit everyone. He agreed. And he sent me his phone number.


So I talked on the phone with the guy. While he certainly has some interesting views about technology, he essentially agreed that this was the way things were going. I was excited once more, and talked to the other web site operators who had been shut down. We formed the MP3 Audio Consortium. I created an email list and a web page that explained what MP3s were, had info. on the legal aspects therein, had some legal free MP3s and a bunch of audio players, and a list of members and what we were doing. M3C, as it was dubbed, got 15,000 hits in its first day of existance. We were covered by USA Today pretty soon after we formed, and soon by a slew of others: Forbes, Wired, Red Herring, Yahoo! Internet Life, EE Times, Techweb, and over a dozen other transnational publications.

We were a source of information for people on MP3, just about the only one out there. We talked about how we could legitimize MP3 audio as a format, and some concluded that we should work on a college radio station model. I thought otherwise given Stanford’s less-than-positive feeling about MP3s: it was my feeling that we should start up a company to promote artists’ MP3s. I met up with soon-to-be freshman Steve Oskoui and we started Universal Digital Media.


So there we were, starting our own company. And Fortune and Wired were reporting on it. Wow. We were excited, and a bit scared. I had no idea that a side comment from a friend would turn into such a thing. Or maybe it’s just the media’s obsession with stuff. I don’t know. I guess that’s just something about Stanford. Anyhow, we worked for several months talking with people about how we could make this happen, and nearly landed deals with two very large record labels. Nearly.

Problem is, we got everyone nodding their heads in agreement, but when we sent in proposals they went to lawyers who turned them down independently of the folks we had been talked to. It was later discovered that this this was part of a largescale decision by the larger labels to not touch anything to do with MP3s.

We realized that to make things happen, that we would need to aggressively pursue smaller artists, manage them, and make sure that they made their promotional payments on time. To be profitable, we’d have to do this for thousands of bands and hire collection agencies. It no longer would be a technology-centric company. It was no more of a computer-based company than a drycleaner with a database of who owns what clothing. It was going to be a Music Industry Company. Both my business partner and I decided that this was not what we wanted, so we decided to not go forward with it. Universal Digital Media LLC was disbanded. (Steve went on to write some very interesting pieces of software and discover himself anew!)


What then? Even with the business gone, I still felt like I wanted to take the knowledge that I had gained and the contacts that I had made and use it to give people a hand. I talked to a lot of people and did some pro-bono consulting for theDJ (now spinner) and others. Then I mentioned to Michael Robertson of MP3.COM that I had been planning an M3C conference to get together musicians, audio distributors, labels, and technology companies to talk about the whole issue in a short, affordable conference. (Admission to some of the other conferences runs in the four-digit range, definitively out of the reach of most college students) I had been going to call it “NetWave,” and had gotten so far as to get speakers together, but my funding from Liquid Audio and the RIAA fell through at the last moment and I had to cancel it.

Michael decided to do the conference and threw his sweat & blood for several weeks behind putting together the 1st Annual MP3 Summit, which was very impressive. A lot of people who were big in the music industry came as well as a lot of very interesting other people. It was covered in a fair number of magazines, too. Michael asked me to do a writeup, which I banged off in about four hours with no sleep. [laugh] Read about it if you feel so inspired. The New York Times gave me a ring after I posted it and even took my picture.

The photographer said my picture was going to be on the front page and I nearly wet my pants. As it turned out though, the editors shuffled it around some and I only got a few quotes in and the picture wasn’t even in the California NYT, but my friend Andy told me it was on the cover of the Arts section in New York. =) So I thought that was cool. They had less of a dark spin on things than most of the media tend to, which I appreciated.

So here I am, a “MP3 veteran” by Michael’s words, and I’m keeping my feet wet in the industry and consulting. If you’d like to talk with me about putting your music on the ‘Net, give me a ping. I’ve helped out Time-Warner, Casio, and others, maybe I can help you, too?

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