Big labels online music play creates a resounding ‘so what?’

By Ron Harris, The Associated Press
Friday March 15, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO — The major record labels believe I ought to be very jazzed that MusicNet and pressplay have launched their online music services. 

So why don’t I care? 

For one thing, I can’t share music with others, the way I can lend a CD. 

I can only burn 20 percent of my downloads to blank CDs with pressplay, and none with MusicNet, constraining my ability to listen to music in the car. 

I can’t even keep the music if I decide to drop the services later — my songs simply become inaccessible from my “collection.” 

This is really more like rental radio for the PC. 

It’s a poor all-around effort by the major labels to unseat the likes of Gnutella, Morpheus, KaZaA and a host of other popular applications that allow users to trade stuff for free — sometimes illegally — over the Internet. 

Pressplay is the joint venture from Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group offering music from those labels as well as from EMI. 

I installed the application without a hitch. 

For $9.95 a month, I can download 30 songs onto my computer each month for listening anytime, as long as my subscription remains active. I also get 300 “streams,” where I can listen to songs without storing a copy (though listening to it again will cost me another credit). 

Other service levels weigh in at $19.95 per month (750 streams, 75 downloads, 15 CD burns) and $24.95 (1,000 streams, 100 downloads, 20 burns). 

Finding songs on pressplay’s interface is simple. I could search by artist’s name, album title or song title. 

I typed in Britney and got lots of Britney Spears tracks. I typed in Mariah and got a lot of Mariah Carey tracks. 

But when I went looking for “Windy” by The Association, pressplay returned results for songs by Earth, Wind and Fire and Steve Winwood. It turns out music from The Association is handled by Warner, a partner for the competing service MusicNet. 

Instead of The Association, pressplay did offer me downloads from fellow hippie-era rockers Sonny & Cher and The Mamas & the Papas. 

Songs take about 30 seconds to download from pressplay with a broadband connection. Those downloads happen much faster than any of the free peer-to-peer services available. 

Pressplay’s streaming feature offers a nice way to preview songs you might want to add to your growing bank of music. The sound quality of the streams and downloads is excellent. 

Overall, pressplay is a functional program limited by the absence of artists from Warner and BMG. I would have liked to transfer those downloads to my digital music player, but portable devices are not supported. 

On to MusicNet, the joint venture of RealNetworks, AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann AG and EMI Group. It comes through RealNetworks’ new RealOne media player. 

Had I gotten the service to work, I would have received 100 downloads and 100 streams per month for $9.95. Other pricing plans are available, including $19.95 for an additional 25 downloads, 25 streams and a host of video content. 

But alas, I never got it to work. 

I signed up at work, downloaded the RealOne software and was told I needed a “RealOne music component.” When I tried to download it, my computer crashed. The problem stumped tech support at MusicNet and RealNetworks as well. 

Undaunted, I tried to install the software again at home. I went through the steps again and even paid RealNetworks another subscription fee — $14.95 for a higher-level service — under the silly impression that forking over more money might make it work. 

It didn’t. 

After another few sessions with tech support, they told me the problem appeared to be a firewall issue. 

Even after explaining my system setup, tech support still couldn’t help me make the service work. I’m 0-for-2, and $24.90 lighter. 

For those who can get MusicNet to work, it offers a catalog of more than 75,000 songs from thousands of artists and you can create your own custom playlists from your library. 

The service doesn’t support CD burning or transferring to portable devices. 

Isn’t there an easier way to get music than MusicNet? For me, that answer is, somewhat grudgingly, pressplay. 

Now if I could just bring myself to uninstall Limewire, the software for connecting to the free Gnutella network. Nah. 


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