"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 1 October 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.

None-Hit Wonder



The red carpet's been collecting

dust for a while, but the guest

of honor hasn't shown up yet.

Downloadable music has been

called "the sound of the future"

and "a natural fit for the Web."

The gruesome code-dump

MusicMatch is "a bookmark must

for indie mavens," and MP3

players are "the hottest

portable devices since the

Walkman" (though we still

suspect Ericssons have played

more tunes than Rios).


The ludicrous stock action

accompanying any MP3-related

product can be seen at

EMusic.com, which is currently

doing a US$92 million public

offering, apparently on the

strength of an exclusive

unplugged set by Gene Loves

Jezebel and some They Might Be

Giants outtakes. (We never

realized "Particle Man" was so

popular on the Street). Even

Rolling Stone has begun running

a dubious chart of MP3 hits, a

sure sign that either the

train's been and gone already or

it's never going to come.


That hasn't stopped the Not

Invented Here panic among the

major labels, though the Secure

Digital Music Initiative won't

be in anyone's stocking this

year, and we bet this won't be

the last delay. There's no

guarantee that a convenience

play will generate a winner on

the order of, say, push media or

Space Jam. If you want to go

jogging with your MP3s, you need

a gizmo that costs 10 times as

much as a functional tape

player, holds one-third as much

music, and makes you look even

more pathetically and conspicuously

consumptive than an Iridium.


What MP3 needs right now, what

it still doesn't have, is its

own Blair Witch Project, its

Matt Drudge, its Onion. It won't

catch on until there's an

organic underground buzz about

something, but do you have any

idea how expensive organic

underground buzzes are these

days? At the moment, the name

bands trying to jump on the

bandwagon are desperate (if you

haven't heard the new Public

Enemy, you can sleep the sleep

of the just), and the unknown

ones who are trying to break out

are hopeless.



Take Red Delicious, whose most

trend-hungry apologists call it

"competent." CBS.com says it's

"sizzling in cyberspace," and

the group appeared in last Monday's

Wall Street Journal, billed as

"the hottest band on the

Internet." That's like being

"the hottest mosque in South

Dakota," when you read the fine

print about what the band has made

of its months-long residency on

MP3.com's Top 10 List. Red

Delicious has sold a whole 1,000

CDs, from which it's netted $5

apiece — a bullish indicator

that its members could quit

their day jobs and live on Clif

Bars for months before starving

to death. Why are they in

MP3.com's Top 10? Because

they're there already, and where

else are you going to start

listening? And where else,

consequently, are you going to



So the legit MP3 distributors

are shelling out for anything

with a decent Q rating. Alanis

Morissette collected a cool $40

million worth of MP3.com stock,

in return for the company's right

to put her name in a bunch of

press releases, the corporate

equivalent of FANatic. The

company finally has a big-name

draw in a previously unreleased

track by TLC, and every time

it's downloaded, MP3.com is

donating a dime to fight sickle

cell disease. If the company

reaches its goal of a million

people who are willing to submit

their email addresses twice to

get to the song, it'll work out

to a charitable contribution of

roughly one-tenth of what Morisette

made from it for one day of her

5 1/2 Weeks tour. You might as

well get the song the easy way: Track

it down via mp3board.com or

something similar, download it

off some ninth-grader's bootleg

site, and send in 15 cents of

your own to the SCDAA.



In any case, even though TLC's

No Scrubs paved the way for

Sporty Thievz's No Pigeons, Left

Eye probably won't provide bait

for Souixacydal Pidgeons in a

Can. The fact is, it takes a

long time to download a dinky

little song by a dinky little

unknown band, and people want

stuff in a hurry. If you can

afford a line that sucks up MP3s

fast enough, you can afford to

get a real CD by a real band; if

you're not one of the idle rich,

you'd probably rather tie up

your phone line with something

you know you'll like. This is

why Rolling Stone prints the

charts from MP3 Impact rather

than from the legit sites, which

guard their figures the way

soldiers guard an empty fort.

The demo-floggers can't compete

with the Smash Mouth single's

estimated 300,000 or so

downloads from 140-odd illicit

servers. Digital audio's black

market is way bigger than its

legitimate trade, and there's no

reason for that to change.


At least until the right band

comes along. We'd like to

suggest a few strategies to get

Jane and Joe Modem to download

some ditties.


First, nobody wants to type in a

credit card number without

getting something you can hold

in your hand. Otherwise, porn

wouldn't be the only really

profitable e-commerce model. The

effort to get people to pay for

MP3s will remain a nonstarter.

Smart bands will learn to bundle

their sound files with digital

skin. Go poking around Patrick

Naughton's favorite sites in a

few months, and you'll be

interrupted by popups for the

new MP3 by Killer App — it

will, of course, have to be an

aspiring LA metal band, to whom

both silicone cyborgs and the

pay-to-play concept are dear old




Simple bribery is always

effective too. MP3.com currently

has a market cap of around $2

billion. It could easily go EMusic's

kamikaze loss leader one

better: Mail Diamond Rios to all

the paying customers it's

ever had, hook them

up with complimentary T3 lines,

and escort them to the private

Buckcherry/Alanis Cocaine and

Blow Jobs tour. Alternatively,

it could send postcards to

everyone on the planet to let

them know when the Moving

Picture Experts Group approves a

new spec and the company has to

change its name to MP4.com.

(Which it owns. On the other

hand, Amalgamated Diversities of

Delta, Utah — a coverup name

if we've ever heard one — is

currently squatting on MP5.com

and may be heading for a



Finally, there's the value-added

factor: The band that wins the

MP3 sweepstakes will be the one

that goes beyond being just

another filename, the one that

gives listeners something no

other band can. There's clearly

a bull(god) market for Kid

Rock/Blink 182/Limp Bizkit/Korn

knockoffs right now. The John

Perry Barlow Experience, or

whatever they call themselves,

should seize the opportunity:

Not only do they rock, their

pitch will go, but if you

download their song, they'll

actually come to your house,

pour beer over your head,

throw you up in the air, and

break both your legs.

courtesy of E. F. Nuttin'

[Purchase the Suck Book here]