Liquid Audio: building a viable e-music system
MP3 has altered forever the way that music is distributed. Unsigned
bands are building fan bases, music lovers are illegally sharing
copied files with Napster, and hardware companies are promising
Internet-connected, MP3-playing car radios. All of this raises
serious concerns, however, for both record labels and their artists.
The rock group Metallica proclaimed that the online community was
ripping them off and filed suit against Napster, stating that users
were robbing the band of royalties.
Suits like Metallica's indicate how untenable is the situation
with MP3 for the music establishment. It is not an exaggeration to
say that the MP3 revolution yanked the industry into the online
content business against their will; now that the music is out there,
the industry is desperate for a safe and secure transaction and
distribution system. Many of the elements of a viable music
transaction system -- encryption, copyright protection, digital
watermarking, e-commerce functionality, and of course CD-quality
audio -- have already been developed by a company called
Liquid Audio. While Liquid has inked many
marketing deals and is involved with the key standards committees,
only time can say whether their technologies will be the platform for
a transaction-based music system.
Also available in the Liquid Audio technology is the marriage of the
new file formats and the next generation of portable listening
devices, such as the Rio, Yepp, and the Sony Memory Stick players.
Because of important technology deals and licensing arrangements,
these new devices will all be able to play and store Liquid Audio
files. And beyond online downloading, Liquid Audio is appearing in
"pay by the song" kiosks in major record stores and other
traditional retailers across the nation and the world. The case for
Liquid Audio is that they have created a technology that will attempt
to cash in on the future of digital downloads, from whichever
distribution method and in whatever file format the user chooses.
- The Genuine Music Mark
Liquid Audio was developed by veterans of the music industry and
professional recording engineers as a solution designed specifically
for the music industry. Their vision was to create the music
distribution system of the future. With Liquid's technology
embedded not only in the Liquid Player but also in new versions of
the Winamp MP3 player and the RealPlayer software, consumers can buy
music online in digital form and download that music to their
computer, home entertainment system, or portable playback device, or
burn it to a custom CD.
The heart of the system is that attached to each file will be a
marker carrying authentication information. In an effort to establish
its Genuine Music Mark (GMM) as an industry
standard, Liquid Audio has formed the Genuine Music Coalition (GMC)
with Diamond Multimedia Systems, Emusic
Corp., and Nullsoft Inc. (acquired by AOL), three of the main players
in the emerging MP3 market. With GMM, the coalition is offering
intellectual property owners a way to protect themselves against
copyright infringement by adding audible authentication of origin and
ownership information into the MP3 format.
GMM works with Liquid Audio System's proprietary watermark and
is embedded into the code of the MP3 file itself, guaranteeing that
wherever the MP3 file travels, the GMM follows. It will not prevent
Internet piracy of MP3 files, but will help ensure that proper
identification and copyright information are "married" to
the music file. It also protects consumers by letting them know
whether the MP3 file they have downloaded is legal. This method of
marking MP3 files helps increase musicians' and labels'
confidence in distributing their music over the web in the MP3
format. Liquid Audio charges for the use of the watermark, making
copyright protection for audio on the Internet available to any MP3
content owners who are members of the GMC.
Liquid is also involved with the Recording Industry Association of
America's efforts to come up with a secure download system, the
Secure Digital Mark Initiative. SDMI is supported by Liquid Audio as
well as a growing group of Internet technology and software companies
associated with digital music downloads. The future direction and
outcome of the RIAA's initiatives, however, remains unclear.
- The Liquid Audio system
In contrast to MP3, Liquid Audio provides an end-to-end solution for
editing, mastering, purchasing, distributing, and playing
high-quality audio over the Internet. Unlike RealAudio, Flash, and
MP3, the Liquid Audio system is geared for commerce and the
controlled distribution of high-quality digital downloads. It is
designed to track sales, keep licensing and copyright information in
place, and provide advanced security features, including digital
Perhaps the key element in the Liquid Audio package is its
flexibility, which allows musicians to easily set conditions for how
the file can be used. One label may choose to give away a song with
no limitations; another may want a file to be disabled 60 days after
album release or 30 days after download.
Another key part of the system is the many marketing deals Liquid has
made with portals like Yahoo! (http://digital.yahoo.com),
labels like Atomic Pop (http://www.atomicpop.com), and hundreds of
radio stations. For a complete list of Liquid Music Network
affiliates, go to http://www.liquidaudio.com/music/index.html.
The Liquid Player, shown in Figure 8-18, is similar
to other players but has a few more features up its sleeve. In
addition to playing music, the Liquid Player displays cover art,
lyrics, credits, and copyright information. The Liquid Player also
allows direct links to purchase the music being played. For instance,
if you download a track from
clicking on the Buy CD button takes you to the Amazon page for that
album. The software plays Liquid Audio, MP3, CD-quality
Digital AC-3, or AAC encoded audio files.
The Liquid Player is the main user interface to the world of
listeners and customers who download Liquid Audio content. It
provides all the features you would expect in a music player,
including extensive playback control, ability to view graphic images,
and artist information. It also provides some features you
wouldn't expect, such as copyright information, watermarking,
the option to purchase the music online, and even a "Burn
CD" command that allows you to create your own custom CD of
Liquid Audio tracks.
Figure 8-18. The free Liquid Player for Windows makes it easy to download CD-quality encoded audio files.
The Liquid Player lets users preview, purchase, download, play back,
and record music on a custom CD, all from within one player. Other
players require multiple, often external applications to accomplish
these same tasks. In Figure 8-18, you'll see
the usual audio controls like play, stop, fast forward, and rewind, a
draggable progress bar, volume control and song title and copyright
The Liquid Player can also display album art and other promotional
material, and link to other sites, including e-commerce sites and the
artist's or label's site.
One of the most popular and exclusive features of the Liquid Player
is the ability to burn downloaded music to an audio CD. This feature
allows customers to make the CDs they really want instead of having
to spend $20 on a CD to get two or three tracks. In addition, users
may be more willing to pay for music if they can easily carry it away
from their computer.
- Liquifier encoding tool
To encode music for the Liquid format, use the Liquifier encoding
tool, which provides a mastering-like environment for recording,
editing, and encoding Liquid Audio content. The
Liquifier also features basic waveform
editing, excellent sample rate and format conversion, and smooth
"single-click" uploading to a web site or a database. In
addition, a comprehensive preview function allows you to easily
audition your Liquid Audio clips at different bandwidth settings
before encoding the files. The Liquifier also lets you combine audio
with other media elements and text such as lyrics, band biographies,
copyright information, credits, and CD artwork.
- Liquid Server
Liquid Server provides a solution for
online electronic sales, asset management, royalty tracking and
reporting, and copyright protection. It allows the preview and
delivery of high-quality, scalable audio over IP networks. The server
can be licensed to provide a range of simultaneous audio streams for
auditioning, as well as file transfers for purchasing encoded audio
clips from either Unix- or NT-based platforms. However, the most
heavily utilized method has been simply to use Liquid Audio or other
large online distributors, such as Yahoo!, to access Liquid Server.
That way all the maintenance, upkeep, e-commerce collection, and
music distribution is handled for you.
- Liquifier Pro
The Liquifier Pro is a mastering and encoding
application from Liquid Audio. Liquifier Pro has everything you need
to prepare and publish CD-quality music for secure, electronic
distribution. It encodes the audio for optimum performance over a
wide variety of connection speeds. It also enables lyrics, liner
notes, and graphics to be combined with the music into a single file
that is then published to the Liquid Music Network Server. Content
submitted to the Liquid Music Network (LMN) is then
automatically distributed to over 700 web sites. In addition,
Liquifier Pro is the only Internet mastering tool with both Dolby
Digital and AAC encoding. Liquifier Pro 5.0 also authors MP3 files.
- Liquid in Winamp and RealPlayer
While Liquid's hold
on the online music market is far from a
lock as of this writing, their technologies do seem to be poised to
provide much-needed structure and accountability. For example, in an
effort to make the content on the Liquid Music Network more broadly
accessible, Liquid Audio has made deals with AOL and Real Networks to
allow the playback, purchase, and distribution of Liquid
Audio-encoded files through these popular browsers. These appear to
be the key deals that will make Liquid's technologies the
platform on which a market for
downloadable music can be built.