Jane Wakefield: Don't stop the music

A recent press trip to Ibiza reveals that for most young people the music never stops, but the record industry is nevertheless falling over itself to turn off the volume on MP3

This week Napster -- the naughty schoolboy of the digital music scene -- takes its turn to go before the RIAA and the courts and explain why it is so goddamned popular. The RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has -- in its wisdom -- decided to drag the software house through the courts as part of its plan to end MP3 Internet squatting and replace it with a format that will pay its bills.

This week Napster hears whether it must shut down or not. I personally can't see the RIAA being successful. Even if they manage to shut Napster down, there are Napster clones just queuing up round the block to take its place. The music watchdog, to put it mildly, is pissing in the wind.

Whatever the outcome this week the publicity it will attract is bound to be a catalyst for the ever-maturing digital music scene. As we move into the digital age, where music, photos, video are all slipping out of our hands and into the virtual world those people selling us the hard copies search around in vain for excuses as to why the digital revolution will never happen.

"People will always want to buy CDs because they like the physical experience of buying and owning them," is the kind of unimaginative and repetitive statement that is wearing a little bit thin by now. I personally do not get a great buzz out of wandering round Virgin or HMV trying to find the category I want (and always finding myself inexplicably back in the World Music section). Nor do I spend a great deal of time at home lovingly running my hands over my CD collection.

In fact the only thing, surprisingly, that I get a kick out of it listening to the music itself and what format it takes -- MP3, WAV or ingrained in one of Moses' holy tablets -- I don't really care.

While the people who sell CDs continue to believe they will be around for ever, there is no question in my mind that in ten years' time we will be saying how strange it is that our parents used a disc they actually had to pay for to play music.

But, whatever the music industry thinks of CDs, it is determined that its successor will not be MP3. The Napster case is not the first time the RIAA has gone to battle over what it sees as the evil of a format that is so easily copied and yet so difficult to copyright.

Like a religious crusader America's music industry has taken it upon itself to rid the Internet of the pernicious influence of MP3, starting with its high publicity attempt to ban the Rio player. Rio won, leaving an embarassed RIAA having to look elsewhere to give MP3 the kick in the balls it so dearly wanted to deliver.

And so it set up the SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) which is possibly one of the biggest disasters of all time. Set up to a fanfare of self-congratulation, SDMI has delivered less than a postman with no bag, letters or legs.

In the halls of SDMI the electronics manufacturers, the record labels and security firms continue to squabble like spoilt children over what format it can possibly make as popular as MP3 (after porn, MP3 is the most requested word on search engines -- proving if nothing else that we are not as obsessed with sex as we might have thought). So far it has failed to come up with anything.

But as the debate rages, more and more people are trying to distance themselves from the format that put digital music on the map. Rio no longer wants its players to be referred to as MP3 devices but as digital music players.

MP3, it seems, is the boy no-one wants to play with. If Napster is the naughty boy in school then its older brother MP3 is the kind of child even its mother can't make attractive. She can put him in his Sunday best and flatten his hair but at the end of the day he will still look like a dirty urchin with a catapult in his pocket.

But for those who continue to see MP3 as the ultimate in cool music distribution, there is also a note of caution. In the clubs of Ibiza -- Mecca to a generation who don't understand what the treble button on a stereo is for -- vinyl is still king. MP3 may be good but it ain't that good -- not yet.

And for those perceptive enough to remember the start of the article and wondering what could possibly be the point of a press trip to Ibiza well I will tell you -- to bring you the latest exclusives and up to date info about the digital music scene of course.

And in that spirit of exclusive investigatory journalism I can tell you.......

Ibiza is rocking!

Take me to the MP3 Special

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