Interview with Paul Schatzkin of Songs.Com, producer of "The Best of Independent American Music", at the 1998 North East Folk Alliance in Split Rock, PA - November 15, 1998, aired on Folk Plus, November 21.

Angela: I'm talking with Paul Schatzkin and he is from Songs.Com from Nashville Tennessee. Paul, will you just explain a little bit about what you do?

Paul: Very simply we build web pages and sell CD's for independent artists.

Angela: And...give me an example of this huge mega disk that you have come out with that is all the talk on the Internet websites and listserves that I follow.

Paul: We have used a compression format which is all the rage on the Internet now called MP3, stands for MPEG1 Layer 3. It is a way of compressing audio files into a fraction of their original size so that we were able to get 152 full songs in CD quality on a single disk. It's actually a CD ROM and it comes with a software programme(1) that decodes the compressed files and a data base management programme that shows you the names of all the tracks all the artists all the albums that the tracks are from. You can build playlists on the screen with the computer software and then listen to a selection of the tracks from the CD ROM.

Angela: Now, who can actually use this? What kind of hardware would they need? They can just pull you up on Songs.Com and find out about this?

Paul: They can pull us up on Songs.Com or MP3.Songs.Com for a little more detailed information. The disk is regrettably Windows 95 or 98 compatible. There is no Mac component to the software that is on the disk, though the files themselves are accessible with any of the Mac based MP3 players which are available all over the Internet. The power required is probably the equivalent of a Pentium 100 [MHz] with 16 megabytes of RAM. That's not hard to come by these days.

Angela: So if someone were to just listen straight, how many hours is this?

Paul: It would be about 10 1/2 hours.

Angela: So they have this on their hard drive? And they can just listen, having it run all day while they are cooking and doing laundry....

Paul: We do like to say that this is the most music ever released on a single CD and so far nobody has challenged us on that.... what was the 2nd part of the question?

Angela: Uh...what was the 2nd part of the question?

Paul: You asked about..?

Angela: Well they can just have it run while they are doing their daily chores?

Paul: Exactly.

Angela: It can just repeat itself. It can be their favorite radio station for a few weeks.

Paul: Or they can build playlists. As I say, the database programme makes it sortable. So if there is particular kind of music that you might want to have in a particular situation - dinner music, romantic music, dance music - well - there's not a lot of dance music [on this compilation] you can programme it, sort it and then build playlists of that particular music.

Angela: Actually, for anything I'd want to play on Folk Plus, I can just programme two hours worth.

Paul: That's right.

Angela: Just punch buttons and...this is a whole new...

Paul: There is nothing to prevent you from using this CD product as an input for your radio station. Just use it on a laptop computer maybe, plug the sound card of the computer into the board at the radio station and yes, you could build a playlist for your radio show by simply dragging the titles that you want into the playlist window and then those tracks would play. The audience would not be able to tell that it was coming from anything other than a CD.

Angela: So, this must be the way we are all going? I can take anything I do play, dump them somewhere on a hard drive and programme my whole show that way and probably that's what we will be doing in the future.

Paul: This is very analogous to what people are used to doing with their CD, or collection of CD's, take one or two tracks from the CD, put it on a cassette and take the cassette with them in the car. You can do the same thing with this. You can take the MP3 files and put them on a Zip drive and get perhaps 30 tracks on a Zip drive. And there is portable MP3 technology just around the corner. The Diamond Multimedia Company that makes video cards and audio cards for computers is going to have a consumer electronics device at the end of November [98] based on MP3 technology. [This will be a] totally solid state player with no moving parts playing CD quality tracks. So that is the first expression really of what I think may be a new dimension of audio delivery. I can see in the new future a home stereo component that is basically a hard drive and a dedicated processor and you'll build collections based on your CD collection on that hard drive.

Angela: We were at a workshop just now and a lot of artists were torn about wondering if this was a good thing or a bad thing because of the accessibility of people to their music and get it for free. They can download it, have it, and artists haven't earned a cent from it. Then again, I'm thinking that we do that now. Somebody may tape my radio show(2) programme, the whole two hours. I can't stop them, and there is no money changing hands, but the music is getting out there and isn't that the ultimate goal?

Paul: That's it exactly! I think copy protection is a myth. CD's are not copy protected. The concern about being able to make a digital copy I think is ill advised because a copy is a copy. If I can make an analog copy of a cassette it's just an expression of a higher state of technology than if I make a digital copy. We were fortunate after we did this MP3 CD to be invited to include a selection of tracks in a future issue of PC magazine. A CD ROM is going to be included in the December 1st issue which will be on newsstands...

Angela: (laughing since it is only Nov. 14th and knowing how magazines work) Now!

Paul: Well, no, I guess it is the December 15th issue which will be on newsstands December 1st. I'm not sure of the exact dates. It will be a CD ROM bundled with the newsstand copies. We expect that that will have about 400,000 copies in circulation of 10 of the tracks from our selection. One of the artists who I invited to participate with that expressed the reservation that you're describing. "You know, there's gonna be free copies of my music circulating!" I said "Caroline, how many gigs do you have to play, how many miles do you have to travel before 400,000 people will hear one of your songs?" That is the first mission for any musician, to get your music heard. I think there is great value in the ability to give somebody a sample of a CD, which is what a song is, so that they can listen to it over and over again until it gets burned into their consciousness to the point that they want to know more about the artist and perhaps want to buy a CD. So, I think the promotional possibilities greatly outweigh the copy considerations.

Angela: Well, there are whole bunch of legal issues involved now that we just couldn't think of before these technologies existed. Who owns what and where does it go...

Paul: Yeah, and we are trying to be careful to honor all the copyrights. On the MP3 CD that we have done , our arrangements with all the artists on it is such that if we are able to sell more than 2,000 [copies] at a purchase price of 30 bucks, there is 11 dollars build into the purchase price so that after 2,000 copies we will be able to pay the mechanical royalties for the use of the composition.

Angela: Well it is fascinating. It is where we are going and it is probably news to a lot of people listening right now. Anything else you want to say to wrap up this interview?

Paul: Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to your listeners.

Angela: Thanks Paul


Back on the air:

Angela: And here are three quotes to help you keep an open mind about these possibilities.

The first is from Ken Olsen, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977 "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home"

The second is from Bill Gates in 1981: "640K ought to be enough for anybody"

Finally, this as a response to David Sarnoff in the 1920's trying to gain investment in the radio: "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular"

So, all of you nobody-in-particulars out there are listening to WJFF, hydro-powered public radio.

This is Angela Page and this is Folk Plus.


1. Because of my English/Canadian upbringing, I am more comfortable with this spelling.

2. In fact, tape my weekly shows and send them to Christine Lavin and she tosses them out at her shows. Find out more about the Folk Plus Cassette Chain Club.