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Ahead of his time… August 15, 2020

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

TonyWilson that is. Reading this piece in the Guardian about his early 2000s online music venture, music33 where MP3s would be sold on the internet, it’s difficult not to concur with a quote at the end of the piece that notes:

Yet his pioneering role in the digital music adventure deserves recognition. For Allison, the spirit of music33 lives on in Bandcamp, not iTunes. “Because they’ve worked out a way for artists to keep their work and still turn a profit. Such business thinking didn’t exist at the time. Wilson was way ahead but there was no structure for his ideas. He was like Nostradamus.”

One does not have to buy into his often robust myth-making (on his own part) to feel that this was one time he was well ahead of the curve. Unfortunately, despite the logo (design by Peter Saville – natch!) and some money, the tech wasn’t quite up there with the ambition. The description of what was on offer is both charming and indicative of why it didn’t actually work.

Arriving in summer 2000, music33 developed a barmy way of protecting clients’ tracks. Songs purchased came in a PDF; users tapped in a password to play the music. “I’m still trying to understand it even now,” Clarke chuckles. Pre-broadband dial-up internet was so slow that “you’d plug in a modem to download one track, which could take 15 minutes,” says Clarke. Music33 featured a little robot avatar named Howie, who explained how to use the site. Wilson’s plan to get Keith Allen to do its voice never came off.

Worse there was no means at the time of making ‘micro-payments’ of the 33 pence a track might cost, and it took ages to download a music file, and there weren’t great MP3 players and on it went.

But the fact it was tried at all is fascinating (and of course it wasn’t the only one) and hardly surprising Apple with vast resources and know-how swept in on both the supply side and the player side relatively shortly afterwards.

But the point about music being payable to musicians is particularly well made. And a thought, on Wilson’s wiki page, this project wasn’t mentioned prior to the Guardian article. I have the vaguest of memories of it myself.


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