March 10, 2021 | Is there a mass market for CD-R? If
so, its name is MP3. The fast-emerging standard for digital music
delivery, MP3 has arguably put CD-R on the map for millions of
Americans who might otherwise have remained unaware of the trials,
tribulations, and triumphs of burning their own CDs. For the record
industry, on the other hand, the arrival of digital music distribution
has opened many doors. Behind one there are new challenges for
protecting content that until recently seemed inviolate; behind
another lies a wealth of money-making opportunities. David Ulmer
has chosen door number two.
In October 1999, Ulmer founded Earjam.com to develop software
that would capitalize on the success of the Web-based music distribution
by bridging the gap between music providers and consumers. Ulmer,
Earjam's President and CEO, is no stranger to the CD-Recordable
business or to successful software launches. He is fresh from
the position of General Manger for the software products group
at Adaptec, makers of some of the best-known and well-respected
CD-R software--Toast and Easy CD Creator.
At Adaptec, Ulmer was at the forefront of the CD-Recordable
market, and was overwhelmed by the explosion of music available
over the Internet. But there was something missing: "Though PCs
make OK substitute stereos they weren't designed for that. I saw
an opportunity out there and left Adaptec to pursue it." At the
time, Ulmer says, average consumers had no way to locate music
online and record it for playback without having to become an
expert in CD-R technology.
"This is a complex problem, not as simple as putting out some
software and saying, you can play it on your RIO," says Ulmer.
"There are a number of different formats and players with no standards
and the end-user was being stepped on. We thought we'd go after
this problem and create a Universal Player and burner and that
would deal with all of these formats in the background, invisible
to the user."
With that idea was born Earjam.com and its first release, Earjam
IMP software. The IMP software manages the multitude of digital
distribution formats available, including MP3, Windows Media,
WAV and over a dozen others. All the user has to do is drag music
selections into the Earjam IMP, hit the burn button, choose a
destination device (like the Diamond RIO or a CD-R drive) and
the IMP does the ripping, unlocking, and transcoding. In Ulmer's
mind, this means users don't even have to be aware of the distinction
between a Liquid Audio file and an MP3 file, freeing them to locate
and purchase as many different types of music files as they wish
without benefit of any technical knowledge.
Locating files on the Web is another challenge altogether and
Ulmer tackles it with the Autobot feature of the Earjam IMP. Earjam.com
has teamed up with companies like EMusic.com, CDNow, and Myplay.com
(to name just a few) in an effort to make finding music manageable.
Ulmer says, "EMusic has some great music, and they also have a
problem. It is difficult for users to find specifically the music
they like, even at a site like theirs. Users were left randomly
clicking through the site until they get tired."
Earjam IMP's Autobot asks the user questions about his or her
musical taste, from general criteria like "I like Rock and Hip
Hop" to more emotional questions like, "I like angry women who
have an agenda." The Autobot then spiders across the Web and delivers
music links and graphics to the user's desktop where he or she
can preview, buy, download, and burn files. If the amount of files
burdens the user's hard drive, the IMP allows the user to send
all of those files to a 250MB "online locker" through an arrangement
Ulmer makes a clear distinction between Earjam's Autobot and
Myplay.com features and the controversial MYMP3 service. The Earjam
IMP allows users to store music they've purchased--on CD or online--at
Myplay.com. As a founding member of the Secure Digital Music Initiative
(SDMI), Ulmer takes the interests of the music business very seriously.
And he believes the music business is taking the issue of digital
distribution seriously as well. Ulmer says, "I don't think anyone
of us has any doubt that the future of music distribution is in
a digital format. The cost savings are too great to ignore: No
inventory costs, no shipping costs--I think we will see triple-digit
growth this year in online music sales." And, with Earjam.com,
Ulmer has positioned his company as a way for the music business
to deliver music safely and profitably into the hands of the average
The standard version of the Earjam IMP, which has full ripping
and burning capabilities, supports the Diamond Rio and Nomad MP3-players,
and offers periodic updates, is available for free download at
Earjam's site. A deluxe version, which will add such features
as megabass, equalizer, and environmental capabilities, is expected
out by the end of March and will sell for $29.