The company behind the popular RealAudio music format hopes to immerse millions of computer users in MP3 and other near-CD-quality music formats with its RealJukebox, which launched early Monday (May 3). Free tracks by the Offspring and Public Enemy already are available for the new player.
"When there's that much interest on the Internet, I want it to be something that we address and actively participate in," Offspring singer Dexter Holland said. The California punk band is offering "Beheaded" -- from its 1989 self-titled debut -- in the a2b format exclusively through RealNetworks' site.
The company also has an a2b version of the new Public Enemy single, "Do You Wanna Go Our Way???" -- from the album There's a Poison Goin' On, due May 19 on the Internet label Atomic Pop -- along with links to dozens of songs by Eminem, George Clinton, the Reverend Horton Heat, the Donnas and others (at
The free RealJukebox software will "really explode this market [and] pave the way for legitimate music online," predicted Alex Alben, vice president of RealNetworks' Music Group.
RealJukebox allows listeners to play songs and record them from CDs in both the MP3 and RealAudio G2 formats. It also lets users play songs in the copyright-secure a2b format, and the company expects to announce more supported technologies in the months ahead.
RealNetwork executives said that by offering the new program to the 60 million registered users of their existing RealAudio and RealVideo software, they hope to make RealJukebox the standard for listening to, recording and organizing music on a computer.
To calm the music industry's fears about online piracy, RealJukebox is set by default to record songs from CD in a secure mode, although that feature can be turned off. When the feature is on, songs are encrypted and tethered to an individual's copy of RealJukebox, preventing the music from being posted online or sent to others by e-mail.
Real plans to introduce watermarking for files in the months ahead, so that if the other security measures are skirted, a distributed song can be traced back to the original recorder.
"When the labels [realize], 'Everybody has this player, and this player supports various security mechanisms that we like,' then I think that's just going to accelerate putting legitimate content on the Web," Alben said. "We think we're helping labels to grow this new market."
Holland said the Offspring offered "Beheaded" as a reaction to seeing numerous unauthorized online postings of "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" (RealAudio excerpt) and other recent hits.
"Downloading one song is a cool thing, but it's part of the bigger picture," Holland said. "I really want to be involved with our audience through the Internet."
The Offspring's most recent album, Americana, is currently #7 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The band appears playing "Beheaded" in the recently released teen movie "Idle Hands."
While the music industry has been slow to embrace the online distribution of music, several recent deals suggest major labels' trepidation may be dissolving. Last week Alanis Morissette, who won two 1999 Grammy Awards for her song "Uninvited" (RealAudio excerpt), announced that music site MP3.com would help sponsor her summer tour. Morissette and co-headliner Tori Amos will both issue an unreleased track online in an as-yet-undetermined format.
Analyst Mark Hardie said RealNetworks' broad user base will help expand the number of people using their computers for music needs, but won't necessarily draw the music industry online any faster.
"Their reach is important in terms of starting the consumer conversion over to acquiring music digitally," Hardie said. "[But] the reach is not what convinces the music industry. The music industry recognizes it's in a period of transition toward digital delivery, and the fact that applications exist that are likely to be broadly deployed helps in their decision-making process. But it's not the only thing."
"There's still concern about the whole idea of downloading," said an executive at one major label imprint. "It's not about the equipment yet; at least that's not what I'm hearing. It's not about, 'Oh my God, they have this player, it's going to blow the whole world open.' "
Unlike other recording programs, RealJukebox lets the user listen to music as it's being converted into a downloadable format.
Songs recorded at 96 kilobits per second in Real format take up less space on a computer hard drive than songs recorded in MP3 at the same rate, Alben said, although many MP3 recorder programs use 128 kbps, a higher standard, as their default setting.
On the free version of RealJukebox launched Monday, the highest recording rate is 96 kbps. An expanded RealJukebox Plus, with higher recording rates, will be offered for sale eventually.
A version of the free program for Macintosh computers also is planned, though no release date has been set, according to a RealNetworks representative.
The company plans to announce deals with manufacturers of portable MP3 players. The first, scheduled for unveiling Monday, is a partnership with Thompson Multimedia, which will release a portable player for both MP3 and RealAudio G2 files in October, Alben said.