It’s not surprising Arnold Brown is sitting on top of one of the Internet’s most popular digital music download sites. He’s always blazed his own trails-from his undergraduate days at Harvard University, where he doled out soulful vocals as lead singer in a local band-to founder and CEO of
Mjuice.com. The start-up, based in San Francisco’s famous Audio Alley, uses the increasingly popular MP3 digital audio compression format that allows end-users to select musical tracks from various artists and download them to their PCs.
MP3 (MPEG Audio Layer 3) compresses audio so that it requires less than 1 MB of disc space per minute to store. That makes MP3 files quick to download-about 10 minutes with a 56 Kbps modem-and easy to store on hard disk. It’s that combination of high-quality sound and ease of downloading that has sparked the MP3 explosion, attracting musicians, record labels and fans alike to the Internet.
It was just a few years ago that MP3 was nothing more than one of many audio compression formats. At the time, Brown, who holds a doctor of law degree from the University of California at Berkeley, was enjoying a thriving legal career representing technology start-up companies. But every now and then, says Brown, a new product sprouts while the world isn’t watching, and that’s what MP3 was doing. He had the foresight to recognize the trend and to capitalize on it in late 1997. “I could see clearly that people were moving in the direction of wanting to get high-quality audio over the Internet,” he says.
But while the masses were flocking to the Net for cheap or free downloadable music, other forces were at work trying to stop the growing craze. Internet sites using MP3 drew fire from the Recording Industry Association of America for online piracy. MP3’s lack of security infringed on copyright protection and prevented artists and their labels from receiving revenue from pirated and transferable digital files.
Bypassing a potential roadblock, Brown and his crew (which has grown to 30 employees) devised a secure MP3 downloadable technology. Mjuice.com is steadily becoming recognized by industry gurus as one of the Web’s most secure MP3 retail sites.
“What was necessary was an evolution of the early stuff that was happening,” Brown says. “We wanted to add security to compressed audio files. We wanted to make it so people couldn’t pirate copyrighted materials.” By adding copyright protection to MP3 files, Mjuice.com curried favor and won acceptance from independent and major record labels, which began distributing their artists’ files and doing promotions on Mjuice’s site.
One of the first prominent distribution arrangements Mjuice.com brokered was with Sean “Puffy” Combs and his Bad Boy Entertainment. Mjuice.com now has deals with roughly 70 major and independent record labels, including DreamWorks, Atlantic, Elektra and Loud Records. It has acquired a library of 30,000 downloadable songs. Artists range from the Stone Temple Pilots and Third Eye Blind to Mobb Deep and Mos Def, with 100 to 200 new tracks, on average, coming in daily.
Deals with recording artists