Earjam: Filling the Void

Earjam: Filling the Void – Company Business and Marketing

Michelle Manafy

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 different 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 manager 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 Audiobot 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 got tired.”

Earjam IMP’s Audiobot 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 Audiobot 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 3GB “online locker” through an arrangement with myplay.com.

Ulmer makes a clear distinction between Earjam’s Audiobot and myplay.com features, and the controversial My.MP3 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 any one 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 consumer.

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, will sell for $29.

(Earjam.com, 55 Almaden Boulevard, Suite 425, San Jose, CA 95113; 408/885-8740; Fax 408/885-8741; info@earjam.com; http://www.earjam.com)

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