- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2003


The recording industry, it seems, doesn’t hate absolutely everything about illicit music downloading.

Despite their legal blitzkrieg to stop online song-swapping, many music labels are benefiting from — and paying for — intelligence on the latest trends in Internet trading.

It’s a rich digital vein these recording executives are mining. By following the buzz online, they can determine where geographically to market specific artists for maximum profitability.

“The record industry has always been more about vibe and hype,” said Jeremy Welt, head of new media for Maverick Records in Los Angeles.

“For the first time, we’re making decisions based on what consumers are doing and saying, as opposed to just looking at radio charts.”

One company, Beverly Hills-based BigChampagne, began mining such data from popular peer-to-peer networks in 2000 and has built a thriving business selling it to recording labels.

The company — which takes its name from the Peter Tosh song lyric, “You drink your big champagne and laugh” — taps directly into file-sharing networks such as Kazaa’s FastTrack.

It checks on how often its clients’ artists show up in searches or how frequently their songs are downloaded.

The data can be sorted by market or geographical region.

BigChampagne also has a “TopSwaps” chart that ranks the most-shared songs. Rapper Eminem was first in a recent scan, his songs downloaded more than 8.6 million times in one day.

“Our hope was that we could take the technology revolution that Napster made popular and create tools for the benefit of copyright holders,” said Eric Garland, BigChampagne’s chief executive.

The bountiful market research is gleaned from behavior for which the music industry otherwise shows no tolerance. Hurt by a three-year decline in music sales, the industry has sued the major file-sharing networks, along with individuals who have used them.

“It wouldn’t be very smart if we weren’t looking at what they’re doing,” Mr. Welt said.

The file-sharing companies also are taking notice. This week, Altnet threatened legal action against nine companies, including BigChampagne, that it accused of violating patents on file-identifying technology. BigChampagne denies using the Altnet technology or playing any role in helping recording companies identify users for lawsuits.

BigChampagne has certainly done well by file-swapping. It formed in July 2000, just as the Internet boom was beginning to bust, and now counts Maverick, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., Disney and Atlantic Records among its clients. All the major labels have worked with BigChampagne “in one capacity or another,” Mr. Garland said.

Traditionally, labels had relied for market research largely on commercial radio, MTV and music store sales.

“It’s the most vast and scalable sample audience that the world has ever seen,” Mr. Garland said.

BigChampagne data are essentially a tally of what millions of music fans are doing every hour.

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