Record labels band together for Puretracks service

Moontaxi Media Inc. Tuesday launched Puretracks, a pay-per-song music service aimed at the Canadian market. Most of the 175,000 songs in its catalogue — there will be 300,0000 by

the end of the year — are available for 99 cents a download, or $9.99 per album. All prices are Canadian.

The company has partnered with major record companies and a number of independent labels on the content side, and will white-label the service through retaillers, radio stations and ISPs.

According to co-CEO Alistair Mitchell, the company asked consumers what they wanted from an online music service. A year of research with pollsters Pollara Inc. revealed recurring themes. Canadian consumers want their downloads to be burnable and portable, superior quality to dodgy P2P files, secure virus-free systems, simplicity and selections. Oh, and they want the artists to get paid, too.

Moontaxi has been in the music programming and distribution business since 1999 — if you fly Air Canada and opt to tune out yet another Adam Sandler in-flight movie, you’ll hear its programming — but this is its first direct-to-consumer download foray.

“”We’ve always had to manage media files,”” said Norm Crooks, Moontaxi’s vice-president of technology, moments after the service went live at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Now, however, it’s a question of handling 10 times the number of media files the company handles for its online radio services.

Shortly after the launch, Crooks said he was monitoring about 20 requests a second. “”At that volume, you’re talking about 40 million hits a month”” — a number he expects to climb. A campaign billboards is scheduled for Toronto and Vancouver, while TV and radio ads will run nationally. The service will also be plugged on Google and Crooks figures the system can handle about 200 million hits a month.

Content files reside on a five-terabyte storage area network with 80 Mbps throughput. A five-server Web cluster handles the front end, while load-balanced file servers deliver the encrypted file and the digital rights management (DRM) licence.

One major accomplishment, according to Crooks, is the fact that the DRM rules are the same across the board, whether the content is from a major label like BMG or an indie like True North. Each download can be burned three times, the licence can be backed up to restore the file after a computer upgrade and it can be ported over an unlimited number of portable devices — as long as they’re not iPods. The service is based on Microsoft Corp.‘s Windows Media 9 format. Moontaxi looked at running the service on Apple standards, Crooks said, but “”we think in terms of the whole experience, Windows Media is a better format.””

Microsoft worked with Moontaxi to develop the service. “”It took a while to get on their radar screen,”” Crooks said, but once on board, Redmond provided access to enginners who thoroughly understood the DRM engine.

The files aren’t much bigger than an MP3 file, but have wider audio range and a fuller sound, according to Crooks. (Indeed, at the media launch, a 4.5MB tune by Jim Bryson blasted from a sizeable audio system in CD quality.) The Windows Media 9 format is encoded at 192 kbps, as opposed to the more common 128-kbps encoding. While that makes for bigger files, that’s less of an issue now that players with 60 to 80 GB of storage are common, Crooks said.


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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a technology journalist with more than 15 years' experience. He has edited numerous technology publications including Network World Canada, ComputerWorld Canada, Computing Canada and eBusiness Journal. He now runs content development shop Dweeb Media.

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