Mindawn offers DRM-free music downloads
Mindawn is a new online music download service that differs from Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes Music Store and other services in a few ways: It's not only compatible with Macs and PCs but with Linux computers too, its music is available in a lossless format, and there are no Digital Rights Management (DRM) restrictions. Mindawn launched in September and is picking up steam, according to its founder.
Mindawn -- with a specialty in progressive rock, or prog-rock -- is not the first online independent music download service to offer multi-platform support and music without DRM. But unlike its competitors, Mindawn supports Free Lossless Audio Codec, or FLAC, an open-source encoding scheme which reduces the size of audio files to about 50 percent of their CD size without reducing the quality of the audio. Also, Mindawn features full song previews instead of short clips.
Mindawn makes its catalog available through a Web site, and also uses a small client application that runs on Mac OS X, Windows and Linux to enable users to listen to full-length song demos and to purchase and download music. The Mac version of that application hadn't been made available as MacCentral posted this article, but is expected in the next couple of days.
Born of frustration
Mindawn is the brainchild of Shawn Gordon, a musician and programmer who founded theKompany.com, a software developer best known for creating embedded applications that run on Sharp's Linux-based Zaurus handheld computers. Gordon also owns an independent progressive rock music label called ProgRock Records and an Internet radio station called ProgRock.com, so it was a logical progression for him to create a digital music download service.
"I got really irritated by how artists were being treated, and I really love progressive rock," Gordon told MacCentral. "It's also really amazing what artists can do at home now. A guy with a synthesizer and a sequencer can create his own music that sounds really good, upload it and sell it. We're in the middle of a paradigm shift that's as important as when we went to CDs from vinyl."
Gordon also notes that he tried unsuccessfully to get his own label signed to iTunes, when Apple began negotiating with independent record labels. "We submitted the paperwork [to Apple] and never heard back," said Gordon.
While many of the 1,000 or so tracks now featured on the service are progressive rock artists and labels -- including content from his own label -- Gordon said that Mindawn sports an expanding library of music from other genres as well -- everything from religious music to pop, adult contemporary and more. The Mindawn Web site features a broad number of categories to choose from, though Gordon admits that not every category has been populated.
Gordon's also very proud of Mindawn's direct support of Linux users -- something no other service has done, he said.
FLAC is an open-source project that has spawned dozens of compatible encoders, players and hardware devices. Gordon explained that the use of an open format like FLAC enables users to do what they want with their music once they download it, without paying a penalty in sound quality.
Apple also has a lossless encoding scheme called Apple Lossless Audio Codec (ALAC) which is now supported by the iPod, in QuickTime and iTunes. FLAC and ALAC are not the same, though support for FLAC is growing on the Macintosh with players like Mplayer and VLC.
FLAC is supported using Mindawn's forthcoming Mac client software, of course. With that player in hand, Mac users will have an easier time getting their music to their iPod or burnt onto a CD, Gordon explained.
"Our software features a bulk decompress mechanism, so you can convert the music from FLAC to AIFF [Audio Interchange File Format]. Once it's in AIFF, you can convert it to any other file format you'd like, including lossy ones like AAC or MP3."
Gordon said that Mindawn is coordinating with portable music player manufacturers to have FLAC playback added to their devices.
Mindawn also has a FLAC "ripping" application called Mindawn Audio Ripping Software, or MARS, which is already available for Mac OS X. This application is intended for artists or labels who want to convert their files to FLAC audio in preparation for making it available for download through Mindawn.
Files protected by DRM technology have restrictions on how many times they can be burned to a CD as part of a playlist, how many computers they can be played on or which portable digital music players they can used with. Files purchased through Mindawn are free of DRM, so they have no such restrictions.
Premium quality, premium pricing
Gordon said that Mindawn sees about a 10 to 1 difference between the size of FLAC and Ogg files. Because FLAC files occupy more space and require more bandwidth to download than Ogg files, they represent a considerably higher cost of resources. So there is a difference in the price of a song encoded in Ogg Vorbis song : 99 cents, like the iTunes Music Store, compared to $1.24 for the same file in FLAC format. Most albums are priced at $6.99 for Ogg, or $8.99 for FLAC.
Gordon's own interest in progressive rock also comes into play in Mindawn's pricing. Prog-rock is a genre that's sometimes marked by complicated compositions that can stretch for 15 or 20 minutes or longer. Mindawn's pricing is set to scale with these magnum opuses -- $1.24 is the flat rate for any song that lasts 10 minutes or less, but users may be expected to pay a bit more for the real long stuff.
Making Mindawn as easy as possible for the artist to use was of key importance to Gordon. There's little point in having a service without any content.
"There are more independent artists than signed artists out there, so part of our job is to help get the word out to them as best we can," he said. Once the artist is there, Gordon hopes he or she will like what they see.
Mindawn's royalty scheme rewards the artist with 75 percent of what's made from selling their music, if they're willing to give Mindawn exclusive rights as their online service. Mindawn offers artists who have their music on other services a 55 percent royalty deal. Mindawn pays out royalties monthly to artists using eBay's popular electronic payment service PayPal. PayPal is also available for customers.
There's no approval process. Artists simply pay a modest registration fee -- $50, according to Gordon -- and can have their music ready for purchase as soon as they upload it. Artists can also work out additional arrangements with Mindawn to promote and market their music.
Gordon's own ProgRock Records is represented on Mindawn, of course. Other labels that have signed up include DVS Records, UBP International, OtterSong Records, Lion Music, Record Heaven, Big Balloon Music, Fading Ways Music and more.