Muze CEO talks iTunes Music Store, retail music's future

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Much of the information content of Apple's iTunes Music Store is provided by Muze Inc., a source of entertainment product information for music, books, videos and games. And the company's founder and CEO, Paul Zullo, feels that the online music experience will only improve in the days ahead.

"Apple has integrated the best entertainment technology with Muze's comprehensive entertainment information -- from song titles to essential artist bios -- to create a fun and easy way to discover and enjoy music," he told MacCentral.

Apple licenses Muze's database solutions for both the Mac and Windows versions of the iTunes Music Store. The company developed the first database for digital recordings in the 80s when CDs first took center stage in the retail music market.

"As the music universe is migrating to downloadable music, our database is the most accurate reflection of what the recordings are, who the artists are, and what the connections between these artists and recordings are," Zullo said.

He explained that Muze's databases provide several services to Apple for the iTunes Music Store: One is a basic list of recordings that can be searched in various ways. Another is a list of essential files of "canon" artists whose work has been appreciated by public over a number of years and albums.

"We offer their biographies, as well as a look at the artists' careers parsed into different periods," Zullo said. "We have books and video complements to this collection. Muze also provides a full set of biographies of virtually all artists (approximately 15,000) beyond the 'canon' artists."

Muze also provides Apple and other companies with information on how different artists have influenced each other and are interconnected. For instance, their database has info on "artists that influenced U2" and "artists that followed U2."

Zullo -- who was a radio producer 25 years ago and an early adopter of CD technology -- sees the future of music as a mixture of physical formats such as CDs and downloadable music. He feels that CDs will be around for years to come as a high-quality sound carrier. Other formats such as SACDs (Super Audio CDs) and DVDs will also do well, he said. In fact, a great deal of classical music is being released on DVDs.

"Plus, many artists are covering all the bases," Zullo said. "For example, Bob Dylan was one of the first to have his catalog available at the iTunes Music Store. But many of his albums are now being released as SACDs. Eventually, I think we'll see the day where we'll be able to encode and decode on our computers with the highest playback possible."

With the world seeing the "true digitization of music," Muze is working to make the shopping and owning experiences of the online music store better. For example, one long-time complaint against the CD is that it hurt the artwork that once accompanied the vinyl album. The smaller size of the CD hampered great album covers, fold-outs and other graphics, Zullo said

"Now there's no reason why such things can't be offered with downloadable music," he explained. "Basically, they won't increase the 'weight' or the cost of online music. Muze is working on systems that help aggregate and normalize graphics material so it can be part of the downloadable music experience. We're hoping to make such material available on the album, or even the song, level. It's a question of cooperating with the record companies and artists and putting the graphics into a regular format."

Muze is also working on merchandising ideas to make online shopping more akin to a "good experience" in a brick-and-mortar store, Zullo said. The company hopes to work with Apple on this, he added.

"We're excited to be working with Apple, because they do things very, very well," Zullo said. "The computing and digital music experience is just a little bit different working on a Mac. For instance, if you objectively look at functionality, it's just more seamless on a Mac."

This story, "Muze CEO talks iTunes Music Store, retail music's future" was originally published by PCWorld.

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