Roll over, Beethoven

A revolution in the music business may be brewing right here in the quiet neighborhood of Montford. At least that’s what the creators of JukeboxAlive — a new Asheville-based multimedia network service on the Web — have in mind.

Of course, a shake-up of sorts has been under way ever since the Internet burst on the scene. The growing access to all kinds of music made possible by the Web and related developments is slowly encroaching on the hammerlock that record companies and radio stations have long had on what most of us get to hear.

But the folks at JukeboxAlive aim to take this transformation to the next generation, as lead programmer Jack Senechal puts it.

The site, explains Senechal, “provides a central resource for both musicians and listeners … [and] creates an environment online that will tie together all the different technologies that have been emerging on the Web.”

Seven months after the site was launched, a few features are still being fine-tuned. But already, a visitor to www.jukeboxalive.com can search for music by artist or record label, genre or subgenre, region, venue, musical instrument (whether you’re looking for a song that uses the saxophone, say, or the bouzouki), or even by adjectives (for example, are you in the mood for something “brooding,” “satirical,” “spiritual” or “sexy”?).

After zeroing in on an artist, all it takes is a couple of clicks to listen to their songs or watch music videos — with no downloading required. Patrons can also check out an artist’s profile, search for more music while they continue listening, and even create personalized play lists. And if visitors find an artist they really like, they can order a CD online, pay to download MP3s, or link to a venue where the artist is performing and purchase tickets.

What’s more, once the “Jukebox Community” feature comes online, site visitors will also be able to post their own profiles, chat with one another and share play lists.

One of the company’s innovations is a way of streaming audio that makes it difficult to download illegally, explains Music and Media Coordinator Will Cumberland. The multipronged approach utilizes a “non-caching digital stream,” a secured server system, and a Macromedia Flash code in its media player. (JukeboxAlive is seeking a patent on the process.)

And though Cumberland concedes that the system isn’t foolproof, circumventing it does take some time and technological know-how. Besides, he notes, “We’re continually adding different plates to the armor.”

For their part, musicians and promoters have complete control over both the number of songs they make available to listeners and the content of their profile page. They can post photos, upload videos of their shows, provide their tour schedule, and even get feedback on music they haven’t released commercially yet.

“There are other sites promoting music and musicians, and other sites where you can hear music,” explains JukeboxAlive founder Lonnie LePore. “But there is no other site where you can search and create a play list where the musicians’ work is being protected. Musicians feel comfortable joining and putting their music out there, as opposed to other sites where … it’s going to get downloaded and people don’t have to buy it.”

Easy listening

So far, about 200 artists representing a wide variety of genres have signed on. A lot of them are local, including pop/rock band DrugMoney, hip-hop powerhouse Granola Funk Express, bluegrass/jazz fusion band Snake Oil Medicine Show, New Age/jazz composer Richard Shulman and spoken-word artist James Nave.

Fiddler Caroline Pond of Snake Oil Medicine Show calls the site “very user-friendly … a great way to listen to music of all types. And I love that they’re combining the smaller guys with the bigger guys.”

Cumberland agrees. “It’s designed to level the playing field between … professional musicians [who] have management, booking and label resources and … the artist that’s trying to get their music out there. It provides a place where you can hear the music that’s popular … as well as be exposed to independent artists [who] have musical talents that are comparable to larger names.”

And thanks to streaming audio, JukeboxAlive visitors can also explore a broad range of “radio stations” representing record labels, genres (such as Hip Hop Radio and Contra Radio), regions (Asheville Radio and New York Radio), and venues (LEAF Radio and Orange Peel Radio). On Orange Peel Radio, for example, visitors can hear artists who’ve played at the club in the past as well as those booked for upcoming shows.

The idea, explains Marketing Director Bryan Hudson, “is to have an October Orange Peel Radio and an October Orange Peel Video Jukebox [streaming video], so that … [visitors] can get a good idea of every single band coming that next month, and they can say, ‘Well, that band entertained me and that band entertained me. I’m going to buy a ticket — and I can buy it right here on JukeboxAlive.”

Lesley Groetsch, who co-owns The Orange Peel with her husband, Jack, says: “Lonnie and his crew have hit upon a much-needed service in the music business. Allowing people access to the music they love without compromising the artist’s ownership of the music is the future of the music business. It’s great that we can offer this to our customers and our bands via JukeboxAlive.” The club, adds Groetsch, has received “a lot of feedback from bands that think it’s a great opportunity.”

The site is also attracting well-known artists from farther afield, including reggae pioneer Burning Spear, pianist June de Toth, and Aquimini, the record label recently launched by Outkast’s Andre “3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton (the hip-hop duo who racked up three Grammys at this year’s awards). JukeboxAlive patrons can not only check out the music of Killer Mike — the only Aquimini artist with a finished project — but also albums by Scar and Koncrete that are still in production.

“Since you can’t steal it, they’re happy to do their promotions through us,” says Hudson.

A global music community

JukeboxAlive is actually an offshoot of ByRegion.net, an online directory LePore launched four years ago to help people learn about and connect with holistic healers all over the world. Since then, the business has grown from four employees to 20 while adding numerous enhancements, such as video and audio streaming. Recently the site added artists’ pages and community pages, so that visitors can search not only for healers and artists but also for plumbers, auto mechanics, architects or any other specialist they’re seeking — an “audio-visual Yellow Pages for the whole planet,” as Hudson calls it.

Like ByRegion.net, JukeboxAlive is free to visitors. Revenue, explains Cumberland, will come from the fees artists pay to be listed on the site ($4 a month, or $48 for 18 months), a limited amount of spot advertising, paid newsletters, and a percentage of CD and MP3 sales.

But with so much music readily available on JukeboxAlive, what incentive will site visitors have to actually pay for it?

“In order for the music to be available on home stereo, car stereo, MP3 players, etc., it needs to be purchased,” notes Cumberland. “People are more likely to buy music that they hear on the radio; the same is true for JukeboxAlive. … Additionally, through JukeboxAlive, listeners are buying direct from the artist, which is an attractive bonus to many people. In general, our experience has been that the more music is heard, the more it will be bought — and we make the listening and purchasing experience convenient.”

Talk with just about anyone at JukeboxAlive and the word “community” invariably comes up — whether it’s the community they live in, the extended musical “communities” they hope to foster, or the potential communities of listeners who can turn one another on to good music.

“We’re trying to build community,” says LePore. “Bring people together from all around the world who share similar ideas. Our philosophy is as important to us as making a living at this. We all want to make a living, of course — we have to support ourselves — but we love what we do, and it’s the community part of it, helping people and doing positive things, that’s important to us.”

Mountain Xpress asked local media entrepreneur David McConville, who founded the Media Arts Project and co-founded the West Asheville-based Black Box Studio, to check out JukeboxAlive and give us his take on it.

“All in all, JukeboxAlive has a lot of potential, if they can continue to develop both regionally and genre-oriented community,” he observes. “I’m impressed by the thoroughness and ambitious goals of the site, even though I’d like to see it further developed.

“I’m glad they’ve launched it in Asheville, since we’ve got so many great independent musicians that could use affordable promotion,” he adds. “I get the sense that they’re really halfway there, working out their business model as they add more functionality to the site. It all makes sense — as long as they can keep the audience hooked enough to buy CDs and purchase show tickets.

Hudson, meanwhile, believes that within a year or so, some technology company will offer a hand-held device that utilizes Flash technology. At that point, he says, JukeboxAlive users will be able to listen to one of the site’s radio stations — or a personalized play list — as they go about their day.

“Then, when they hear a song they like,” he explains, “they pull it out of their pocket, they watch a couple of the music videos … they buy a ticket for that show, they buy the CD, they download an MP3 — right there, all in one.”

“That’s what we’re preparing for,” says Hudson. “Basically, instant access to everything and everybody music.”

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