MP3.com closes its browser

Dec. 2 was doomsday for independent music. As of noon Tuesday, Mp3.com closed its server and deleted its roughly 750,000 files, marking the end of the largest catalogue of free Internet downloads from hundreds of thousands of unsigned bands, as well as downloadable tracks from an array of artists on Universal Records, the site's former owner.

Recently purchased by CNET Networks, Inc., Mp3.com was a haven for both music makers and music listeners. For independent groups, it offered an environment conducive for up-and-coming artists and more regionally established groups to expand to different communities. After news of the sale broke, Mp3.com sent out an e-mail to all of the bands and users on the Web site instructing them to remove their files, because CNET intended to delete everything and start over from scratch.

The site, which was organized by genre, also offered lists of the artists with the greatest number of downloads in every fathomable musical category, bios of different artists as well as links to a number of sites, all to aid users in finding new bands.

For artists, the site also offered the chance to get their music into the computers of music label A&R types and onto the desks of show promoters. Being owned by Universal Records also enabled bands to be linked from artists under Universal's ever-growing roster, further connecting listeners to new artists similar to all of their favorite established acts.

Though Mp3.com was the largest source of free music from new artists, some record labels and independent entrepreneurs have implemented similar sites. One of the most heralded at the moment is Weed, a service provided by Seattle-based Shared Media Licensing, Inc. Weed, which encourages downloads, provides formatted songs that can be played three times for free before the user is asked to purchase or download the song, is also revolutionizing a new profit-sharing approach. Essentially, when a file is purchased, an initial percentage goes to the artist and the server, while the remaining percent is broken down between people who downloaded the song before.

Other options for upcoming artists are being provided by both Warner Bros. Records and Epitaph Records. Epitaph Records' Web site, www.epitaph.com, offers an area to upload bands' songs and have visitors review and rate them. Also, Warner Bros. Records offers www.flypaper.com, which is designed for the college crowd, and allows people to upload songs in a similar fashion.

With the fall of Mp3.com, the single largest music Web site's flame has been passed on to a new generation of upload/download sites. From record labels like Epitaph and Warner Bros. to conceptual upstarts like Weed, it seems as if the ashes of Mp3.com might be more fruitful than the site was in its prime.

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