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Streamwaves has its eye on void left by Napster

Published Aug. 31, 2005

Three doors down from the Gypsy Tea Room in Deep Ellum, Texas, Jeff Tribble is hatching his plot for world domination.

Inside a former furniture showroom, the 39-year-old chief executive of Streamwaves.com stands in front of a giant mural of American recording artists.

"This," Tribble said with a sweep of his hand across a vacant expanse of cement floor, "will be a focal point of the music scene."

He's not talking about the local grunge and rave halls that line Deep Ellum. With backing from partners including Tom Hicks and Emmitt Smith, Tribble has quietly crafted a business positioned to become a leading supplier of popular music streamed over the Internet to millions of computers across the globe.

Over the past two years, as Napster crumbled and other dot-coms bombed, Tribble busied himself closing licensing deals with major record companies including EMI, BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group.

As the recording industry began its massive legal assault against Internet music file-trading services, a dozen Streamwaves workers started assembling a library of 150,000 digital music tracks and albums. Meanwhile, Sean Catlett, head of technology, ramped up server capacity.

Two months ago, Streamwaves.com opened its electronic doors on the Internet and began taking subscriptions ($9.99 a month; $7.95 monthly with a one-year commitment).

Tribble says his service holds several advantages over competitors such as Listen.com and MusicMatch Jukebox.

First, users don't have to download or install any software. "People don't want to mess with a program," Tribble says. "We're giving them a straightforward way of listening right from the browser."

And it is one of the few services that is Macintosh-friendly. In fact, the company is luring Mac users with a 10 percent discount on monthly subscription costs, plus an additional 5 percent discount for members of Mac user groups.

Second, access is portable to any Internet-connected computer. Users can go to the Web site to hook into their playlists and stored music selections from anywhere in the world.

Third, the library being assembled for Streamwaves includes entire albums, not just the tracks getting radio play, from artists such as Eminem, Alan Jackson, Bon Jovi, Santana, Sheryl Crow, Nelly and Natalie Cole.

Finally, because of the way it has configured its servers, the service works well over dialup Internet connections. You don't need a broadband account for high-quality sound.

As a legal alternative to Kazaa, Morpheus and other surviving music-swapping services, Streamwaves won't satisfy everyone.

Tracks can't be downloaded or moved to portable music players. They can only be streamed to computers for immediate play.

But the design and flexibility of the Streamwaves model is a hit.

"We get e-mails all the time saying, "We never did want to be taking this music for free, but we didn't want to pay $15 for one song, either,' " Tribble said. "They're telling us, "We just wanted the product you guys are finally offering.' "

Since launching, Tribble says, the number of subscribers has grown into the thousands. He says Streamwaves has ascended into the short list of the top five streaming Internet music services, passing Musicnet and Pressplay, services backed by the big five record companies.

Streamwaves' marketing campaigns, led by vice president of product marketing Paul Jung, are just getting under way. They include distributing one-month-free access cards through Transworld Entertainment (FYE stores), CompUSA and other outlets.

There are still gaps in the selections. Streamwaves doesn't yet have access to the Rolling Stones collection, for example. A search for the Beatles also comes up blank.

Tribble says the service will respond to user wishes.

"But we're just starting to get where we can analyze how people are using us," he said. "It'll get better over time."

Streamwaves offers an impressive list of jazz, classical and techno-dance albums. And it has developed an effective interface that helps users discover and explore creations similar to music they already know.

In January, Streamwaves announced a deal with Hewlett-Packard that gives users of myhpclub.com and mypresarioclub.com 30-day trials. More deals are in the offing to raise the visibility of the service in the next year, Tribble says.

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