It was one of those sunglasses-required summer days in Los Angeles when Eric Garland, a leading expert on music downloading, arrived for his meeting with a senior media company executive. Rather than talking in the company's air-conditioned offices, the executive led Garland and his partner through a fetid back alley to a secluded courtyard.
Only then did the executive ask his question: Which songs, exactly, are the millions of Napster users illegally downloading? ``I just thought, this is crazy,'' recalled Garland, who had to prop his laptop on a dumpster to give his presentation.
The reason for the cloak-and-dagger theatrics, which continue even today: While the music industry publicly flays Kazaa and other file-swapping services for aiding piracy, those same services provide an excellent view of what's really popular with fans.
Record-label executives discreetly use Garland's research firm, BigChampagne, and other services to track which songs are traded online and help pick which new singles to release. They increasingly use such file-sharing data to persuade radio stations and MTV to give new songs a spin or boost airplay for those that are popular with downloaders.
Some labels even monitor what people do with their music after they download it to better structure deals with licensed downloading services. The ultimate goal is what it always has been in the record business: Sell more music.
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