Now Hear This

Now Hear This
Once again, it's time for the next great thing in Internet music

Since the major record labels can't figure out how to distribute music online--it's hard to see the future with your head stuck up your bum--a pair of local boys have done it for them. Due to launch at the end of the summer, the Uptown-based, the brainchild of Jeff Tribble and Dan Hextal, promises to be the ultimate digital jukebox: For a rather big chunk of change ($17 a month, $150 a year), you can go to, access any song from the estimable catalogs of the Big Five (Sony, EMI, Warners, Universal, BMG) and create your own playlists. Streamwaves will even suggest tunes based on your selections. The downside is you can't burn the songs to your hard drive (yeah, right--like some 4-year-old with a sound card hasn't already cracked the code), but who cares? We love the versatility, accessibility and ease of use--and we rather like being able to listen to anything at any time from anywhere. As long as you have Internet access, that is. And $150.

How was this idea hatched?

Dan Hextal, Streamwaves executive vice president: By our CEO, Jeff Tribble, who thought of it before Napster. What people were interested in was listening to music without the extras. They didn't want tour dates or T-shirt sales or artists' histories. They just wanted to play music. What the file-sharing community showed was people wanted organization, and Jeff became the first licensee to have digital distribution.

Who is this meant for?

We're not going to compete against someone who gets something for free. We do know 40 percent of all music is purchased by people 35 and up, and we do know there are large groups of music fans whose relationship between hearing a song on the radio and buying it at a CD store has been fractured by new technology. Music will be acquired differently. Now it's maturing so labels and subscription services such as ours are able to coherently offer an organized, good-sounding deep library that will provide what consumers said they're looking for.

Which is?

Inexpensive, accessible, good sound, easy to use.

This isn't cheap.

We believe for the price of eight CDs that you would buy in one year, you can have access to everything that's been released by the labels. This is configuration evolution. We saw people go from 78s to 33s to 45s to LPs to cassettes to CDs, and now our PCs provide so much in our homes, and one thing is music...And look at other subscription models: When cable was introduced, some people said, "Why should I pay for anything? I have two rabbit ears."

The difference is, you can't take this with you into your car.

I know the consumer has been able to trap anything that goes through their sound card. I showed it to my nephews, and they were using Total Recorder, which traps anything that goes through their sound card so it can be burned. The consumer will find those avenues on their own. --Robert Wilonsky

Dear Mr. Cuban

Mark Cuban, the billionaire with the buck-fifty haircut, likes to shell out the long green--see: NBA fines, an empty mansion, a Gulf Stream 5 bought over the Internet, shares in Lions Gate Films and Magnolia Pictures, Shawn Bradley. He's never met a good idea or a dare he doesn't want to fund, including his own UHF TV show, which is to "professional broadcasting" what Bradley is to "professional basketball player." Every day he receives dozens of e-mails from would-be and wannabe business partners pitching their plans. Frankly, Full Frontal doesn't want to be left out.

The Pitch: What do 43-year-old dudes who live with their parents love more than naked chicks, vintage comic books and PlayStation 2? Why, all three, of course, offered in one place. Welcome, Mr. Cuban, to paradise: Your Mom's Basement, a pleasure parlor devoted to the pastimes of the paunchy middle-aged man who hasn't seen daylight since Hal Jordan was the Green Lantern. Imagine: a faux-wood-paneled palace of topless honeys (or Dallas Mavericks Dancers), racks of bagged-and-boarded comics and a video game at every table (hey, not that joystick!). Drop a quarter into the slot, slip a buck into the waistband--we're fans for life! Puts the "pop" in mom-and-pop biz--and it's entirely B.Y.O.B.O.

Potential Downside: How do you get these guys to actually leave their own mothers' basements? Hey, Mark--you tell us!

Dork Knight Returns

If Full Frontal owned a copy of Action Comics No. 1, well, we wouldn't be writing Full Frontal. The 1938 comic book that marked the first appearance of Superman recently sold at auction for $350,000--or 3.5 million times its original 10-cent cover price. Still, $350,000 is but a fraction of what Nic Cage pockets per movie, but that isn't stopping him from selling off his copy of Action No. 1 at the Dallas ComiCon in October. In fact, the actor's selling off his entire comic-book collection--some 400 issues, each one in remarkable shape and of some historical value--with the assistance of Dallas' Heritage Comics Auctions. "It's a choice collection," says Cage's cousin, filmmaker Roman Coppola.

According to John Petty, auction director at Heritage Comics, Cage's collection also contains the likes of Batman No. 1, All-Star Comics No. 3 (which marked the debut of the Justice Society of America, the first superhero team), All-American Comics No. 16 (the 1940 Green Lantern introduction) and other top-notch titles that tighten Full Frontal's Spider-Man Underoos. "It's very obvious that he collected with an eye towards quality," Petty says. "He was looking for the best examples he could find." It's surprising that the man who starred in Con Air, Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Gone in 60 Seconds would be so discerning. What's more shocking is that Cage, who hardly needs the spare change, would sell off so valuable and lovingly assembled a collection.

"From what I understand, and from what he's said in interviews, he's just trying to simplify his life," says Petty, who was offered the collection after Cage and his agent spoke with several other auction houses.

Cage's decision to go with Heritage further cements the Highland Park Village-based auction house's rep in this increasingly lucrative market. Just last month, at the WizardWorld convention in Chicago, Petty and his comic-book heartbreakers sold off a huge chunk of Spider-Man/X-Men/Fantastic Four co-creator Stan Lee's private collection. Even comics considered fairly uncollectable went for a small fortune: A beat-to-hell copy of Marvel's Strange Tales that sells for $27 at Titan Comics on Northwest Highway went for $900--"just because Stan Lee sweat on it," says one local collector. The July auction brought in nearly $5 mil--and that included but a fraction of Lee's stuff, more of which will be sold with Cage's this fall.

Heritage still deals primarily in rare coins, but Petty figures since it branched out into comics last year, the auction house has pocketed $10 million--"not a bad little start-up." And it has also allowed Petty, a comics reader since before he could read, the chance to hang with his comic-book idols.

"Imagine you get invited to spend two days with Stan Lee going through his storage rooms--with Stan," Petty says, his broad face all grin. "How cool is that? The fact that Stan Lee is sending me e-mails is more than my little fanboy heart could have ever hoped for." --Robert Wilonsky

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