“The new format is no format,” predicted Petersen, a 24-year industry veteran who also owns a record label, a recording studio and a music-publishing company.

“What the consumer would buy is a data file, and you could create whatever you need. If you want to make an MP3, you make an MP3. If you want a DVD-Audio surround disc, you make that.”



“We’re moving beyond the media stage to the delivery stage,” agreed Mitch Gallagher, 41-year-old editor of EQ, a San Mateo, Calif.-based magazine for music producers. At some point, he said, “you won’t have something to hold in your hand” until you transfer a data file to a blank disc or tape.



“We can make our own plastic,” Petersen said. “I’ve been thinking this is what should happen for years, but it’s actually the way we’re going anyway.”



Think “Dark Side of the Moon” as an invisible cyberswirl of 1’s and 0’s. No CD case. No liner notes to flip through. No . . . nothing.



Your preferred music star could provide a myriad of songs, bonus cuts, commentary, videos, album art, you name it. You, however, would have ultimate power: which songs stay, which songs are deleted, which songs go where. Surely, if Paul McCartney offered a new, computer-based “Abbey Road” with alternate takes, making-of-the-disc footage and other historical arcana, Beatles fans would want it. Or some of it, anyway.



Record executives devote a lot of thought to the future of the product they’ve long manufactured. “Five years from now, absolutely there will be CDs. Ten years from now, though, there will be fewer,” compared with other digital music options, said Larry Miller, the 47-year-old CEO of the Or Music label, a Sony Corp. offshoot that gained notoriety this year for its biggest act, Los Lonely Boys, the Tex-Mex trio nominated for four Grammys. “As far as another [physical format], if it exists, I haven’t heard about it. . . . When I look three to five years in the future, I believe that 20 to 25 percent of music purchased will be downloaded.”



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