A new era of musical free-for-all

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The music goes 'round and 'round, and it comes out here," croons the old song.

But just where "here" is seems to be changing faster than Madonna's wardrobe.

For the first time since they were introduced in 1983, worldwide sales of CDs were down in 2001.

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Meanwhile, "file swapping" of music on the Internet and "burning" copies of CDs (otherwise known to record companies as "music piracy") continues unabated, despite the clampdown on the file-sharing website Napster.

For example, the group Linkin Park sold 4.6 million copies of its "Hybrid Theory" last year. But the album was also downloaded 4.3 million times off the Internet.

Overall, worldwide CD sales last year were down 6.5 percent from the previous year, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry reported Tuesday.

But the free-wheeling environment seems to favor newcomers. The Washington Post reported this week that a study by two university researchers found that fans use the Internet to find and "sample" music before they buy. By checking out the music first via the Internet, they often reject works by established artists that earlier they would have bought unheard. Instead, they then discover lesser-known talents, whose music they purchase.

Meanwhile, classical music is fading out both on the radio airwaves and on recordings, though attendance at live classical events, such as opera, remains strong.

An influx of new, accessible works by contemporary composers may help (see story on new operas, page 19).

So can talented musicians who catch the imagination of audiences. One such rising star is conductor Marin Alsop (see profile, this page).

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