Michael Robertson, 32
The business of selling recorded music could be on the cusp of a complete makeover--and Michael Robertson is one of the main drivers of this change. Robertson is the force behind MP3.com,a Web site where recording artists bypass the marketing labyrinth of the recording companies and give their music away, via MP3 music-compression software.
MP3.com began in 1996 as the Z Company, which provided an online search engine. But when Robertson saw the MP3 software then being developed, he was dazzled by its potential. He promptly renamed his company and secured the rights to the MP3.com domain name. Over the next two years, the company grew from four employees to 35. In January it received a $10 million venture investment from Sequoia Capital. Soon after that, Tom Petty posted a song on Robertson’s site to publicize the release of his new album--and the ball was rolling.
Music lovers' free ride can’t last forever; legal battles over copyright and other issues are sure to erupt. But Robertson, named "one of the 100 most influential figures in the music industry" by the industry publication BAM, professes little worry about the feelings of recording company executives: "I don’t have any friends in the music industry, so I don’t have to worry about upsetting anybody."