This week on the music beat

By Evan Serpick and Chris Willman
Updated November 09, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

HOUSE OF USHER When Sabrina, the Teenage Witch needed an R&B lothario to play a witchy ”love doctor” who offers advice in song, one name came to mind. Well, two. ”Although Barry White musically would have been right, I don’t think our audience would know him,” says exec producer Paula Hart. ”Usher is perfect.” Hart says Sabrina is ”stunt-casting roles wherever we can” and, following a season opener with Sisqo, also filmed episodes with Hanson and Vitamin C. For Usher, his February sweeps appearance isn’t just to promote his top 10 album 8701 but to ”reintroduce myself to Hollywood. After I did Moesha [in 1997], I received offers to do my own sitcom,” which he nixed. Now he’s itching for his own show and would ”love to segue between dance and acting, the way Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire did….I’m hungry for it. I really want to move to L.A. I want to get in where I fit in, you hear me?” Dude, u got it bad. — Chris Willman

BACK BURNER It seems obvious that music labels don’t like to share. Since taking down Napster, they’ve begun testing a technology that will prevent pirates — and ordinary fans — from copying CDs onto a computer or CD-R by filling duplicated tracks with clicks, hiss, or static. The system prevents consumers from ”ripping” CDs to make perfectly legal mix tapes, though Israel-based TTR Technologies, which invented the program, called SAFEAUDIO, says future versions will allow personal copying. ”The labels want to remain on good terms with their consumers,” says Marc Tokayer, CEO of TTR, ”but still protect themselves.” Tokayer can’t disclose which labels have signed on, but one major quietly released 200,000 protected CDs this summer to test playability, and TTR is talking to all the big companies. Universal recently announced plans to copy-proof all of its CDs by next March, with other labels set to follow by the end of 2002. Tokayer feels his system is nearly unbeatable: ”SAFEAUDIO is not software-based — so there’s nothing to hack. Besides, if it’s only 80 percent effective, we’ve solved 80 percent of the problem and that’s a lot of money.”