Musicians Check Out the Internet for Releasing Albums

Former Duran Duran member John Taylor isn't the only musician to make the leap to the Internet. Madonna, David Bowie, and Depeche Mode have also bypassed records stores and taken the futuristic route of releasing their singles or albums on the Internet first.

"Web sites are a great way to present your music," says Gary Brody, president of Tangible Music, a small record label in Merrick, N.Y. "You can offer information, samples of music, tour schedules, and more. You can even sell music directly to the consumer." Web sites also feature live interviews, chat sessions with artists, and up-to-the-minute information.

An increasing number of bands have become Internet-savvy, using the medium to promote their new singles and albums.

Motley Crue was scheduled to perform its new album, "Generation Swine," live on the Internet yesterday, before it is released in record stores today. There were also band interviews and an online chat session for Motley Crue fans.

But big-name rock stars aren't the only ones using the Internet to reach their fans. Smaller, unknown bands have also taken advantage of this growth market.

"There are bands who haven't been embraced by MTV or the radio, and the Internet helps them get exposure," says Robin Bechtel, senior director of New Media at Capitol Records, who creates, produces, and markets the company's Web site.

For instance, Ms. Bechtel says they have created a site for the band "Spearhead" on the Capitol Records Web site, featuring full-length videos and songs. They also have an alternative-music section called "Starland Motel" (http://hollywoodandvine.com/starlandmotel/index.html). It also features well-known performers, such as Pavement and Radiohead, as well as up-and-coming bands.

The Internet, Mr. Brody says, "is one of the few ways a new band can compete on a level playing field with the established artist.... The more you promote the site or home page, the more exposure you'll get."

Brody says that some bands are taking a do-it-yourself attitude, meaning they choose to promote themselves with their own home page without the backing of a record company.

"None of them are selling millions, but many are doing OK with it," Brody says. "Even from my level, I get artists asking, 'What can you do for me that I can't? Why should I give up control of my work?' "

"But promoting yourself on the Net still doesn't get your record into the record stores, and that's where the sales are," he says.

Some established artists, however, are selling their CDs exclusively on the Internet. The Cure, for instance, has released "Five Swing Live," a five-song live album recorded on its recent tour of England (the songs originally appeared on their last album, "Wild Mood Swings").

Pop/rock singer Todd Rundgren has decided to leave record-store distribution altogether and will sell his forthcoming album exclusively on the Internet (www.tr-i.com).

There are a few reasons why artists are doing this, says a Rundgren spokeswoman: It gives the artist and consumer a more direct relationship, and artists are able to keep up to 80 percent of the royalties (as compared with 10 percent if distributed from record stores).

There are some downsides, however, to using the Internet - one of which involves copyright infringement. Recently, the Recording Industry Association of America has filed separate civil actions against three Internet music archive sites for violating federal copyright laws. The association alleges that defendants have illegally copied, and encouraged others to copy, copyrighted sound recordings.

And music isn't the only thing being pirated. In some cases, fans have posted unofficial band sites with copyrighted photos and video clips.

Take the British group Oasis. The Financial Times reported last month that the band issued warnings to many of the unofficial Web sites in an attempt to stop copyright infringements.

Even though there are dozens of sites that let you buy records online (such as Music Boulevard, www.musicblvd.com), college student Damien Schmitt says he still prefers record stores.

"I never buy anything from these servers," he says. "I still prefer to go to a shop, see the covers, and listen to the albums that I want to buy."

And if a person can listen to a band's song on the Internet for free, how does a band profit?

"Something like 40 percent of the people who like a song online will go out the next day and buy the band's album," Bechtel says. "You can even preorder a band's album before it hits the store."

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