By Robert Menta
Defying their own record label, Sony music, rock band The Offspring are releasing their latest album, Conspiracy of One, on the Internet first…for free.
In a move that may settle a lot of questions on the strength of free digital downloads as a marking tool, the band is taking what many feel is a big risk. After all, who is going to buy the album when it is officially released in November when they can download it all for free.
But fans have been able to tape music from the radio for decades and many stations run "album sides" programming where an entire CD is played without commercial interruption. Even with such an ideal taping environment as this, CD sales are increased rather than lost to such programming.
The feeling of many artists is that digital downloads will serve the same purpose. Once consumers have heard the music, the will choose to buy the CD's which are perceived to be of higher quality, more durable to long term collection and storage that digital downloads, and include cover art, liner notes, and a tactile sense of ownership.
"The reality is that this album is going to end up on the Internet whether we want it to or not," said Offspring singer Dexter Holland. 'So we thought, 'Why don't we just do it ourselves?' We're not afraid of the Internet. We think it's a very cool way to reach our fans."
Sony Music, the groups label, demanded that they cancel the planned giveaway, a request the band members rejected. Sony is one of several plaintiffs in court suing Napster. A successful result from the Offspring's endeavor could go a long way in proving Napster's claims to the court that it enhances not damages record sales.
Companies like Sony wants to sink Napster because it represents a segment of the music industry that the major labels do not control. Artists like the Offspring, unlike Metallica, feel it will be a boon to the artist partially because it wrests some control from what some view is an oligopoly.
"Original Prankster," the album's first single, is to be available for downloading next Friday at http://www.offspring.com and should show up on Napster immediately. The band has decided to release the music in the MP3 format as opposed to secured formats like Liquid Audio and Sony's proprietary ATRAC3 format.
Ironically, this may prove to be a missed opportunity for Sony's format. Such a promotion would go a long way in promoting ATRAC3 as a viable MP3 alternative. Sony's stance against the band's giveaway may end up hurting ATRAC3's chances.
The release of this music is only the first part of an elaborate plan to self-promote the new album. This self promotion is key because promotion is one of the main services Big Music offers (and charges) young bands looking to sign.
The Offspring's promotion plan is a well planned out one and includes a contest to win $1 million simply by downloading the first single and registering your e-mail address with the band. Contest winner will be announced live on MTV on Nov. 14--the day the album goes on sale.
If you are NOT an Offspring fan, download this music and give it a listen anyway. If you find you like it, then buy their CD and prove the band is on the right track.
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