By Mark Jordan
JUNE 7, 1999: Forget television. The revolution will be downloaded.
Whether or not it has hit you yet, whether or not you even own a computer, the Internet is changing the way we select, buy, and listen to music. Increasingly, artists are making their new releases available online, where they can be sampled at a potential buyer's leisure, bought, and downloaded in minutes without having to get up out of your armchair.
Concertgoers can now go online and purchase tickets to events and usually get better seats than if they had waited in line at the box office.
And if you can't get to the concert, not to worry. Web sites such as Broadcast.com and SonicNet routinely simulcast concerts and events --complete with near real-time audio and video -- for free.
When a classic roots rocker such as Tom Petty debuts his new album, Echo, on the Internet before it even hits the store shelves, then there must be something to the technological transformation of the music industry.
The Internet's music revolution is not just consumer-based. The development of Web technologies such as Real Audio and the MP3 compression program have made it easier for bands to be heard. Once little more than a digital poster, a well-designed Web site is quickly becoming standard promotional material for a band, on a par with bios and pictures. Memphis bands as disparate as Three 6 Mafia (www.triplesix.com) and the Riverbluff Clan (www.riverbluffclan.com) can be found on the Web, where they're reaching new fans and old in innovative and unexpected ways.
Most conventionally, the Web is a great way for bands to sell copies of an independently released CD.
"We've definitely sold more records because of the Web site than we would have if we had just had the record in stores," says Mark McKinney of the Pawtuckets.
The band's Web site saved the day recently when the Pawtuckets began touring regionally but found they had no copies of their latest CD, Rest Of Our Days, to hawk at shows because an initial press run had sold out. Through the Internet, however, the band was able to accumulate hundreds of CD requests, something that made it easier to take the leap into ordering more copies.
For the band the Moves, the problem has been not having a CD in the first place. The power-pop trio has recorded several songs but has not yet had the opportunity to collect them on a for-sale disc. Rather than just let recording languish, however, the band has posted nine of its songs on its Web site (www.themoves.com), where fans can download them individually.
"We'd made some demos for promotional purposes, but we haven't had the opportunity to actually press a CD," says the Moves' daniel Jones. "By putting the songs we've already recorded on our Web site, we can give our fans something until the record comes out."
With three full-length CDs and an EP, Big Ass Truck has no shortage of recorded material available. For B.A.T., local pioneers of band Web sites, the Internet is a place to foster its large following by offering extras such as merchandise, columns by band members, and online video and audio recordings of concerts, a trend the band picked up on more than a year ago when its show at New York's CBGB's was simulcast over the Internet by the club.
"That was such a big show for us," says B.A.T. guitarist Robbye Grant. "It was great to be able to share it with our fans and also to have a record of it for ourselves. If we had tried to record it ourselves in the traditional way it would have been an expensive and troublesome deal. But the Internet made it quick and easy."
Where or even if the impact of Internet technology on the music industry will end is unclear. Some speculate that as artists acquire the ability to release their music directly to the Web and promote it themselves (perhaps with the help of an independently contracted public-relations firm), the major labels will become less necessary and may eventually disappear, a prospect that distresses few outside the corporate boardrooms.
Some fear that the suits will catch up and find a way to exert control over the Internet distribution of music in much the same way they have the traditional methods. The only true casualties of the Internet revolution, they argue, will be the independent, mom-and-pop record stores which are already a dying breed.
Whether any of that comes to pass, in the short term the Internet has certainly been a boon to independent bands and labels. And by giving each greater control in the record-buying process, the Internet has brought artist and listener a little closer together.
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