FOR THE ARTIST WHO USES MP3, UNSIGNED DOESN'T MEAN UNKNOWN
By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch
Oct. 17, 1999
It's no wonder the record industry is nervous.
Not only can anyone illegally copy the latest hit CD and post or e-mail those files around the Internet, but MP3 has given artists the technology to bypass the increasingly monolithic recording industry, which has been narrowed by mergers to five major label groups: BMG Entertainment, EMI Recorded Music, Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. With the consolidation, artist rosters have been squeezed, and it has become much more difficult for unknown artists to get signed.
But for an artist turning to MP3, unsigned doesn't necessarily mean unknown.
Collinsville musician Fred Clark, for example, is one of thousands of artists across the country who post their music on download sites and sell their self-produced CDs at online stores.
In another instance, Rap group Public Enemy released its most recent album on the Internet before it was available in stores -- and even made it available on Zip disk. And Pat DiNizio, leader of the rock band The Smithereens, has four albums available only for download on the Web.
The last straw for the industry was the introduction last fall of Diamond Multimedia's portable Rio MP3 player, something pennycrunchers saw as an immediate threat.
The industry last year lost a court bid to keep the Rio off the market. But the major labels have spent this year working to solve the issue of royalties and copyrights while shutting down pirate Web sites, making deals with Internet companies to distribute their music and digitizing their massive catalogs.
"It's a small population of people who use MP3, but they signaled a much more aggressive desire for music online than the industry realized," said Hilary Rosen, head of the Recording Industry Association of America.
The head of Liquid Audio Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., which offers downloadable tunes in its own secure format, agrees.
"We don't believe the industry is going to change that much," Liquid's Chief Executive Officer Gerry Kearby said. "We've just replaced trucking and the printing press with Internet functionality."
For local artists such as Collinsville's Clark, the rise of MP3 means a way around the big record companies. His CD "Just Another Day" is available on Web stores such as CDNow and in catalogs; and individual tunes are for sale on sites such as MP3.com.
But Clark, who at 36 years old, has been plying the roots rock waters in the area for 20 years, cautions that while "the recording companies don't quite get it yet," the technology is "not the great savior by any means."
"I think MP3s are great for individual artists who want to develop their careers," he said. 'But if they think they'll get on MP3 and the world is going to bow down to them, well, it's not going to happen. You've got to work the Web, e-mail, mailing lists, all of it."
"If I get inspired creatively on a Friday, I can record a single at my home studio that weekend and release it on Monday," said The Smithereen's DiNizio, whose work can be downloaded at the Liquid Music Web site.
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