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Radiohead Takes Steps to Thwart Web Pirates

The group issues advance copies on loaner digital players that won't allow files to be copied.

August 20, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

Before Radiohead's "OK Computer" was released in 1998, cassette copies were sent to the press, radio programmers and retailers in portable tape players that had been glued shut.

Now, advances of the same band's "Kid A," due for release Oct. 3, will be sent to select writers, programmers and retailers stored electronically in Sony VAIO Music Clips--pocket-size digital players that look something like fat fountain pens.

The cassette was a gimmick designed to emphasize that the album should be listened to as a whole in one session.

The new package, say representatives of the band and Capitol Records, is born of necessity--to guard against Internet pirating. The music files are encoded to prevent them from being copied or transmitted via the Internet.

OK, it's a gimmick too, although the devices--at a cost of more than $200 each--will only be loaned, not given, to writers working on reviews and stories. But with Radiohead, the gimmick is not the hook, given the great support the band has long had among critics.

"Yesterday's creative marketing became today's necessity for survival," says Jay Krugman, Capitol senior vice president of marketing. "The marriage of a cutting-edge band with one of the creative technologies that is secure and has wonderful sound is beneficial to everyone, allowing us to spread the word without fear of our nemesis of unsecure copyrighted music."

That's a growing concern among record companies and artists. Where the big fear before was advance copies being leaked to radio stations, now the issue is music being made available to millions of people in perfect digital copies via Napster and similar file-sharing programs before it's available for sale.

With that in mind, copies of Madonna's upcoming "Music" album will not be sent at all to writers before it's released, and reviewers will have to go to Warner Bros. Records offices to hear it. Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's publicist at the label, says this means doing without reviews from some major publications, including Rolling Stone, which has a policy that its reviewers must be able to "live with" an album before writing a review.

Representatives of such major acts with upcoming albums as U2 and Ricky Martin say they don't know what approach they will take.

The Offspring's manager, Jim Guerinot, is toying with another approach for the Orange County punk band's next album, due Nov. 14. He may make the music available via a Web site--accessible only to approved users with a special password--on which the songs could be heard via streaming files but not downloaded.

However, Guerinot would not do this to prevent Internet piracy--he and the band have been supporters of Napster.

"We would be able to do more than if we just sent out an advance CD," he explains. "We could have tour dates, new photos, lyrics that would scroll by while you listened. We could do a better presentation than with just an advance CD.

"But I would be just as happy if we sent it out [on CDs] and it got posted online. It's going to happen anyway and the sooner the better. At what point will people look at Eminem's sales and say, 'Gee, this is a real bummer that his music still sells even though it's available online for free.' "

HOOT AND HOLLER: Hootie & the Blowfish aren't going to let a little thing like an extended band vacation stop them from releasing a group album. The band--which contrary to rampant rumors has not broken up--is preparing "Scattered, Smothered & Covered," a collection of B-sides and rarities all written by other performers for release Oct. 24 on Atlantic Records.

But the band needs some help from its fans. The group has picked 10 tracks for the album. For the remaining five, it is asking fans to vote among eight tracks, including Led Zeppelin's "Hey Hey What Can I Do" and the Smiths' "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want." Fans will also select the album's cover art from among three choices. Voting will take place on the Internet via a sponsoring beer company's Web site (http://www.budweiser.com), though minors will be directed to another site.

"Our last album, 'Musical Chairs,' was released in September '98, and with the current plans, it would be fall 2002 before we had another," says band manager Rusty Harmon. "We didn't want to go four years without putting out a record."

In the meantime, singer Darius Rucker is working on his first solo album, due in February, while guitarist Mark Bryan recently released his solo debut and drummer Jim Sonefeld will soon start recording his.

"We've entered an era for us with wives and children and solo projects," Sonefeld says. "That's stuff that can break up a band if they're not strong within. But we feel for us it's a positive thing."

Hootie & the Blowfish will take a break from the break to do a monthlong U.S. tour coinciding with the new album's release.

NEW CO-PILOTS: The Stone Temple Pilots are not going to be releasing an announced greatest-hits album, but instead will record a whole new album, probably due in the spring. Sources close to the band say disagreement over the hits collection plan in part led to STP's recent split with longtime manager Steve Stewart to sign with powerhouse Q Prime, home of Metallica and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

The move, says band attorney Eric Greenspan, is timed to capitalize on the good response STP has gotten since reemerging earlier this year following singer Scott Weiland's release from jail after drug violations.

"It's very positive," says Greenspan, adding that the band has only good feelings toward Stewart. "It's been a rebirth of the band, and they felt it was time for a change."

STP is finishing a tour headlined by the Chili Peppers--including Sept. 1-2 dates at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine--before starting work on the new album.

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