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Vedder off without Sony?

Pearl Jam breaks from its label as the industry waits to see where the band goes from here.

May 31, 2003|Jeff Leeds | Times Staff Writer

Is Pearl Jam ready to go it alone?

The iconic rock band's recent exit from Sony Corp.'s Epic Records makes it one of the biggest rock acts ever to become a free agent.

Now that Pearl Jam has disclosed on its Web site that it has left Sony Corp.'s Epic Records, its record company for more than a decade, labels and other acts are watching closely to see the next move from the Seattle quintet.

Insiders speculate that the group, which shook up the music industry a decade ago when it took on Ticketmaster, may defy convention again by forgoing a major-label deal, instead selling its next recording independently.

Kelly Curtis, Pearl Jam's manager, doesn't dismiss that idea, and notes that the band recently began selling a band-produced concert DVD exclusively on its Web site and on tour.

"We did it all ourselves, packaged it ourselves," Curtis said in a recent interview. "We're sticking our toes in" independent distribution. "We're going to pursue something new and different."

"Riot Act," released in November, was the last studio album due Epic under Pearl Jam's contract. Curtis said Sony still retains the right to a greatest-hits package, though he said the project won't require much involvement from the band. In addition, Sony owns the band's older catalog, and some industry executives speculate that the act may offer the conglomerate distribution rights to its future albums in exchange for eventual ownership of its old master recordings.

In a statement last week, Sony said, "We have nothing but admiration for the members of Pearl Jam, and we are extremely proud of all that we've accomplished together over the many years. We look forward to a continuing relationship."

The band's albums have sold more than 20 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan data. U.S. sales have fallen over the years, from the 9-million peak of 1991's "Ten" to "Riot Act," which has sold 460,000 copies. But the band's connection with a sizable, hard-core audience is still strong enough to make it an amphitheater-level attraction.

After its breakthrough success, the band in 1994 challenged ticket giant Ticketmaster, accusing the Los Angeles-based company of exercising a monopoly over ticket distribution. But when the quintet tried to mount its own tour without Ticketmaster's participation, it failed. A federal antitrust investigation of the company fizzled out. Ticketmaster is selling tickets for the band's current tour, which includes a stop Tuesday at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater.

Curtis said the band plans to finish its concert trek before deciding on its next step.

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