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Band, Drinks Firm Hope Profits Will Flow From Free Songs

The maker of Yoo-Hoo backs Kevin Martin and the HiWatts' effort to offer songs on the Net.

October 10, 2003|Jon Healey | Times Staff Writer

Kevin Martin is giving a whole new meaning to the notion of rock star beverage dependency.

Martin, former frontman for the rock group Candlebox, has a different band these days and a new partner to support his musical ventures: Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drink.

Yoo-Hoo's maker, Cadbury Schweppes' Snapple Beverage Group, is sponsoring a five-song release by Kevin Martin and the HiWatts. That financial backing lets the band give songs away online through file-sharing networks and other piracy hotbeds.

By doing that, the band hopes to generate interest for its concert tours -- where it makes the bulk of its money. The group also can expect to be rewarded by Yoo-Hoo if the company's drink sales climb.

What Martin and the band don't do is try to make their fortune the old-fashioned way: by selling a lot of CDs.

"It's the beginning of something that could totally change the music business," said Mitchell Reichgut of Jun Group Inc., which is distributing the free songs. "We're giving away the music. Please, take it! And the more people that take it, the better it is for the artist, the better it is for Yoo-Hoo. And the more Yoo-Hoo benefits, the more Kevin and the HiWatts will be rewarded."

The partnership allows them to build up their fan base without having to rely on expensive promotions or cater to the narrow tastes of corporate-radio playlists. Instead, file-sharing networks and the Internet serve as their radio station.

The band and Snapple Beverage Group refused to discuss financial specifics of their deal, but Martin's partner and band member Colin Duchin said "collectively, everyone is sharing in the expenses." The bottom line for Martin and his mates is that the support helps them be full-time musicians.

"It's about not having to have a day job, and making enough money to be able to go on the road and play music for the people," Martin said. "A day job would be really, really strange."

Duchin also noted that unlike some other would-be partners, Yoo-Hoo has not tried to influence or censor the band's guitar-driven rock.

For the beverage group, the arrangement offers a chance to curry favor among people who like to download music for free. The Yoo-Hoo campaign comes as the major record companies are trying to drive music fans away from file-sharing networks by suing hundreds of people for allegedly sharing songs without permission.

"For our audience -- young adults -- music is in the DNA," said Sheryl Adkins-Green, senior vice president of marketing for the beverage group.

The songs by Kevin Martin and the HiWatts are encoded in the MP3 format with no electronic locks, so they can be freely copied and burned to CDs. When the song files are downloaded and played on certain computers, they display a message crediting Yoo-Hoo for making the music available.

The setup, which started this week, relies on Jun Group's unusual ability to feed material into the highest levels of the file-sharing world: the private Internet sites where bootlegged music and movies are cached before spreading to chat services, news groups and, ultimately, the file-sharing networks used by hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

Fred Goldring, a prominent music-industry attorney, said such efforts can be terrific for artists good enough to get signed by a major label -- but not prized enough to receive the full power of a label's star-making machinery. Bands in that category don't make any money off CD sales, he said, because all of their royalties get "recouped" by the labels to cover marketing, recording and touring costs.

"For the vast majority of artists," said Goldring, "this is the future."

The way Duchin looks at it, "the record is really a promotional item." He added that giving away songs doesn't necessarily take anything out of his pocket. "You're not losing that dollar from the record sale because you may be gaining that dollar somewhere else," he said.

Of course, a record company whose lifeblood is CD sales may not be so eager to give up that revenue. But Martin decided not to re-sign with a major record label after Candlebox -- which was on Maverick Records, a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Music Group -- broke up in 1999.

Rather, he and Duchin formed their own label, Tympanic Records.

In a sense, the beverage group is doing what record labels traditionally have done: It's risking some of its capital so Martin's band can record songs. Instead of trying to recoup its investment by selling those songs, Snapple is giving them away to help sell Yoo-Hoo.

Not coincidentally, Martin is a longtime Yoo-Hoo drinker.

But the approach could work just as well for a different product, said Bruce Forest, another principal in the Jun Group. For example, he said, Pepsi could partner with singer Beyonce to promote a drink that's aimed at people who download her songs.

"If she gets a percentage of the sales, she could make 10 times what she gets selling CDs because there's no recoupment, no shipping costs.... The CDs don't matter."

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