I Want My MP3!

Wondermeat's Will Nerini and Eric Long have seen the future of Phoenix rock, and it's downloadable

1. MP3 vs. The State of Conventional Radio: Long and Nerini began recording live sets of local unsigned artists a month ago, the first being Yoko Love at Balboa Cafe, where Long also works the sound board. To date, they've got 15 live shows in the can and ready for online broadcast as soon as the Web site's up full-time.

"We're going to try to have one or two live shows a week, which will probably settle down once we've covered every artist that plays around locally," Nerini says. This, as well as posting the tracks, is a service they offer bands free of charge.

Although Wondermeat has paid broadcasting fees till the next quarter, Long realizes using unsigned artists is one way to get around being tracked by ASCAP or BMI. "Unsigned artists don't sell enough numbers or get enough spins to pay attention to them to even cut them a check. A Yoko Love or Polliwog [is] not going to get spins on the Edge," he grimaces before breaking into a chuckle.

Such stations tend to ghettoize their local-music airplay into traditionally slow Sunday nights or brief late-night spotlights. It's this bottleneck approach to even hometown exposure for which Long has no patience. Like many MP3 proponents, Long has seen one side of the door far too often. If self-assured programmer Nerini's mantra has always been "the MP3 revolution will happen"; Long's mantra is "it has to happen."

"As a musician, I'm really excited at the prospect of accessing more people. For over a decade I've been chasing the corporate giant saying, 'please give me a chance to be seen,'" he says. "Now it's down to the desire for people to look for something new, and for you as a musician to attract people to what you have on your Web site. The cream will rise to the top. It gives the creative musician the opportunity to fuckin' flip people out."

"I don't think a lot of bands with the blue-jeans-and-tee-shirts ethic will be able to make it across a multimedia stream," Long continues.

"They can't just get up and be musicians and expect to survive. American society is supersaturated from an entertainment point of view. Kiss was running around in tanks 20 years ago, wearing makeup and spitting up blood. And Marilyn Manson and the Spice Girls command millions of dollars from the industry, not because of their musical ability, but their ability to sell their multimedia image."

Sound like a prediction to you? Here's more.
PREDICTION: Although significantly fewer people listen to Internet broadcasts over radio, it's a matter of conditioning. The improved sound of Real Audio, combined with faster computers and the frustration of hearing little new music on the public airwaves, should galvanize people who miss that thrill of discovery radio used to provide.

Long: "TV took the forefront of radio and now you're taking something that's going to combine these two. Kids used to sit around and wait for their favorite song to come on or wait for their favorite TV show to come on. If they know they can dictate and interact with that program, what do you think they'll want? Most people listen to a radio station 36 seconds before they switch it, right? What's the average?

"Radio's going to become one long commercial where you find out where to go to do something else. Because advertisers aren't going to go away."

Nerini: "We do want to be a media stream. One of the reasons we're talking with the Homegrown Film Festival is we want to have an area where people can see their films online. Plus, we want to eventually do things like organize shows, all kinds of content. Get ASU drama students, anyone who's looking to be creative and on the air, things like that."

2. MP3 vs. Record Stores and Physical Product: Besides broadcasting local music in regular rotation, Wondermeat will also have studio tracks of the bands its developing available through the distribution site, entire albums which can actually be sold in MP3 format, either as individual songs at 99 cents a pop or as a whole album for $8 or $9.

Here's where the playing field really levels. Even the major labels crying loudest about lost revenues see the profit potential of selling music without ever having to press a product. "That's the whole trick of digital distribution," says Nerini. "You don't print a CD, you don't send it out through the trucks, drive it across the United States and put it in the record stores, sell and track that merchandise. All those channels--gone."

Adds Long, "Some kid doing his homework and at the same time browsing new music will say, 'Oh that's cool. Boom. Into my hard drive.' That's what we're looking at."

Sony will be setting up its MP3 distribution site in a month. That means major record labels are moving on this, but whether they'll be offering free tracks as a promotional device is questionable.

PREDICTION: Those who would miss the sacred store where you heard the music years before, even if you haven't bought a CD in years, rest assured record stores will not disappear completely. People who really care about music and the artists that make it will always want the official issue of a CD, with its intended song order and packaging. And underage fans won't be able to purchase online with a credit card without raiding mummy's purse.

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