I Want My MP3!

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

Long: "Perhaps what you'll see is Wherehouse, Tower, the large chains, becoming massive centers where you can download your own discs, for people who don't have the technology. The record stores will sell more than records. They'll become complete merchandise shops. If people can already get the music, they will need to get the original artwork, things you cannot get off the net: tee shirts, posters, lunchboxes, puzzles, dolls. I think the mom-and-pop stores will be gone because they won't be able to compete with that. They won't have the money and technology to afford those kind of things."

Nerini: "It makes me wonder if the music industry, at least in the western world, is going to become singles-oriented again. Artists might find it more convenient to work on a song for a month and release it and sell 250,000 copies of that song if they're a real popular artist.

"Everyone's hooked on the album format right now, so that's why we're including it right off. And people produce a lot of stuff in album format. As the industry progresses and changes, we might see a market where everyone puts out singles and nothing but, unless they've got some kind of tone poem or rock opera."

3. MP3 vs. Major Record Labels: "Swindlers come in all shapes, sizes and colors, don't they? The majority of fans and artists are heaped upon each other, pile swept in a horrorcost. . . . A lotta folk been had by the execs and legal lust of the industry. . . ."

That's not a prediction. It's the status quo according to Chuck D.; log onto Public Enemy's Web site and in a matter of seconds you can download, in its entirety, "Swindlers Lust," a new track indicting industry greed, for free.

Chuck is reportedly signed to Atomic Pop. True, it's run by Al Teller, a former MCA and CBS vice president, but its promise of a 50/50 split between artist and label is a hype any artist who's been bamboozled would want to believe.

With that in mind, we call to the stand our next star witness, Mr. Robin Wilson, former lead singer of the Gin Blossoms. Currently fronting Pharoahs 2000, his new band's debut album has sat on a shelf for almost a year while his label, A&M Records, dissolved in the biggest corporate merger in the history of the recording industry. For all its $10.4 billion hoopla, the only notable release from either Polygram, Universal or Interscope has been 300 artists and countless employees who've headed to the unemployment lines.

"This could've been the best time ever to be dropped," Wilson says of his newest miserable experience. Having been with a major since the early '90s, Wilson views the brave new world of MP3 with a mixture of awe and ambivalence, but he is determined to see that the numeral affixed to his band's name isn't the year of his next CD release.

"The idea of not being with a major is frightening because this indie route is still untried," says Wilson, who recently has had numerous meetings with Goodnoise and Atomic Pop. "But it's exciting, like someone offering you Coca Cola at 13 cents a share. The advantage of going with Atomic Pop or a Goodnoise is that they're really hungry; all Goodnoise has right now is Frank Black and the Rykodisc catalogue. We'd be in a position to be marquee artists. The disadvantage is we don't have tour support."

Not wanting to sound like he's going on about the good ol' days, Wilson can at least look at the major-label mixed blessing and say with some certainty that, "When the Gin Blossoms signed with A&M, we knew we were going to be a priority. We were guaranteed a shot, which made it easy for me to say to newspapers that we would be platinum by the end of the year and we [were]. Now, nothing with a major is a sure thing, except that Sony will give you an advance to record and make a video, and then you have to pay them back at an inflated 60-percent interest."

It's one of the biggest scams going. Imagine being led into a board room and being told you'll get your money once every suit in the room is a multimillionaire. "We had to sell 900,000 albums just to break even from our debt. For every $150,000 that went to a Gin Blossom, [A&M] made $10 million. It was a glorious day when we recouped," he brightens. At that time, the band was on the road during the last leg of "The Recoup My Ass Tour."

PREDICTIONS: Interscope still owns the Pharaohs 2000 CD so it's uncertain when Wilson can press it himself on his soon-to-be-launched Uranus Records. He does plan to release a local music compilation, and a re-release of the first Gin Blossoms recording, Dusted, seems likely to be distributed digitally on Atomic Pop in the foreseeable future.

Wilson: "This is so new. We can do a one-month deal, two-month, six-month, there's no rules in the way you can structure your deal."

Long: "Sony and Warners will never go away. But don't think they won't see me, little MP3 guy on the corner and say, 'Come here, I'll show you how the game is really played, because I want some of your money. Will MP3s get rid of the bean counters? If the artists take advantage of it. There's plenty of artists who'll still sign a million-dollar contract for titties and beer."

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