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Toronto Star (Canada)
September 6, 1999
Maverick Web site supports Morissette/Amos tour
Offers thousands of downloadable songs for free
by Betsy Powell
Toronto Star Pop Music Critic
Does the M in MP3.com stand for marketing or music?
No matter how successful the maverick Internet music site becomes, with its offers of thousands of downloadable songs for free, it's already a declared winner in the technology publicity sweepstakes.
With cyberspace clogged with thousands of music sites competing for clicks, MP3.com scored a public relations bonanza when it announced it was co-sponsoring the Alanis Morissette and Tori Amos' tour, which pulls into Molson Amphitheatre tomorrow night. (U.S. electronics retailer Best Buy is the other sponsor.)
While ticket sales in Toronto have been soft, prompting a last-minute two-for-one offer by the promoter, the tour has "been doing better than we anticipated, in terms of a number of things we are measuring it on," said Paul Alofs, the Windsor, Ont.,-born former head of HMV Canada and now MP3.com's president of strategic business units.
Because the MP3 format is used to both legally and illegally copy songs, making it a major threat to the record industry, the sponsorship venture was, at least initially, hailed as groundbreaking and controversial.
Here was a singing star throwing her support behind a fledgling company and a revolutionary technology, one that major record labels regard with fear and loathing. They continue to try to develop an alternative to the unprotected MP3 format to ensure artists, and record executives, are remunerated when people download music.
But the 25-year-old singer wasn't waiting around. "Maverick, MP3.com and I approached this with an open mind, which is what I believe is required whenever there is a shift or an evolution in technology," Morissette said in a statement when the deal was announced last April. "I am happy to have an opportunity to connect directly with people who listen to my music."
The venture sparked a chain reaction. After the San Diego-based company went public earlier this summer, MP3.com shares skyrocketed, raising $361 million U.S. in net proceeds and lining the well-padded pocket of investor Morissette. That, in turn, helped hype the profile of the Web site, one of the busiest music-related sites on the Internet. (CNET, an Internet-based technology news site, includes MP3.com in its list of the Top 10 most-accessed sites.)
"Publicity is all part of the get-your-name out there on the Internet," acknowledged Alofs in a phone interview from San Diego.
After initial fanfare, response to the deal cooled as analysts and music industry insiders started speculating on the long-term viability of MP3.com. Yes, the company, started by ex-computer programmer Michael Robertson in March 1998, has soared in value, at least on paper, but it doesn't own the songs it distributes.
There's also the fact that most of the 130,000 songs on offer at MP3.com - 1,053 from Toronto-area bands - are recordings by unknown artists.
Like most Internet companies, the majority of profits generated come from advertising, not, in the case of MP3.com, from selling CDs, which the site does in addition to offering free downloads.
"The things that make you successful on the Internet are not the things that make you successful in the bricks and mortar world," said Alofs. For instance, the number of "hits," the number of visitors at a site, is one of an Internet company's leading assets, he said.
"What the (stock) market has said is: 'You guys have got a pretty good idea. You've got a ton of great content. You've got a huge amount of traffic for somebody that spent no money on marketing, therefore we're going to give you good market evaluation.'"
The deal with Morissette included a series of on-line promotions, including on-line chats and a live broadcast from the Minneapolis concert on Sept. 16. Both Amos and Morissette are posting live versions on MP3.com of songs recorded on the tour, though only in a streaming format, which prevents listeners from saving the songs on their hard drive.
In addition, the opening acts on the 26-city tour are five artists said to have been "handpicked by Tori and Alanis from the MP3.com music community," including tomorrow night's opener, British native Ray Lane.
But if Morissette is a poster girl for MP3.com, Amos stops short of calling her participation a full-out endorsement. Amos says she came on board at Morissette's request.
"I always study things, it takes me a bit of time," she said in a recent phone interview.
Amos, like a growing number of artists, has released music on the Internet before. Still, she's cautious. "I would never put a whole album down at this point in time. It's understanding how it works and having a respect for your own work. If that can work in tandem with what the Internet's doing, great," she said.
So what does MP3 stand for?
It's short for MPEG 1 Layer 3, the audio component of the MPEG 1 (Motion Picture Experts Group) digital video standard, the first generaton of digital video recording technology.
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