Is File-Sharing A Good Thing For LP Sales? Tech N9ne Counting On It

Rapper's label offers 20 of 27 tracks from new record for free online.

In the heated debate over file sharing, two music biz execs strongly believe what most of their industry peers contest with equal vigor — that giving away music for free is good for sales.

So convinced are former Priority Records honchos Mark Cerami and Dave Weiner that they've got more than $100,000 hanging in the balance.

Cerami's M.S.C. Music & Entertainment is encouraging people to download 20 of 27 tracks from rapper Tech N9ne's latest album, Absolute Power, at no cost. They want to prove that file sharing, like radio and video play, is a promotional tool that boosts the sales of albums that deserve it.

"The reality is that file sharing has given you, the fan, an opportunity to sample the music before wasting your hard-earned money on lousy records," reads a post on www.therealtechn9ne.com, where the Absolute Power tracks are available. "The Internet has given music buyers your own personal listening station at home, and the major labels can no longer fool the consumer. They don't want you to sample their music because they know that if the fans realize that there are only two good songs on a record, you will not buy it. ...We believe in our product."

To spread the word that the label is offering for free what its industry peers are charging $16.99 for, M.S.C. has sunk what would have been a video and/or radio budget for a second single — at least six figures, Weiner claims — into two TV commercials, according to Tech N9ne's publicist. The ads, shot as a send-up of the ubiquitous Gap spots, show the rapper introducing "The Industry Is Punks," from Absolute Power, then asking viewers to visit his Web site to download the tracks.

The ad campaign, titled F.T.I. ("F--- the Industry," or more politely "Free the Industry," for those wondering what the initials on Tech N9ne's T-shirt stand for), launched November 21 and continues through December 13. The ads air on MTV, Fox and Comedy Central.

Those who buy Absolute Power will, in addition to receiving the seven tracks unavailable online, receive a companion DVD that includes interviews and concert footage (see "Tech N9ne Says 'Industry Is Punks,' Goes Own Way For Power").

Weiner said the download idea came about when he and Cerami hit a virtual brick wall.

"We released the first single, 'Slacker,' and took the traditional route," he said. "We shot our video — our six-figure video — and we were funded to approach radio the way the game is set up, unfortunately, and we got a lot of incredible feedback. But we weren't able to get past 150 spins, because you can't get the daytime airplay the way the majors monopolize their relationships with the independent radio promoters.

"So we sat around and decided as a company that we needed to try something different," he continued. "Are we going to shoot another video? Should we move on to our next single? Should we hit our head against the wall? Or should we do something that's never been done before?"

Although it's too early to tell whether Cerami and Weiner's plan is paying off, Absolute Power experienced a modest sales spike last week, it's first weekly sales increase since debuting at #79 on the Billboard albums chart in September. During that same week, roughly 50,000 tracks were downloaded from the rapper's fourth album.

"If our numbers go up [again] next week," Weiner said, "we've challenged the recording industry. If you're telling us file sharing is taking away from sales, explain how we sold more records."