Ex-Pixies Leader, They Might Be Giants Pioneer Cyberspace

Frank Black offers next CD for purchase by download, while TMBG bring Dial-A-Song to the Net.

When it comes to breaking new ground in cyberspace, former Pixies leader Frank Black

and They Might Be Giants singer/accordion player John Linnell are hardly the first

names that spring to mind.

Not that either musician would call himself a Luddite. It's just that neither has a reputation

for pushing technological boundaries in music on the order of, say, rock pioneers David

Bowie or The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.

It's a sign, then, that the Internet has found a home in the rock world when Black and

They Might Be Giants are standing at the forefront of cyberspace musical developments.

Rock and punk songwriter Black has landed himself in the cyberspace history books as

the first major artist to make a new album available for fans to purchase through digital

download. His latest collection, Frank Black and the Catholics -- available on CD

in stores in September -- will go on sale this month as a series of audio files available for

99 cents per song, or $8.99 for the full 11-track set.

"From our point of view, it wasn't something that was going to take the place of a

traditional release; it was something extra," Black said. "My manager and I are

computer-literate, but we're not obsessed with the idea, like, 'I've gotta get my stuff on the

Web; it's the wave of the future!' People do seem to be in an upbeat mood about

computers, even people who don't know a lot about them or use them a lot in their lives."

Meanwhile, offbeat popsters They Might Be Giants are bringing to the Internet world

dozens of unreleased songs that have previously been available only to those who

called their New York-based Dial-A-Song service. The new offering will allow fans

around the globe to keep up with their ever-growing song catalog, free of charge.

In the rapidly evolving world of online music, the efforts of Black and They Might Be

Giants are just the most recent developments. Musicians such as The Artist and Bob

Dylan have long offered music -- with lesser sound quality than the state-of-the art MP3

downloadable format -- for sampling over the Net. Also, artists such as Massive Attack,

the Beastie Boys and Liz Phair have posted songs prior to their CD release on their

websites, although sometimes for a limited time only.

Art-rock veteran Bowie has pushed the envelope still farther by founding his own Internet

service provider. Starting Sept. 1, his BowieNet company will offer fans not only unheard

music, but basic dial-up access to the Net and an "@bowie.net" e-mail address, all for

$19.95 per month.

Black, who doesn't even maintain an official website, however, said his foray into online

distribution was a matter of a choice opportunity presenting itself at the right time. He had

already secured a deal for his album's traditional CD release when the Internet label

GoodNoise approached him about selling the music early online.

Two songs from the album, "All My Ghosts" and "King and Queen of Siam," are already

available for purchase as near-CD-quality MP3 files at www.goodnoise.com; the full

album is expected to be ready for download as MP3s in the next week. SpinART

Records will issue the regular CD on Sept. 8.

Gene Hoffman, president and CEO of GoodNoise, said Black was a natural candidate for

the Net label's first release, particularly in light of the fact that the Pixies -- a huge

influence on 1990s acts such as Nirvana -- were always ahead of the curve musically.

"Early adopters, the people who already use this Internet and MP3 technology, like what

is classically called alternative-rock," he said.

Although They Might Be Giants' Linnell said he's fond of the simplicity of offering songs

through a simple phone call to Dial-A-Song, he also said there are distinct advantages to

distributing his group's material at www.dial-a-song.com. First of all, the songs -- which

currently change on the site twice a month -- are available throughout the world without

the cost of a long-distance call to the 15-year-old Dial-A-Song phone service.

Secondly, Linnell said, fans can now save the music on their hard drives or burn copies

onto recordable CDs. "You can keep it now, so you don't have to keep calling up to listen

to it again," he said. "People like the idea of owning something."

Black said that while his split last year with American Records -- after Frank Black and

the Catholics was already recorded -- had no bearing on his decision to license the

album to GoodNoise, he's thankful for the additional avenue that the Net affords his

work.

The singer and guitarist laughed while expressing surprise at how much attention the

Internet offering has brought the album.

"A radio station -- one that won't even play my record -- likes to say, 'Did you hear the

news? Frank Black's making his songs available online for 99 cents a pop!' " he said. "I

wouldn't be surprised if it was Pearl Jam, but I didn't think a little cult guy like myself

would warrant much note."