When most people talk about downloadable music, they're looking toward the future. Not Jeff Price, co-owner of New York's spinART Records -- in fact, he's looking back toward the past.
He sees the Internet as the perfect way to sell back-catalog recordings -- older records that traditional record stores tend not to want to keep in stock.
Last week, spinART and Internet record-label GoodNoise announced a partnership to offer all of spinART's catalog, including prior releases, for sale online as near-CD-quality MP3 files.
Price called the venture ideal for distributing early work by a band such as spinART's the Barnabys, a now-defunct pop group from Philadelphia.
"Stores don't want to bring in that back catalog, which they see as dead, because they want to fill their shelves with the current stuff that will sell through quickly," Price said.
"And at a mom-and-pop store you can't gamble on something selling; you try to get sure things. So the back catalog doesn't get out there. That doesn't mean it's not good, and it doesn't mean that people wouldn't buy it."
Four albums, including work by the guitar-pop band Apples in Stereo and the David Lewis Gedge (ex-Wedding Present) outfit Cinerama, are already available at www.goodnoise.com as complete works at $8.99, or by the song for 99 cents each.
SpinART's full catalog of 68 titles from 47 artists is expected to be online in early 1999.
Harry Evans, formerly a member of spinART noise-rock band the Lilys -- whose 1997 album, Services (For the Soon to Be Departed), included the songs "Icy Water, Water Everywhere" and
"Pookah" (RealAudio excerpt) -- is jazzed at the deal's potential for bringing that music to a wider audience.
But more exciting, said Evans, who's now singer/guitarist for the Virginia-based power-pop group Poole, is that making his current group's upcoming spinART work available directly through the Internet will narrow the gap between artists and fans.
Even more importantly, he said, it means he doesn't have to hit the road in an overcrowded, smelly tour van to promote Poole's albums.
"Any rock musician will tell you that touring sucks," Evans said. "Every once in a while you get a great show, but we've played any number of shows where only eight people have showed up. Now, no longer is it going to be necessary for a band to tour to know who they are. You can reach a world through the Internet and never have to leave home."
The new deal is the second pairing for spinART and the Palo Alto, Calif.-based GoodNoise. Earlier this year, spinART licensed ex-Pixies leader Frank Black's new album, Frank Black and the Catholics, to GoodNoise to sell as MP3s.
The cost of offering music for purchase as downloads is minimal, Price said -- essentially just the expense of storing songs on a server. For that investment, he's able to take spinART bands, such as the multifaceted Dambuilders and the pop-rock outfit Small Factory, into homes all over the planet.
"The next thing you know you're selling music to people that you didn't have access to before, in markets you didn't have access to before, in countries you didn't have access to before," Price said.
While indie-label heads such as Price have been relatively quick to embrace the MP3 format, the industry's larger labels have been much less eager to put it to use.
The Recording Industry Association of America, a trade group representing the nation's five major record companies as well as numerous small imprints, has said the format's lack of copyright safeguards encourages Net-savvy fans to distribute music online for free without authorization.
Price, however, said he's not worried about online piracy. He even suggested contacting pirates and offering them an incentive for directing web surfers to a label's site. "You can't stop it," he said. "You have to incorporate the people who are doing it into your business strategy."
Piracy or no piracy, Evans said he's happy his music will get out to people even as he avoids the indie-rock tour circuit. "I want to embrace the Internet and kiss it full on the mouth," he said.