Digital Nation: Electric Frankenstein Find New Life On Net

New Jersey punk band scores digital hit at MP3.com.

(The opinions expressed in the "Digital Nation" column do not reflect the views of SonicNet Inc.)

Staff Writer Chris Nelson writes:

When the news hit my inbox last week that Electric Frankenstein had

decided to sell their music over the Net, I nearly threw back my head

and shouted, "It's alive!" Finally, these punk rockers were standing up

and walking out into the world.

If you haven't heard this New Jersey outfit's righteous, vein-popping

punk, you can hardly be blamed.

Until now, tracking down Electric Frankenstein's scattered releases made

me feel like Igor digging for spare body parts in the rain, only to turn

up empty grave after empty grave.

I started my own eager -- though not always diligent, I admit -- search for Electric Frankenstein's music a couple of years ago. I'd read good things about them in some punk 'zine or other, and their song "It's All Moving Faster" was the best cut on Son of Slam Chops, a compilation I was reviewing.

I called Get Hip, the Pennsylvania label they were on, a dozen or so times to no avail. If I wanted more of the band's muscle-bound, melodic punk, I was going to have to track it down single by single in record bins.

Fortunately, I didn't live in the sticks, so I had plenty of cool music stores to check. But other kids were hunting them down too, and invariably I turned up empty-handed.

"A lot of people tell me their local store in Arizona or Indiana or wherever carries two copies and they're gone the first day," EF guitarist Sal Canzonieri told me last week. "There's too many bands and stores can't keep track of them. Half of the really great ones the stores have never heard of, so they don't get them in."

But that doesn't matter so much anymore. Last month, Canzonieri and his cohorts discovered the power of the Internet. The monster, so to speak, is now plugged in and ready to take on the world.

It began when the 39-year-old guitarist read about MP3.com, the downloadable-music clearinghouse, in Yahoo magazine. When he checked out the site, he found another old-school punk group, Rocket City Riot, had listed Electric Frankenstein as an influence. So he contacted the band and, as they say in Sal's neighborhood, badda bing, badda boom -- Electric Frankenstein soon had a half-dozen MP3s of their own on the site.

After one month online, EF's "Devil Dust"

(RealAudio excerpt) was #4 on the MP3.com pop and rock chart; the band's songs had been downloaded 800 times. And then the numbers really jumped -- in the first five days of April, Electric Frankenstein's page was called up 2,000 times, and they racked up another 800 downloads. What's more, some of the downloaders have sent Canzonieri checks by snail mail for earlier records.

Encouraged by the initial response, Canzonieri signed up his band for the site's D.A.M. (Digital Automatic Music) program. Within three days, MP3.com was selling a 16-song Electric Frankenstein best-of album called The Evil of Frankenstein, culling songs from myriad releases on labels such as Man's Ruin, Victory and Get Hip.

"I thought it would be a good business card for the kids," Canzonieri said. "I'm only selling it for $4.99 since the songs are already available in stores. I'm doing it so kids can find out about us."

Of that $4.99 price tag, EF gets $2.50. The band sold seven copies of the album the first day it hit the site.

Mind you, those numbers are worlds away from those that earn you a bullet on Billboard's charts. But for a band that typically receives about 10 orders for CDs a week, the initial response to the D.A.M. CD is promising.

And while the numbers are small, Canzonieri believes he's tapped directly into the future.

"In the next two to three years, it's going to be the most commonplace kind of thing" to sell music on the Net, he said. "It'll bypass the problem of retail. Retail has come to the point where they're overwhelmed. The buyers are uneducated about the bands, so it hurts the labels and the bands."

And the fans. But not me, not anymore. After I hung up with Canzonieri, I hit the site to order my own copy of The Evil of Frankenstein. Four days later, the music that proved so elusive a few years back was in my hands (sans artwork, though -- I don't suppose you can expect the world for five bucks).

What's more exciting than that particular release is the notion that right now, through companies such as CDuctive, an indie-focused custom CD company, and MP3.com, kids in the boonies no longer are confined to what the music chief at the local Wal-Mart thinks will sell.

A lot more kids are going to hear a lot more cool music a lot faster than ever before. That's what the future's about.

* * *

So you've gotten the hang of MP3s but are looking for something a bit more flashy than the tried-and-true Winamp player? Try Sonique (www.sonique.com), an innovative, colorful and animated player that will add some oomph to your desktop ...

Goth-rockers Gene Loves Jezebel are the latest band to issue an album in MP3 form. The 12-song VII was released for download last week by GoodNoise (www.goodnoise.com) ... Speaking of which, GoodNoise announced recently it will change its name to Emusic.com. GoodNoise acquired the online CD retailer that already uses that name earlier this year ...

Sub Pop has posted three more already released tracks on MP3.com, one each from Sunny Day Real Estate, Damien Jurado and Gardener (a side project with members of Screaming Trees and Seaweed) ... In year-end statistics released Tuesday, the Recording Industry Association of America said it sent "thousands" of educational or warning letters in 1998 to people and organizations posting unauthorized recordings on the Net. Forty percent of those letters were sent to universities, down from 60 percent in 1997 ...

An IBM official recently expressed frustration that the public refuses to let go of the name "The Madison Project," which was the in-house code name for its upcoming trial to sell albums over cable lines in San Diego. Big Blue is hoping users will embrace the significantly less sexy "EMMS" or "Electronic Music Management System." Good luck.