Beasties, Petty Unveil Plans To Market Music In MP3 Format

Artists' efforts to release downloadable songs suggest major labels getting more comfortable with digital format.

Two announcements this week regarding music releases from rocker Tom Petty and

punk-rappers the Beastie Boys hint major labels are inching ever closer to marketing

projects via MP3 digital music files.

The "MP3.com" website unveiled plans for a promotional campaign involving Warner

Bros. artist Petty. And Capitol Records group the Beastie Boys revealed plans to issue

rare and unreleased MP3 remixes through their website.

Music fans can expect more MP3 promotions in the months ahead, said Mark Hardie,

music-industry analyst for Forrester Research.

"The Web is starting to get its feet on the ground and feel its oats," Hardie said. "And

that's going to accelerate."

But John Parres, Internet specialist with Artists Management Group, cautioned that those

developments indicate musicians' interest in MP3s more than they signal the music

industry's acceptance of MP3s.

"The artists are reaching out to their fans here," Parres said. "I think these are examples

of artists exercising their influence. They're isolated cases still."

Petty's campaign, announced Wednesday (April 14), finds him returning to "MP3.com,"

the website where he posted his "Free Girl Now" (RealAudio excerpt)

single in the downloadable MP3 format last month. The single was removed after two

days -- and 157,000 downloads -- reportedly at the request of Petty's label, although

precisely who ordered it to be yanked is not clear.

On Tuesday Petty told talk-show host David Letterman, "There was a casual elbow in the

ribs that 'maybe you shouldn't do this, Tom.' "

But the new campaign allows fans to order Petty's latest album, Echo, through

"MP3.com." It also invites them to enter a contest by submitting a cover version of a song

from the album, in MP3 format. The best cover artist, chosen by Petty, will open for him

and his group, the Heartbreakers, at a concert this summer.

Although "MP3.com" is widely acknowledged as the most popular MP3 site on the Net,

this marks the first time a major label has worked on a promotional campaign with the

site. The site's founder and chief executive officer, Michael Robertson, has posted many

editorials critical of the music industry.

"Consumers have clearly demonstrated their preference for both MP3 and good music,"

said "MP3.com" spokesperson Hal Bringman. "This project delivers both."

A spokesperson for Petty could not be reached for comment.

The Beastie Boys used their Grand Royal imprint's e-mail newsletter to announce their

plans to issue MP3 remixes. "We've gotten the go to release unheard or seldom-heard

remixes at the site in high-quality MP3 and other formats," the newsletter said.

That apparently referred to the group getting at least tacit approval from Capitol.

Last year the band removed live MP3s from its site at the label's request. "This has

gotten a little ahead of schedule," Capitol executive vice president Liz Heller was quoted

as saying in the Wall Street Journal.

Neither the B-Boys' publicists nor Heller returned calls Wednesday.

During the past two years, near-CD-quality MP3s (short for Motion Picture Experts

Group, audio layer 3) have become the most popular format for downloadable music, but

the record industry has withheld support. Major labels claim the format's lack of copyright

security measures encourages piracy on the Net.

Those labels are working with the technology industry to create security standards that

could be used with MP3 and other formats.

The Petty and Beastie Boys announcements came during a week rife with developments

in the online music world. On Tuesday Microsoft introduced its competitor to MP3s, a

new file format called Windows Media Technology 4.0.

Also this week, streaming media company RealNetworks announced a partnership with

IBM in a program to deliver music over cable lines in California, as well as its acquisition

of the MP3-software company Xing Technology.