Digital Nation: Offspring Go Online

Punk band moves into cyberspace to capitalize on interest shown by online pirates.

(This is another in a continuing series of reports about music on

the Internet.)

Staff Writer Chris Nelson writes:

A few weeks back, some members of the Offspring were flipping through

an issue of Rolling Stone when they came upon the magazine's

charts page.

There, in an index compiled by the industry newsletter The MP3

Impact, they discovered that their single "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" (RealAudio excerpt) was ranked as the most pirated song on the Internet.

Some bands might have reacted in horror to such news.

But Offspring frontman Dexter Holland, whose band is at the top of its

game right now, saw it as less of a threat than an opportunity.

"We knew that we had some interest on our website (www.offspring.com),

but this was really amazing to us," Holland recalled. "It showed us

there was a big audience. When there's that much interest on the

Internet, I want it to be something that we address and actively

participate in."

As the 33-year-old singer sees it, action was going on in this new

arena whether the band wanted it or not. So rather than let all the

shots be called by pirates, the Offspring -- whose album Americana is #7 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and whose single "Why Don't You Get a Job" (RealAudio excerpt) has become a rock-radio staple -- decided to begin offering official goods online.

They launched their foray this week with "Beheaded," a song from their

lesser-known 1989 self-titled debut. The track is now available as a

free download in a2b format from RealNetworks. It's intended to

promote the film "Idle Hands" -- which features the band

performing "Beheaded" live -- as well as the new RealJukebox player,

which allows users to record songs from CDs in both RealAudio and MP3

formats.

"It's kind of the same thing as if you were going on tour," Holland

said. "If you knew that there were a few thousand people in Texas that

wanted to see you, you'd probably go to Texas and play a show. It

felt like it was this kind of thing. People were interested and they

were asking about it, and I wanted to respond to it."

The Offspring are one of many bands hitting on the same notion.

"The first thing I'd ever heard about MP3 was when I was looking over

the shoulder of a friend who was online and saw that basically our

entire catalog was available for free as MP3s," John Flansburgh,

singer/guitarist for They Might Be Giants, said. Now the eccentric

pop duo offer their entire catalog for sale in MP3 format through the

Internet label GoodNoise.

As a label owner himself -- he founded Nitro, which released The Offspring -- Holland understands that numerous details must be worked out before the music industry immerses itself wholesale in the online world. He has yet to approach Columbia, the major label to which the band is signed, about doing downloads from Americana.

But he does plan to talk with company executives. He sees plenty of

ways to use the Net to bring more listeners into the Offspring fold,

be it offering singles online in advance of their release, posting

live material to the band's website or offering samples of every song

from upcoming albums.

Holland is like the ecologist who knows there are several years before

environmental decay hits the planet head on, but is getting involved

now rather than waiting for the inevitable. Other bands and labels can

wait, but the Offspring want to stake out territory on the Net while

the opportunities seem richest.

"It's a gray area," Holland conceded. "Everyone's trying to figure out

what it means, and trying to get comfortable with it.

"Some people obviously think this could hurt potential record sales if

you're giving away songs for free over the Internet. But I really don't

believe that. If we're the #1 most pirated band, and yet our record's

still in the top 10, and has been for a long time, I don't think it's

hurting sales."

* * *

Two rare Eminem tracks will soon be available for download

through the custom-CD company CDuctive (www.cductive.com). The

cuts -- "Scary Movies," recorded under the name Bad Meets Evil

with Royce Da 5-9, and "Green and Gold," with the Anonymous

-- are already available on the site as custom CD selections, and

as streaming RealAudio tracks on Eminem's own page (www.eminem.com).

Another Bad Meets Evil cut, "Nuttin' to Do," is available for free

download in a2b format through RealNetworks (www.real.com). ...

While Public Enemy chose the secure a2b format to release their

new single "Do You Wanna Go Our Way???" through RealNetworks, they

also made the track available in unprotected MP3 format through their

own website (www.public-enemy.com), the Atomic Pop label

(www.atomicpop.com) and Amazon.com. ...

Indie rockers Apples in Stereo are offering a free MP3 of the

unreleased "Strawberry Fire" for 24 hours beginning May 19 at 9 p.m.

EDT. The track will be posted at www.insound.com following a chat with

the band. ...

Although MP3s are generally associated with newer releases, some

vintage material is starting to turn up in the format. Classic tracks

such as Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising"

and Big Star's "September Gurls" are being sold in MP3 form

by MusicMaker (www.musicmaker.com). ...

MusicMatch has released the 4.0 beta version of its popular Jukebox MP3

encoder program. The new version allows users to "rip" MP3s not only

from CDs but also vinyl records, cassettes and microphones.