Songs from some of the most popular and acclaimed punk bands of the '90s, including the Offspring, Rancid and Bad Religion, go on sale in MP3 format Tuesday (July 13) in a major Internet music deal.
Those bands, along with Pennywise, NOFX, the Cramps, New Bomb Turks, Descendents and dozens of others, are part of the roster of Epitaph Records, which has completed an unprecedented deal with Emusic.com to sell thousands of songs by download in the digital format.
The Internet releases are scheduled to begin Tuesday with the posting of 83 songs from all four volumes of the label's popular Punk-O-Rama sampler series, including tracks such as the Offspring's "Jennifer Lost the War," Bad Religion's "Generator" and singer/songwriter Tom Waits' "Big in Japan" (RealAudio excerpt), according to Epitaph and Emusic executives.
"We're totally stoked about this," Dave Hansen, Epitaph's head of marketing, said Monday. "We're trying to be in front of what's going on."
Emusic also will sell work from Hellcat Records, the punk/ska label co-founded by Rancid guitarist Tim Armstrong, and the respected Mississippi blues imprint Fat Possum, both of which are manufactured and distributed by Epitaph.
Emusic's 24-year-old president and chief executive officer, Gene Hoffman, said the partnership set a precedent not only for his company but for the music industry, which so far has been reluctant to release music online.
Eventually more than 5,000 Epitaph tracks will be offered, according to Hansen. By contrast, Warner Music Group vice president Paul Vidich was quoted by Billboard last week as saying his company's plan to release 23 songs for free download represented more songs "than the [major labels] have done collectively up to this point."
"This is a stepping stone," Hoffman said. "[Online] content is going to get better from here on out."
The company will sell individual tracks for 99 cents each and full albums for $8.99. The Punk-O-Rama discs which each include 16-to-25 songs will retain their CD budget prices of $8.99 for the first disc and $4.98 each for the other three.
Wayne Kramer, whose "Crack in the Universe" and "Bad Seed" appear on the first and third Punk-O-Rama sets respectively, said that releasing music online "is nothing but good."
"It's good for the fans, good for the artists, good for the culture," said Kramer, 51, who played guitar for proto-punk band the MC5 in the 1960s and early 1970s. Although he no longer records for Epitaph, Kramer said he hopes to see higher royalty rates from future albums he releases online himself.
Also available Tuesday will be three cuts each from 10 albums by individual artists, including Bad Religion's political punk album Generator (1992), ska band Hepcat's Right on Time (1997), punk-rockers the New Bomb Turks' At Rope's End (1998) and sarcastic punks NOFX's White Trash, Two Heebs and a Bean (1992). New selections from individual records will be released every other Tuesday until entire albums are available, Hoffman said.
Some albums, however, are not slated for online release. Among them is Mule Variations (1999) by Waits, who has a unique, one-off deal with Epitaph. But even that album could be released through Emusic in the future, according to Hoffman and Hansen.
Listeners will be credited for each song they purchase, and can use that credit toward a full album, Hoffman said. A customer who buys three cuts from Rancid's ... And Out Come the Wolves (1996) at 99 cents each, for example, will receive a discount of $2.97 on a subsequent purchase of the full album. Anyone who buys nine songs from an album will receive the rest of the disc at no charge.
John Parres, Internet specialist with the Artists Management Group, an entertainment management company, said while Epitaph's catalog is strong, he's not sure listeners will buy the songs online or will need to.
"Most of the content's out there it's just illegal," he said.
While downloadable formats such as Liquid Audio, a2b and Microsoft's Windows Media offer security to prevent downloaded songs from being copied, MP3 has no such protection. Thousands, if not millions, of MP3 tracks are circulating across the Internet for free, without the permission of their copyright owners.
"You go where the customers are," Hoffman said. "And they're going to stay with MP3."
Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz founded Epitaph Records in 1981 to release his band's debut single. He left Bad Religion to concentrate on Epitaph in 1994, after the band released its first major-label album for Atlantic.
The Los Angeles label was well known in punk circles for years, and gained international prominence in '94 with the release of the Offspring's breakthrough disc Smash, with the hits "Self Esteem"(RealAudio excerpt) and "Come Out and Play." That album has sold 5.4 million copies in the U.S., according to album sales tracker SoundScan, and more than 8 million worldwide, making it one of the most successful independent-label releases in history.
After Smash, the Offspring left Epitaph for Columbia Records, where the band scored more recent hits with "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" and "Why Don't You Get a Job?"
In 1997 Epitaph launched Hellcat and began distributing Fat Possum. The past and present rosters of all three labels include musicians such as punk groups Zeke, All, Gas Huffer, the Dwarves, Poison Idea, Agnostic Front, TSOL, SNFU and the Humpers; ska groups the Pietasters, Hepcat and Voodoo Glow Skulls; and blues musicians R.L. Burnside, the late Junior Kimbrough and T-Model Ford, whose 1997 debut included the song "I'm Insane" (RealAudio excerpt).
Emusic, formerly known as GoodNoise, launched in January 1998, and established itself by licensing work for MP3 sales from traditional, "brick-and-mortar" record labels. The most notable in its stable of partners is Rykodisc, whose catalog includes work by the late rock-experimentalist Frank Zappa, power-pop pioneers Big Star and indie rockers Galaxie 500. The Redwood City, Calif., company also has released MP3 versions of albums by former Pixies leader Frank Black and arty-pop band Apples in Stereo.
Last month, the company issued CARE for Kosovo, an MP3-only indie-rock benefit collection for Kosovar refugees, which includes tracks by Creeper Lagoon, Guided by Voices, the Fastbacks and Cat Power. Next week, Emusic will release Long Tall Weekend, an MP3-exclusive album by the offbeat pop duo They Might Be Giants.