Direct to the fans: album release to make history

Band uses <i>Independent</i> to give away debut record
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An indie supergroup created by former and current members of Arctic Monkeys, Reverend And The Makers and Babyshambles will make music history tomorrow by becoming the first band to give away their debut album.

The indie hip-hop crossover act Mongrel have teamed up with The Independent to give away a free copy of their first album, Better Than Heavy, with Saturday's newspaper, two days before the 11-track CD hits the shops.

The move illustrates how bands are resorting to increasingly innovative methods to distribute music following the collapse of CD sales and outlets.

Artists such as Prince and McFly have previously negotiated distribution deals with newspapers and independent record labels have deployed a host of unusual marketing tactics, often revolving around building new audiences on the Net. But Mongrel's album release is thought to be the first time a band has launched itself by giving away their debut album for free with a newspaper.

The band is made up of musicians who wanted to work on a project with a political edge. Reverend And The Makers' frontman Jon McClure and the former Arctic Monkey bassist Andy Nicholson founded the group after meeting at a Love Music Hate Racism gig.

Babyshambles guitarist Drew McConnell, McClure's bandmate Joe Moskow and Lowkey, a rapper of British and Arab descent, also joined the group. Matt Helders, the Arctic Monkeys drummer, plays on the record.

Many of the band's songs are heavily politicised. Both McClure and Lowkey, whose mother is from Iraq, have been vocal anti-war campaigners.

McClure said he wanted to release Better Than Heavy through The Independent because he felt the band's music would appeal to Independent readers. "This gives the widest possible platform to artists whose voices would otherwise be ignored. We are a truly independent band, so it is fitting we are doing this with The Independent newspaper."

The band had decided to give away the album because little money could be made in recorded music nowadays. "You have to face facts: kids are going to download and steal music no matter what. It has never particularly bothered us. Money can be made through live touring but the most important thing to do is get your music out there."

David Bianchi, Mongrel's manager, said he believed more bands may look towards newspapers and other innovative outlets to distribute music if Better Than Heavy's release is successful.

"Unless you're a major pop act, meaningful record deals are becoming less and less prevalent so people are willing to look elsewhere," he said. He estimated distributing the album through The Independent had saved the band's record label, Wall of Sound, more than £250,000 in marketing costs while taking the music to a wider audience.

Ian Birrell, the deputy editor of The Independent, said the deal underlined the innovative spirit of the newspaper: "What is particularly exciting is that we are releasing a completely new album by a new band, one that is causing great excitement and interest.

"Up to now, most of the CDs given away by papers have been old material or by bands whose careers were in decline. This is very different."

Alison Wenham, the chief executive of the Association of Independent Music, said the move showed how record labels were dealing with unprecedented change and how bands were willing to try releasing albums directly to potential fans.

"There is a palpable move away from the old patented behaviour," she said.

Listen to a free track from the album