pounds 2bn deal creates showcase for new bands on the Net

UNSIGNED ROCK bands are being wooed over the Internet by big businesses, as the increasing popularity of the "MP3" digital music format threatens to break record companies' conventional stranglehold on power.

Yesterday Seagram's Universal record label announced a multi-million dollar deal with AOL, the world's biggest Internet service provider, in which it will set up a website where aspiring groups can send their music - in the form of MP3 files - for public audition, as well as evaluation by record company staff who might snap them up.

The site - Farmclub.com - is seen as a direct response to the huge success of sites such as MP3.com, a publicly-listed Internet company that sells songs in MP3 format over the Net. Sites such as garageband.com and musicunsigned.com already offer musicians a chance to get noticed by record labels. Last month, the Nottingham band Smoker's Blend 3000 became the first band to be signed over the Internet after the record company Pinnacle took a liking to the band's tracks on the musicunsigned.com site.

The difference with Farmclub is the size of investment in it: AOL is spending $100m for a 3 per cent stake in the new company, potentially valuing it at $3.3bn.

Universal Music said that Farmclub will be "a star-maker for the people, by the people" because Web visitors will be able to vote on which tracks they prefer. "It will provide young artists with a ticket from obscurity," said Edgar Bronfman, Universal's president, who predicted that it would unearth the next U2 or Shania Twain.

But industry observers said that it was a "me-too" reaction to the success of sites such as MP3.com and tunes.com, which also has a "self-publishing" section where bands can put their songs. "I think people are annoyed at MP3.com's market capitalisation," said one music executive of the Farmclub initiative. "Everybody thinks, `We could do better than that'."

The MP3 format is an internationally agreed standard that allows near- CD quality reproduction of music, but typically requires only one-tenth as much data as a CD. That makes it ideal for transmitting music over the Internet.

But conventional record companies are worried over the prospect of music moving entirely to the Web and MP3, because there is no copyright protection over the files. That cuts record companies out of the music-making loop and reduces their revenues.

When the rap group Public Enemy put out an album in MP3 format, making it available for anyone to download over the Net, its record company stepped in and forced the band to take down the website.

Record companies are working on a "secure digital music initiative" (SDMI) that would produce an MP3-like file format which could not be copied and would have to be paid for. But the vast number of MP3 files now flying around the Net suggests that the longer the SDMI takes to appear, the more likely it is to fail as people become used to having freely copied music files.

Meanwhile bands and record companies are still deeply reluctant to use MP3 files as a marketing tool. Yesterday Massive Attack, the Bristol trip- hop band, launched a new website backed by Virgin Records and Levi's. However, there were no music tracks on the site, and a Virgin spokesman said that the company has no plans to offer MP3 versions of songs, or samples of songs, on the site.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer / Web Designer

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in the e-cigarette ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leader in the e-cigarette ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future