Warner Music Turns to Web

Warner Music Group Corp.'s Jac Holzman will oversee a new online music strategy.
Warner Music Group Corp.'s Jac Holzman will oversee a new online music strategy. (Warner Music Group Corp.)
By Yuki Noguchi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 11, 2005

The making of a rock star isn't what it once was.

A new recording label is signing artists who will release songs primarily online, instead of in retail stores, and whose fans might listen to them on the Internet, instead of on commercial radio.

The recording label, Warner Music Group Corp.'s Cordless Recordings, is trying to use the Internet to produce and distribute music in ways that circumvent the usual channels, essentially redefining how an artist can make it big. Groups will release their work in three-song "clusters" -- mini-albums of a sort -- that will be sold at online music stores like iTunes and Rhapsody, and then manufactured in compact disc form only if the audience is large enough to make it financially viable.

The man leading the cutting edge of technology for the new label is a septuagenarian old-school rock guy, Jac Holzman.

"Physical product has its place in the world," but using the Internet is a faster and cheaper way of searching for and validating talent, said Holzman, a longtime proponent of independent music who made it big by signing the Doors on the Elektra music label in 1966. Making, marketing and distributing a new artist's CD is a half-million-dollar gamble, whereas the same money can fund the release of seven to 10 artists on the Internet, he said.

"That doesn't mean we're lowering our standards," he said. It just means Holzman and the president of the new label, Jason Fiber, can cast a broader net. Cordless announced its launch yesterday with six bands found through scouts, searching the Internet and referrals from other divisions of Warner Music. The label is hiring an intern whose job as "online ferret" will include trolling the Internet and blog sites for musical prospects, Holzman said.

The digital medium is creating a resurgence in small-time, independent publishing. Not only are big labels and giant Internet companies allowing people to publish things like blogs, videos, and other self-made content online, some are trying to use the medium to scout for new talent.

Lycos Inc., a subsidiary of Daum Communications Corp., runs a search engine, but is trying to recast itself as an online publishing house that helps both obscure and established artists put their works online.

In December, Lycos plans to start an online digital music label, said Alfred Tolle, chief executive of Lycos. "We want to position Lycos in this area of music, news, entertainment," and by using its existing audience of 25 million users it has a built-in audience for marketing and distributing home-grown music, he said.

The goal of Cordless Recordings, Fiber said, is to identify more gems out of the "cacophony." Ideally, it will not only give more aspiring artists a shot at stardom, it will help create communities of fans, and help the music industry evolve into new formats, he said.

Last month, Warner Bros. Records Inc. took a technological step away from the popular CD format when it released an album by independent rock band the Sun that was sold online, on vinyl record and on DVD, but not on CD.

While the mechanisms for finding and promoting artists are evolving, Holzman argued that the fundamental experience of becoming a rock star isn't so different from the days of Jim Morrison and the Doors. After all, he said, "every artist that's a big artist today started small and simple," he said. "We are just trying to get them before the feeding frenzy begins."


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