Could Return

By | February 20, 2002 at 12:00 AM, a music download operation taken off-line Friday after a financing deal fell through, is close to striking another deal that could get it running again as early as March 1, the company’s CEO said Tuesday.

While much of the music industry fought tooth-and-nail against free music downloads, the San Francisco-based was embraced by hordes of unsigned musical acts seeking feedback on their songs from other musicians. Almost 50,000 bands and solo acts posted their music on the site since its launch in 1999, Garageband Records CEO Tom Zito said.

In order to post a song, musicians had to review and rank songs by other acts. The process resulted in more than 2 million reviews being written, and the 12 top-ranked bands were given record contracts by Garageband Records.

“It’s how we do our A&R for our record company,” Zito said. “In the course of having hundreds of thousands of people listen to songs, you derive all sorts of demographic, geographic and psychographic information” that helps the company market its records.

Zito said the company hopes the new distribution deal – which will put Garageband records in music stores – will allow them to continue offering the service at no charge to musicians.

“It’s tough enough to read criticism (of your music),” Zito said. “But to pay for it is really making it tough.”

Zito would not reveal what company the original distribution deal was with or whom Garageband is in talks with now, but said the company was “a day or two away from an agreement.” He said the company has raised $17 million in venture capital to date, and needs about $4 million in the new deal to keep things going until revenue from its record sales starts rolling in.

The label hopes to sign as many as 30 acts a year, Zito said, and its first album, by a group called Monovox, is due out in May.

The response from musicians to the removal of the San Francisco-based site has been overwhelming, company spokesperson Leigh Ann Varney said.

“The community is really strong,” Varney said. “I’ve been getting 1,000 e-mails a day (from musicians), telling me just how much they love the site, how much they’re outraged it’s gone, and how much they would miss it.”

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