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Warner Responsible For LP Hitting Net Months Before Release

Even when adopting the most drastic measures, record labels seem helpless to prevent albums from surfacing online before their release dates. So now one label is taking the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach.

Four months before the debut album by New York trio the Secret Machines hits stores, Reprise Records, a Warner Bros. subsidiary, is making it available for sale online. In a campaign tied to Reprise’s online marketing campaign, the label is trying to make sure fans have a legal way of acquiring new music they hear about on the Internet.

“[When] there’s no legal alternative, it just drives people to file-trading to get the record,” said Robin Bechtel, Warner Bros. vice president of new media. Beginning Tuesday, fans exposed to the ad campaign for Secret Machines’ Now Here Is Nowhere, due on shelves in May, can go to iTunes, Amazon.com, TowerRecords.com and other online retailers to download the entire nine-song album for $8.91. The download will be bundled with a six-song sampler titled Sympathy for the Download, featuring tracks from the Von Bondies, the Walkmen, the Sun, Head Automatica and Jonathan Rice – other artists who are in line for the pre-release promotion.

As an added bonus, users will also receive a blank CD-R embellished with Secret Machines artwork in the mail.

The idea for the label’s campaign came during online promotion for Trapt’s self-titled debut, which began nearly a year before the album was released in November 2002. With their interest piqued but nothing available in stores, rock fans wanting to hear the music had no other recourse but to turn to Kazaa.

“When we do these Internet campaigns, we have to offer people a legal alternative to buy the music,” Bechtel said. “I think that has contributed to the fall of the record industry, that we don’t do this.”

Warner Bros. isn’t worried about people purchasing the downloadable tracks and then skipping the Now Here Is Nowhere CD when it hits stores. The hope is that the folks who download the tracks will tell their friends about it, so by the time the disc is out, word of mouth will have spread enough to bolster its sales.

Making the music available sooner rather than later is just fine by Secret Machines bassist/singer Brandon Curtis, who said he sees the campaign as a nod to the past instead of a reaction to present-day circumstances.

“It returns the immediacy of recording,” he said. “You don’t have to wait until the whole album, including packaging and liner notes, is done. You can record a song and a few weeks later it can be available, like in the 1950s and ’60s, when artists recorded singles and turned them around in a week.”

The Secret Machines are ideal for launching this initiative, the first of its kind by any major label, Bechtel said. The trio moved to New York from Dallas more than three years ago and infiltrated the local circuit with their driving, progressive rock. Since then, they’ve developed a sizable local and online following. In fact, the band is even more forward thinking than its label. The nine songs have been streaming on the Secret Machines’ Web site since December, just two months after the tracks were finished.

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