By STEVE HOCHMAN
Before Radiohead's "OK Computer" was released in 1998, cassette copies
were sent to the press, radio programmers and retailers in portable tape
players that had been glued shut.
Now, advances of the same band's "Kid A," due for release Oct. 3, will be
sent to select writers, programmers and retailers stored electronically in Sony
VAIO Music Clips--pocket-size digital players that look something like fat
The cassette was a gimmick designed to emphasize that the album should be
listened to as a whole in one session.
The new package, say representatives of the band and Capitol Records, is
born of necessity--to guard against Internet pirating. The music files are
encoded to prevent them from being copied or transmitted via the Internet.
OK, it's a gimmick too, although the devices--at a cost of more than $200
each--will only be loaned, not given, to writers working on reviews and
stories. But with Radiohead, the gimmick is not the hook, given the great
support the band has long had among critics.
"Yesterday's creative marketing became today's necessity for survival,"
says Jay Krugman, Capitol senior vice president of marketing. "The marriage of
a cutting-edge band with one of the creative technologies that is secure and
has wonderful sound is beneficial to everyone, allowing us to spread the word
without fear of our nemesis of unsecure copyrighted music."
That's a growing concern among record companies and artists. Where the big
fear before was advance copies being leaked to radio stations, now the issue is
music being made available to millions of people in perfect digital copies via
Napster and similar file-sharing programs before it's available for sale.
With that in mind, copies of Madonna's upcoming "Music" album will not be
sent at all to writers before it's released, and reviewers will have to go to
Warner Bros. Records offices to hear it. Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's publicist at
the label, says this means doing without reviews from some major publications,
including Rolling Stone, which has a policy that its reviewers must be able to
"live with" an album before writing a review.
Representatives of such major acts with upcoming albums as U2 and Ricky
Martin say they don't know what approach they will take.
The Offspring's manager, Jim Guerinot, is toying with another approach for
the Orange County punk band's next album, due Nov. 14. He may make the music
available via a Web site--accessible only to approved users with a special
password--on which the songs could be heard via streaming files but not
However, Guerinot would not do this to prevent Internet piracy--he and the
band have been supporters of Napster.
"We would be able to do more than if we just sent out an advance CD," he
explains. "We could have tour dates, new photos, lyrics that would scroll by
while you listened. We could do a better presentation than with just an advance
"But I would be just as happy if we sent it out [on CDs] and it got posted
online. It's going to happen anyway and the sooner the better. At what point
will people look at Eminem's sales and say, 'Gee, this is a real bummer that
his music still sells even though it's available online for free.' "