U.K. band gives away album free online

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LONDON - A British indie band is giving away its new album for free online in a bid to create a fanbase that could make it easier to make money in the future.

The Crimea is believed to be one the first established pop acts to offer a whole album for free, the latest example of how the Internet is changing the way pop music is distributed.

It also raises fresh questions for record labels, which are struggling to offset the steady decline in CD sales despite turning increasingly to the Internet for revenue.

"There are unsigned bands who give stuff away, but in terms of a band as big as this, to my knowledge it has never happened before," said Stephen Taverner, The Crimea's manager.

"This is in order to reach a wider audience. They are hoping that because it's free it will open the band to a wider audience and make more money from live income.

"The other thing that's important is that all of this is irrelevant if the music isn't any good."

The quintet, currently on a tour of China at the government's invitation, announced the offer for "Secrets Of The Witching Hour" on its Website (www.thecrimea.net). It will be downloadable via the site from May 13.

Some of its members have experienced rejection by record labels before, most recently when Warner Music Group dropped them last year.

"We were signed to the American (Warner) company and not the UK company and it was a classic thing of not selling enough records in America," said Taverner.

But he added that The Crimea's move to give away their album did not mean they were burning bridges with the industry.

SHRINKING MARKET

Taverner argued that there needed to be greater equality between artists and labels, and that by creating a sizeable fan base online, bands could improve the terms of record contracts.

The four major record labels -- EMI, Universal Music Group, Sony BMG Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group -- have long fought to battle illegal music downloads and make a profit from legal digital sales, but are finding the going tough.

Last year saw global digital music sales almost double to around $2 billion but the overall music market continued to shrink, by an estimated three percent.

Sunday's British pop chart was a reminder of how powerful the Web can be in promoting acts. The Arctic Monkeys stormed to the top of the album rankings with "Favorite Worst Nightmare", selling an estimated 250,000 copies in the first week.

Although the Sheffield group is now signed to independent label Domino, it first rose to prominence through fans swapping early demos online and went on to have the fastest-selling British debut album ever in 2006.

More established acts have also turned to new technology to market their music.

Robbie Williams and Madonna both used mobile phones for recent record releases, and U2 tapped the iPod boom to promote its hit album "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb."

Elton John announced last month he would make his entire catalogue available for digital download for the first time.

And the recent settlement of legal disputes involving the Beatles' Apple Corps have raised expectations that the Fab Four's music will finally be available to download online.
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