Pennywise, Poundwise: MySpace Free Experiment Pays Off

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Major labels have been fighting against free content distribution for years.

But a number of established artists are embracing the gratis giveaway, and driving dollars into more controlled areas.

The biggest players in this discussion are Radiohead, Trent Reznor, and most recently, Coldplay.  But others, including Pennywise, are also pushing gratis concepts and helping to define best practices in the process.

In March, Digital Music News reported that the band attracted 500,000 takers on a free album giveaway driven by MySpace Records.  That figure eventually notched to 640,000, according to MySpace, though 400,000 actually completed the process to secure the MP3s.  “On top of the 400,000 downloads, we’ve scanned over 20,000 albums in the US and another, roughly 25,000 overseas,” MySpace Records executive J. Scavo told Digital Music News on Friday.  The giveaway officially ended in April.

The campaign involved a sponsorship tie-in with Textango, a mobile-based billing and download delivery platform.  Scavo also noted that the band was paid for their participation, a move that helped to allay fears of traditional product cannibalization.

Now, the band is seeing some meaningful results, boosted by the MySpace project.  That includes a well-charting single, and according to Scavo, significant jumps in concert tickets, tour guarantees, and merchandise sales.  After playing sold-out dates in Japan and Australia, the group is now hosting shows in the United States through mid-June.  And the band is being factored into the Vans Warped Tour this summer.  “If you ask them, their career has been revitalized far beyond their expectations,” Scavo said.

Unlike the Radiohead and Reznor campaigns, the Pennywise initiative did not include a paid option, closing off potential recording revenue from willing buyers.  And looking forward, the next steps are somewhat uncertain.  Scavo could orchestrate another pet project with similar parameters, though broad-scale participation by major labels in MySpace Music could complicate future initiatives.

MySpace is now planning to premiere the video for the lead single, “The Western World,” on May 21st.  The album, Reason to Believe, comes roughly twenty years after the band first formed in Southern California.