Musician Rundgren Tries Posting Tunes (Securely)

"A lot of artists want to put out stuff for free," says Gary Ambrosino, executive vice president of SecureMedia. "But they want to know where there music is going, and who's listening to it. Money isn't always the issue." The company expects to license the new technology to labels and artists.

The first high-profile taker is Todd Rundgren, who is a bit of a cyberphile. He's been known to attend computer trade shows, runs a Web site, and has offered tunes online.

Todd Rundgren Live was released as a CD this month. It culls performances from three different King Biscuit Flower Hour broadcasts from 1978 to 1985. The disc provides a direct path to a custom Web page. When you register, you download three additional tracks, "Honest Work," "Born to Synthesize," and "The Wheel."

Several of the tracks originate from Rundgren's 1985 "Acappella" tour and have not been made available previously. So a fan who fills out a short form is gifted with some authentic collector's items.

It's a sidestep of the control struggle involving artists, music labels, and Web businesses such as Napster and its competitors.

Gathering Fan Info

Artists can regulate a number of aspects: to cause the file to expire on a certain date, to limit the number of times the files are played, or to determine whether they can be copied or distributed, Ambrosino says.

The downloadable tracks are protected using SecureMedia's "Encryptonite Engine" technology, which Ambrosino says is an exceptionally fast, highly secure public key encryption system. In upcoming releases, the technology will be used to provide pre-encrypted tracks directly on the CD, forcing the listener to supply certain information in order to hear the tracks.

Use of the three Rundgren bonus tracks is pretty straightforward. After purchasing the disc, listeners register online and provide a way for Rundgren to determine some basic demographic facts about the audience. The file is then unrestricted on that particular system. But if you share the file with a friend, he or she must then register.

An artist who gathers this information through a download program can more accurately define the audience and then cater to their needs. Rundgren's motivation, according to Ambrosino, is to keep his fan base happy. Another artist might determine where most of the fans reside, then schedule a concert or use that data to support radio airplay.

"There are a lot of mixed messages when it comes to bonus music," Ambrosino says. "There are people who say Napster is horrible, who then go out and supply a promotional track in advance of an album. But we tell the artist who is listening to their music -- when, with Napster, they have absolutely no idea."

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Charles Bermant

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