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Classic rock artists find new life in Net venture

As an increasing number of high-profile artists head to court to fight what they see as exploitative recording contracts, a clutch of veteran rockers from the ’70s and ’80s have banded together to circumvent the industry altogether and market directly to their fans on the Net.

The group, which includes John Cafferty, Glenn Hughes and Joe Lynn Turner from Deep Purple as well as Loverboy’s Mike Reno, recently bowed Rockforever.com, an online record label, merchandise e-tailer and tour promoter to generate new revenues from their stash of past hits.

Re-recordings

The site, which has distribution pacts with music netcos Liquid Audio and MP3.com, will offer re-recorded versions of the artists’ tracks, done both live and in the studio. Currently, Rockforever has roughly 50 live tunes on offer, either streamed on MP3 or via download on Liquid.

Record companies typically retain ownership — and full royalty rights, until artists pay back their advances — of the master recordings from songs done under label contract. But the song’s author is free to re-record the tracks — and play them live — without running afoul of the label’s rights.

That means artists who have fallen out of vogue, but have a catalog of past hits, can exploit their celebrity long after the label has elected to drop their contracts, said Rockforever chief exec Charlie Schmitt.

Equity available

“If you look at the record company philosophy, it’s the diametric opposite of traditional brand marketing,” Schmitt said. “They build a brand, but the first time the brand falters, what do you do? You fire the band — but there’s still a whole lot of equity available in there.”

Artists in the group, who according to Schmitt have 66 top-40 singles and 24 platinum records among them, also plan to play between 60 and 80 live dates per year, and have inked deals to tape a cable TV special and appear at Universal Studios Orlando in a series of “unplugged” concerts.

CEO Schmitt is undaunted by the tough operating environment for Internet businesses in recent months — especially those involved in music. Noting that the company received seed funding in the low six figures from Long Island investment firm Pulver Equities, he said the key is to keep a keen eye on the overhead.

“My philosophy has always been to build the business off of existing revenues,” he said. “We will start lean and grow it from there.”

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