Freebie LPs place cart before horse

DeLonge, bandmates pony up cash for 'Love'

In the mid-1990s, after releasing two records on a local indie label, San Diego pop-punk trio Blink 182 signed with MCA, where they went on to sell more than 20 million records. Now fronting Angels & Airwaves, Blink guitarist and singer Tom DeLonge is hoping for a similar breakthrough for his band’s third album, and to do so, he’s going indie again. Very indie.

Severing ties with former label Interscope, DeLonge and his bandmates ponied up their own cash to independently record “Love,” an anthemic, electro-emo concept album with an overarching sci-fi narrative. In February, the band released the album on their own, exclusively as a download, and for free.

“When you sell a record these days,” DeLonge says, “you’re just hoping to sell enough to break even and keep the label interested in you.”

While boldface bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead have offered up records on a “pay what you will” basis, Angels & Airwaves may be the first mid-level band to devise a cohesive business model entirely based around free music.

“On a personal level, I look at art as something that needs to be free,” DeLonge explains. “You don’t need to buy a painting to appreciate it. From a business perspective, we’re using our music as a calling card, or an advertisement for the world that we’re creating.”

And that “world” is where the band hopes to make its living. In the course of accessing the free “Love” download, fans key up the band’s ModLife web platform, which offers everything from monthly subscriptions to pay-per-view live footage, VIP concert packages and an upcoming band-produced film.

So far the strategy seems to be working. DeLonge claims that the band has already recouped “Love’s” recording costs, and is being courted by prospective corporate sponsors, to whom the band is uniquely attractive considering they own all their music.

“Corporations don’t scare me,” notes the former punker, “as long as you go into it understanding what they want out of you. You can’t alienate yourself as a company, or a band.”

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