Pearl Jam: 'Back' To The Future
Pearl Jam: 'Back' To The Future

As Gossard puts it, "If somebody would have said 15 years ago that they were going to give us a great chunk of money and let it be a one-off and not hold us to any strings, we would have said, 'Come on! This is the best deal ever!' We fought our way through eight records at Sony and J to get ourselves in a position where we could cut a deal to get paid $5 a record, rather than $1.50 or $2. It was the right compromise for this record, and I think it will give us even more flexibility in the future. The fact that we cut out a few other chains - I think it's our prerogative to do that. We're bringing a lot of smaller stores with us."

Junketboy Distribution A&R executive Scott Register hopes the cooperative nature of the deal will inspire "every artist, label and manager out there that they need to think twice before cutting out indie stores. This is our chance to show that our community - stores, distributors, one-stops - are capable of any size job and of making a difference in the life of an album."

When Pearl Jam ended its career-long association with Epic in 2003, the band wasn't yet ready to proceed without label backing. So manager Kelly Curtis cut a one-off, joint-venture deal with J Records for the 2006 release of a self-titled Pearl Jam album, which spawned three rock radio hits and has sold 706,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That figure far exceeded the sales of the band's 2002 Epic farewell, "Riot Act," which sold 508,000.

Curtis says he was thrilled with J's work on the album in the United States, but internationally, "it was a nightmare. Sony had just merged with BMG, and we couldn't get anything done." With that in mind, he was confident Pearl Jam could devise a way to distribute its next album by itself in the States, but he knew the band would still need help with the rest of the world.

The first step was conceptualizing a new infrastructure. "We went into it really open," Curtis says, although ownership of masters was a prerequisite. "We always knew we needed lots of partners. It's easy to go do a one-off with Target, Best Buy or Wal-Mart. The part that's hard is how do you get the other ingredients: the indies, mobile, online, the fan club."

To test the waters, Pearl Jam cut the first mobile deal of its existence with Verizon in 2008, which brought the band's legendary live bootlegs to the company's V Cast service. The partnership was put together by Michele Anthony, the former Sony Music Label Group U.S. president/COO who was by Pearl Jam's side for its biggest successes in the '90s.

"Our goal was to be able to give the fans access to the music the way they want to access it," says Anthony, who was inspired to kick-start a mobile presence for Pearl Jam after she and Curtis saw how ubiquitous music consumption was on cell phones in China. The mobile bootleg campaign was so successful that Pearl Jam teamed with Verizon again to deliver content from the deluxe reissue of the band's debut album, "Ten." The partnership has been re-extended to include ringtones and ringbacks for songs from "Backspacer," which will roll out at a rate of one per week until release date, as well as mobile bootlegs for the band's fall tour.