News on Downloads, Flaming Lips, Sweet Relief

logosAfter spending nearly two years planning online subscription services, at least two major labels appear to have altered course, Billboard Bulletin reports. Universal Music Group (UMG) will soon allow fans to purchase individual songs via Liquid Audio for 99 cents, while Sony Music Entertainment (SME) is offering tracks through RioPort for $1.49, a 25% drop from the price previously offered through Sony sites.

Both services allow for CD burning, and both promise to offer a significant percentage of new music. "The rules [have] changed," says a Sony spokesperson, who expects the amount of songs available as downloads to "increase dramatically and rapidly."

The new downloads mark a shift from subscription plans like Pressplay, owned by UMG and SME. According to digital entertainment tracking firm Redshift Research, such services offer less than 10% of the top 100 singles, and are often encoded with digital rights management code that prevents burning or causes files to "expire." "For more than a year, subscriptions were going to be 'the path,'" says Dick Wingate, Liquid Audio senior VP of content and label relations. "The labels wrote off a la carte downloads without ever giving them a prayer, and now it's changing."


-- Todd Martens, L.A.; Troy Carpenter, N.Y.







Flaming LipsExperimental rock outfit the Flaming Lips have begun confirming dates for a U.K. tour, due to kick off July 1 in Dublin. The trek will precede the band's stint on the Unlimited Sunshine tour, which, as previously reported, begins July 31 in St. Louis and will also feature Cake, Modest Mouse, De La Soul, and Kinky. The Lips will be touring in support of their upcoming Warner Bros. album, "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," due July 16.

Lips frontman Wayne Coyne tells Billboard.com the group is feverishly working up stage-ready versions of songs from the new album, none of which have yet been played live. The Lips will again utilize pre-recorded tracks to help replicate the wide-screen arrangements found on "Yoshimi," but Coyne says, "people seem to be real interested in [group member] Steven [Drozd] playing live drums on some tracks. We're going to try to find a way to let him play drums and do other stuff as well."

Here are the Flaming Lips' U.K. tour dates:

July 1: Dublin (Vicar Street)
July 2: Edinburgh (Queens Hall)
July 4: Birmingham, England (Alexandra Theatre)
July 6: Sheffield, England (Leadmill)
July 7: Manchester, England (MDH)
July 9: Cambridge, England (Junction)
July 10: London (Astoria)


-- Jonathan Cohen, N.Y.







WeirdA celebrity mini-golf game and auction over the weekend raised $300,000 for Sweet Relief, an organization that provides assistance to career musicians struggling to make ends meet in the face of illness, disability, or age-related problems. Held at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks, Calif., the event was attended by members of Linkin Park, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, "Weird Al" Yankovic, actor/comedian Jamie Kennedy, and producer/composer David Foster, among others.

Sponsored by MTV, Madonna, R.E.M., Warner Music Group, and Maverick Records, among others, the live and online auction boasted autographed guitars from Tom Petty, Chris Isaak, the Eagles, and Lenny Kravitz, and a signed Madonna cowboy hat.

Items still available for bidding at eBay are guitars signed by Eddie Van Halen and the members of Limp Bizkit, plus a pair of Enya's earrings and a handwritten note from the artist.


-- Barry A. Jeckell, N.Y.