Were Bad, Were Worldwide

The Offsprings weird, weird realm

Naturally, Columbia feared that people wouldn't go out and buy a month later what they could get for free today.

"We knew they weren't going to be crazy about it," explains Dexter, swiveling back and forth in a chair with his back against the studio's recording console. "But our contention was that they were putting out this unsecured digital format in the first place [in the form of advance copies to radio stations and the news media, among other places], so what did they think was going to happen? Of course people were going to upload and download it. Record labels should have figured out how to copy-protect CDs years ago."

Columbia was certain to file suit against the Offspring if they went ahead with their plan. Meanwhile, the band's lawyers had drawn up a countersuit, claiming that Columbia hadn't properly protected the band's copyright.

In the end, both parties reached a compromise: the Offspring would be allowed to post only their new single, "Original Prankster." That allowed them to hold their million-dollar giveaway. But just days after the settlement, what the Offspring and their people said would happen happened: Conspiracy of One turned up on Napster, available for the taking by anyone with Internet access.

"You can't really let every kid in the country put our record up on their own website and not the band that created it themselves," continues Dexter. "We thought we could create a standoff by saying, 'We want to do this, and if you try to sue us, we'll sue you back.' The problem was that if we tried to fight a crusade, it would have had us tied up in court for a year or two, and our record wouldn't have come out. So we were able to figure out something that got pretty much everything done that we wanted to."

Especially with getting word out about the new album. From a media standpoint—meaning mine, of course—the whole thing smelled like a publicity stunt, a well-calculated way for the Offspring to generate mounds of free publicity (which they got) in order to hype their new album, their contest and their website. But Dexter and Noodles insist that wasn't the case.

"It's important for people to know that we really did intend to do this," says Dexter. "And that's why it was so important that we at least got the single up on our website—so that we got something out of this. Some people at the label were actually into it. I think some of them wanted to see what would happen—what this experiment would do for the band. But then the lawyers got involved, and the Recording Industry Association of America [RIAA] started exerting pressure on the label because they have a lawsuit against Napster and these kinds of programs, and they thought that if Columbia let us go ahead with our plans, it would weaken their position."

Noodles pipes up, "We've been asked whether we were just jerking people around about putting the album on the Net, but we were definitely serious about it. The record's up now on Napster—it's just not on our website, and we think that sucks. The band should have a direct link between its music and the fans. That's the way we feel about it."

The Offspring's million-dollar giveaway (which also took place on Nov. 14) was part of a bigger plan to strengthen those band/fan ties, they say. On the surface, the contest felt like a bribe, an attempt to win over fans by appealing to their greedier natures. Or worse, like a potential gateway to an endless stream of compu-spam—hand your e-mail address over to the Offspring, and get flooded by Caribbean time-share offers and shady real-estate ventures.

Okay, so maybe they wouldn't stoop that low. But the band does want to use the contest to build a database, so that eventually they can give fans advance notice about ticket sales, offer exclusive songs and merchandise, and supply other neat little extras for people who buy their CDs instead of downloading them for free.

"It does it in a way that's cool and gives something back," Dexter says. "All the money we've got has come from our fans, so we thought it's a good idea to do something that would give money back to them. The money for the giveaway is coming straight from us—not the label, not a sponsor."

The issue of free downloadable music has sharply divided the recording industry—for every band proclaiming Napster to be Satan's Wicked Instrument, there's one right next to them singing the file-sharing service's praises. For every Napster-hating Metallica that thinks their record sales will be hurt, for instance, there's a Napster-loving Offspring that swears their sales can only be bolstered by the trend.

"If you look at the bands being the most heavily downloaded, they're also the ones breaking sales records right and left," says Noodles. "Look at 'N Sync: they were being heavily downloaded in the weeks prior to their album being released, and they wound up breaking records. People like Eminem are selling millions and being heavily downloaded at the same time. It just seems that it's serving a purpose similar to radio, as far as getting the music out and letting the fans hear it, and then they still go buy the CDs. Even if it does hurt our sales a little, we'll still be okay. Instead of selling 8 million, we'll sell 7 million."

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