The campaign, called Instant Karma, will promote an album of the same name with Lennon song tracks recorded by U2, REM, Green Day and a host of others, to be released in stores and for download on Apple's iTunes on June 12. In a modern-day version of the 1980s' "We are the World" music project for Africa, the campaign seeks to raise money for Darfur--the that's seen mass genocide and millions of people displaced--by taking advantage of the viral nature of the Web. (The Bush administration earlier this week imposed new sanctions on Sudan.)
One piece of that equation is a widget called MixedTape that lets anyone cut and paste 10 lines of code to add a music player, political petition and CD store to their MySpace page, blog or Web site. Created by e-commerce site, MixedTape is designed to let people upload and curate a blend of their own music so that visitors can sample or buy songs directly from the widget on the page. Or, in the case of the Amnesty International campaign, the MixedTape will sample songs from the Instant Karma album, then point people to iTunes to buy a download. The proceeds will go to support the Darfur campaign.
"People like to accessorize their pages, and we thought this was very cool and different, yet really useful," said Steve Daigneault, director of Internet communications for Amnesty International. "Friends can sign the petition on your MySpace page and listen to portions of the album without going to iTunes."
GoodStorm, an 18-month-old e-commerce site with a charitable bent, released MixedTape this week in a "pre-beta." Amnesty International plans to update its Instant Karma Web site next week to include the MixedTape promotion, in addition to launching TV commercials, radio spots and print ads to sell the Instant Karma album.
But apart from the charity effort, industry analysts say that the MixedTape technology could be a harbinger of yet another change in the music business, if it catches on in the Web community. Like other technologies from companies such as Snocap, MixedTape lets independent artists and record labels upload songs and sell them without relying on physical stores or big marketing budgets. But what's different about this widget is that it gives music fans the power to promote and sell their favorite songs from their own Web page, for a small cut of the profits.
"This makes everyone out there a potential retailer of their favorite music," said James McQuivey, principal analyst at Forrester Research. "What's powerful about that is that it establishes a sense of community around music. No one is more of a genuine advocate of that music than a fan."
Still, there's a downside. Not much popular music is sold online without a digital rights management system protecting it from mass distribution or illegal reuse. And songs protected by DRM can't be sold through a widget like MixedTape. That fact might dampen demand for the widget among music fans who might like to mix "tapes" of songs from R.E.M. and U2, for example.
One sign that the tides may be changing among big record labels is thatrecently made an open commitment to , beginning with sales on iTunes. If that trend continues, a widget like MixedTape could catch on with more music fans, McQuivey said.
For now, GoodStorm has built up a music store of 2.7 million songs from independent artists and labels that are legal for people to sell. (It's licensed songs from Ioda, CD Baby, Iris, Orchard and InGrooves.)
Here's how it works. People sign up for a free account at GoodStorm Music. Once approved, they can make as many MixedTapes as they want containing up to 100 songs. To make a MixedTape, users can upload songs from GoodStorm's collection, or music they've personally created or hold the rights to. That MixedTape can be added to any Web page. Whenever someone buys a song from that widget (which processes transactions by PayPal, encrypted by VeriSign), the seller makes 5 cents per song download. So if a visitor to the page buys an album of 10 songs from the GoodStorm library, the seller would make 50 cents.
The economics for an artist or rights holder are dramatically higher, however. Songs to be hosted by GoodStorm are uploaded by the artist or record label. And when someone buys a song from the MixedTape, the artist or rights holder makes 65 cents per download or $6.50 for a standard album of 10 songs. A fan selling their music would still make 5 cents for that same download.
GoodStorm provides a real-time accounting of sales and revenues for artists, record labels and fans from its site. The company, which has patents pending on the software, takes a cut of 29 cents on the sale of a song. It also expects to sell advertising, on top of tickets and merchandise.
"While it is free for fans and smaller labels, the technology is not free to larger music companies such as Warner, EMI (and) Sony, and we anticipate that they will license the technology itself," said Yobie Benjamin, co-founder of GoodStorm.
Although it's still nascent, small record labels believe it could change the game online by tapping into fans' passion.
David Katznelson, who runs the independent record label , said he plans to promote his artists with MixedTape. Katznelson, who signed such artists as the Flaming Lips while working at Warner Brothers for 10 years, said the technology eliminates the online store as a link in the chain for discovering, listening to and buying music.
"No other service has the potential for the viral spreading and sale of music," Katznelson said.