June 1, 2007 1:27 PM PDT

Music meets politics in Darfur campaign

In an ambitious music campaign to raise money for Darfur, Amnesty International is relying on a new widget to promote viral sales of re-recorded John Lennon songs on sites like MySpace.com and across the blogosphere.

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 war-torn area of Sudan 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 GoodStorm, 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."
--Steve Daigneault, director of Internet communications, Amnesty International

"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 that EMI Music recently made an open commitment to selling music without DRM, 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.)

CONTINUED: The way the widget works…
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