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They Byte the Songs

Rock goes on-line

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The new music revolution will be televised — sort of. It’s taking place on computer screens. The first strike came in June when Aerosmith released the song ”Head First,” an outtake from their Get a Grip sessions, on CompuServe, the country’s largest on-line service. Now such artists as Eric Clapton and Barry Manilow are taking the next step by posting 30-second audio clips on-line.

Like movie trailers, these previews (also on America Online) provide a taste of tunes to come. Take Madonna’s new ”Secret,” which debuted along with a separate breathy message on Sept. 15 — over a week before the single hit the radio. CompuServe tallied 8,000 downloads in the first week and a half. But is on-line rock just another promo tool? ”This isn’t just a neat idea,” says Luke Wood, marketing director at Geffen/DGC. ”Our strategy is to treat it like radio and video.” Geffen’s not alone; more than a dozen labels are putting songs on-line or plan to.

But not everyone is convinced of on-line’s overall impact. ”The whole thing is still in this weird, primitive stage,” says Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, whose recent song ”Self-Obsessed and Sexxee” has been excerpted. It can also be expensive as well as time-consuming — and the sound is not yet CD-quality. ”This is something that takes 10 times longer to download than to listen to,” grouses rock critic and author Dave Marsh. He’s right, but then again it wasn’t long ago that people stared at TV test patterns just to get a glimpse of Uncle Miltie.