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Offering a fresh approach to music file sharing

Sarah Vabulas | Thursday, November 13, 2003

Chicago-based FreshTracksMusic might have stumbled upon the answer for a music industry looking for a way to truly reconnect with the file-sharing generation of new music fans.

By combining a legal, powerful music download alternative to file-sharing programs such as Kazaa with a decade of experience and enduring relationships across the national music landscape, FreshTracksMusic is poised to capture what co-founders John Wanzung and Kip Schaumloffel saw as the most valuable segment of today’s music industry.

“FreshTracksMusic is about building a community on- and off-line where music fans feel that they will always be able to find something cool to listen to and/or download,” Wanzung said.

And that’s what they have done. Launched in July 2003, FTM has been steadily getting the word out through grassroots channels to build a credible foundation of new members that appears to be picking up steam as they head into the upcoming holiday season.

FreshTracksMusic started seven years ago. Wanzung received a business degree from Vanderbilt University and was the social chair at his fraternity, booking many bands. After taking a few years off to ski in Colorado, Wanzung became the Manager of FreshTracks band, Hello Dave, and then hooked up with Schaumloffel, becoming partners.

During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Wanzung decided to start exposing great, new music to fans everywhere. And so FreshTracksMusic began.

“It started as an ‘of the month’ type of deal,” Wanzung said. “We sent two CDs in the mail each month. Creed was the first band we sent out. We stopped doing mail order and went digital when the market turned that way. It used to be free music, but we had to go to subscription.”

FreshTracksMusic.com features many independent bands, some of which are on the FreshTracks label, which is distributed through Warner Brothers.

“It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for music downloading,” Wanzung said. “It costs about $3 a month or $36 a year. You can listen to anything and download what you like. We post samples that you can download. It is a simple, friendly and easy way to download and be legal. When you sign up, we’ll even send you a free CD of your choice from the Fresh Tracks catalog.”

New members of Fresh Tracks will receive as part of their deal, a free copy of any CD in the FreshTracksMusic catalog. They will be asked to browse the catalog and let us know which CD they want, and we will send it to them as part of their gift membership.

At the heart of their early success, a number of factors have come into play. First, FTM believes that downloading should be an “all-you-can-eat” type of experience. So, for about 10 cents a day, members of FreshTracksMusic can download unrestricted MP3s of anything in the FTM catalog. And unlike Kazaa, FreshTracksMusic is fully licensed and legal. So there will be no lawsuits from organizations like the RIAA, or the Recording Industry Association of America.

There are no per-track fees like those on iTunes or BuyMusic and the catalog includes entire CDs, live shows and exclusive recordings from a rapidly growing list of today’s coolest new bands. And unlike the new Napster, once you download the tracks, they are yours, even if you decide not to renew your membership.

FreshTracksMusic features entire CDs, Live shows and other exclusive recordings from today’s coolest new bands from across the country.

The second major factor, and certainly just as important is quality. The music has to be excellent. FreshTracksMusic is like a Top 40 of independent bands.

And don’t worry. The new music junkies at FreshTracksMusic have demonstrated their uncanny ability to find bands that end up becoming the mainstream.

Having worked for over the last 7 years with who are now some of today’s biggest names, including Creed, O.A.R., Dispatch, Jack Johnson, String Cheese Incident and many others, before their mainstream debuts, FreshTracksMusic has demonstrated its ability to stay ahead of the curve by finding music early that is destined for greatness. FreshTracksMusic is always ready to tell you what’s about to be huge.

“With recent additions to the FTM Hub like Brian Vander Ark [lead singer of The Verve Pipe], Slightly Stoopid, Craig Honeycutt [lead singer of Everything], Ari Hest, Pomeroy and over 50 more incredible new artists,” Schaumloffel said, “we feel like there is already a ridiculous catalog of music that will quickly win over even the most discriminating music fan … FTM spends the majority of its time finding and featuring only what is worthy of it’s members’ ears. In other words, it’s like a fully downloadable Top 50 catalog of independent bands without the cheesy, pop overtones.”

And to ensure that FTM’s quality of music is firmly upheld, Schaumloffel adds, “We have handpicked a team of diverse ears that all share a common identity growing up as ‘that one friend’ who always knows about cool new bands before the rest of the class.”

“This is not your average digital download service,” said Wanzung. “FTM offers everyone from high school students to the person who was at Woodstock a unique and totally legal listening and downloading experience.”

Memberships come chock full of incentives too. At $36 for a year of unlimited MP3 downloads makes FreshTracksMusic one of the coolest, most affordable new music download gifts available.

It is no secret that one of the biggest gifts for this holiday season will be MP3 players like Apple’s iPod digital music device. But with what music and how are people going to fill their iPods?

“It’s a great gift for people to give for the holiday season,” Wanzung said. “For 36 bucks for the year, and we’re always adding killer, new bands, you can give someone a gift they will use. If you’re looking for the perfect gift, think about FreshTracks. We will send them a card and a free CD so they will have something to open, too.”