August 09, 2000
PatroNet Relaunch Delayed but Name Acts Joining
by Jay Kumar

Beset by technical problems, a planned relaunch of ArtistEnt.com's PatroNet artist subscription service has been delayed indefinitely. But at least one of the artists signed to the service is undeterred by the glitches and ready to begin recording new material for subscribers.

Pat DiNizio, lead singer of the New Jersey-based power pop act the Smithereens, said he was approached earlier this year by ArtistEnt CEO Danny Goldberg about joining the network. For $40 per year DiNizio's fan subscribers get a three-song CD of new original material each month, plus tons of extras. At the end of the year, subscribers get a compilation disc of all of the year's music that is also released to retail stores.

"It's really the way to go," DiNizio said. "It's important to cut out the middleman."

Since the day it was launched in 1998 by '70s pop star Todd Rundgren, PatroNet has been dedicated to cutting out middlemen. Through the program, Rundgren charges an annual fee for downloadable songs and video, whole CDs, online chats and email access -- even drafts of his autobiography.

The expanded PatroNet will add DiNizio and avant-jazz bassist Bill Laswell; the company hopes to have 10-12 artists on board by the end of the year, with memberships priced similarly to DiNizio and Rundgren's deals. The idea is to provide artists infrastructure to do what Rundgren is doing, to make more money than through any traditional record deal [see 5.22.00 ArtistEnt.com to Launch Subscription Service June 1].

"It's a 50-50 split between myself and ArtistEnt," DiNizio said. "I've finally got a deal that's equitable." The deal is good for fans too. In addition to the new songs, DiNizio subscribers get a VHS tape of a live performance, a live disc and access to online chats.

Not just any artist would see success as part of PatroNet. Web sites like MP3.com, Riffage.com and garageband.com let unestablished acts promote themselves online; PatroNet is for already recognized artists looking to form lucrative, direct relationships with an established fan base.

But the relaunch has not gone smoothly. ArtistEnt President Stuart Shapiro wouldn't discuss in detail technical bugs such as problems downloading, installing and using a proprietary PatroNet browser.

Shapiro said Monday that the problems would be resolved in "a couple of days or a couple of weeks."

Existing PatroNet subscribers, all Rundgren devotees, say at least minor problems have always existed because Rundgren insists on creating and maintaining every technical aspect of the service itself: a web site, the proprietary "Interocitor" browser, and TR-TV, a set of interactive applications.

"If I didn't love his music so much I wouldn't have stuck with him through all this," wrote one fan. "Because whatever you do, you don't make it difficult for people to buy your product."

If the problems can be fixed, PatroNet could offer established artists a real alternative to traditional recording contracts, and offer fans of those acts better value for their dollar. After some negative major label experiences as a member of the Smithereens, DiNizio is looking forward to forming closer relationships with his core fans. He hopes to lure between 10,000 and 20,000 subscribers.

The move seems a natural one for the independently minded singer/songwriter, who is currently running for a Senate seat in New Jersey. DiNizio used the Web earlier this year to book a concert tour, performing in fans' living rooms and backyards. He played 90 shows in all.


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