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Download this, Mr. Jones

Counting Crows takes to a new stage, having partnered with BitTorrent to distribute some of its latest songs for free.

Counting Crows

(Credit: Counting Crows)

Numerous entertainers have had serious flirtations with digital distribution, but the band Counting Crows has taken its infatuation a step further -- straight into the BitTorrent universe. (Legally, that is.)

The Counting Crows BitTorrent bundle (download), released today, includes songs, art, and liner notes from their latest album Underwater Sunshine. It's available to torrent freaks everywhere -- with the approval of both the band and its label.

"I don't know why everybody's not doing it," said Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz during a phone conversation with CNET. He noted that even at his band's peak popularity, it didn't attract the 150 million people who now use torrent managers such as BitTorrent mainline (download) and uTorrent (download). Torrents, he said, are a great way for musicians to get their music out to a wider audience.

Pretty Lights, a band with a far smaller following than Counting Crows, put out an entire album via BitTorrent and got an astronomically high response. While album sales might not immediately reflect the new followers, concert ticket sales jump.

Counting Crows will follow up the torrent release by headlining a summer tour that will showcase a rotating lineup of bands called The Outlaw Roadshow.

The peer-supported torrent rocketed to popularity after its debut in 2002 as people used it to share files, and it remains one of the best ways to transfer data without requiring an enormous amount of bandwidth. The big challenge for bands these days, Duritz suggested, is not sales but obscurity. "Nobody's got a boombox and nobody's listening to radio," he said.

Cover art for Counting Crows' "Underwater Sunshine."

(Credit: Counting Crows)

"A pipeline is still a pipeline. Just because somebody opened the pipeline at the wrong time doesn't mean it's not there. It's a conduit to the entire world for free, and it's silly to pretend it doesn't exist," said Duritz.

Since the days of Napster, Internet-based services have been radically changing music distribution. "It's not the same world we used to live in," Duritz said. "There used to be a cycle: record a record, release the record, tour. Now it's just this endless world."

Duritz was emphatically enthusiastic about the torrent. He stated that the popularity of torrents points to nothing less than a new path to success for musicians. "We're trying to create a business model for a business that hasn't existed yet: Independent bands doing well. For a new band, I highly recommend giving away the whole record."

The bundle includes only four songs from the record: "Like Teenage Gravity," "Meet on the Ledge," "Hospital," and "Untitled (Love Song)." Duritz said that he originally thought his band was going to give away the entire record, but securing approval was difficult because "Underwater Sunshine," referencing "Underwater Moonlight" by The Soft Boys, is a covers album. To make the bundle more appealing, the torrent includes album art and 45 pages of liner notes, he added.

Duritz says he considered self-distributing the bundle on the Counting Crows Web site, but decided that emulating Louis C.K.'s self-distributed show from earlier this year wasn't the right choice for his band. "You want to go to the biggest marketplace in town, not just sell stuff out of your house. Although we're as popular as we are, we don't have 150 million users."

While many in the music business still struggle with figuring out how to make a living playing music in the age of file-sharing, Duritz remains confident that it will end up helping musicians. "No tool that connects everyone in the world for free is a bad thing. And the best thing about the Internet is that it's inclusive, not exclusive."

Editor's note: Using P2P and file-sharing software to distribute copyrighted material without authorization is illegal in the United States and many other countries. CBS Interactive does not encourage or condone the illegal duplication or distribution of copyrighted content.

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