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20 years ago today, Aerosmith became the first major-label band to let fans download a new song

Aerosmith back in 1994 were known for many things — the year-long Get A Grip tour that hit Great Woods for two nights in August, a re-connection with the MTV generation through a string of hit videos (“Livin’ on the Edge,” “Crazy”) and Alicia Silverstone getting her naval pierced in “Crazy.” (OMFG she just jumped off that bridge!)

What the Boston rock band wasn’t getting much press for, at the time, was the online-only release of Get A Grip outtake “Head First,” which on June 27, 1994, became pretty much the first new song available for download-only. Twenty years ago today, Aerosmith were wicked ahead of the game.

According to Wikipedia’s 1994 In Music page, “over 10,000 CompuServe subscribers download the free track… within its first eight days of availability.” CompuServe waived its connection fees — $9.60 an hour — so users could get the song, which took up to 90 minutes to download.

Yahoo!’s music blog this week even found an incredible press quote from Steven Tyler about the whole ordeal. And yes, he uses “information superhighway” — can you imagine this meeting when the idea was first proposed to the band?

“If our fans are out there driving down that information superhighway, then we want to be playing at the truck stop. This is the future — so let’s get it going,” the frontman said in the most Steven Tyler way possible.

Vice’s Noisey site goes into the experiment in great detail in a must-read piece today, noting that Geffen Records “made history” with the stunt.

It is three minutes and 14 seconds long. It took 60 to 90 minutes to download. “Head First” was a trial, a marketing ploy, a flash of the future, an iceberg for a titanic industry, and 4.3 megabytes of riffs and double entendres, available as a WAV file.

Offering a song for digital download was a tech experiment, carried out both for its industry-altering potential and for the hell of it. It was the brainchild of three fairly new Geffen employees: Jim Griffin, Robert von Goeben, and Luke Wood. They brought the Internet to Geffen—not just the computers, but the fledgling culture. Griffin grasped the technology, von Goeben knew CompuServe, and Wood understood where the industry was headed.

Together, they helped trigger a watershed moment for the industry, helping to draw the lines between supporters and critics of digital music distribution and launching an as-yet-unresolved debate about copyright, royalties, distribution, and listener access.

And as for the song, everyone in 2014 can go right to where it started, and just push play…

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