AOL, Time Warner Pair For matchbox twenty Promo

America Online (AOL) and Time Warner may be awaiting consummation of their mega-merger, but the first synergistic fruit of the pairing is evident in a marketing campaign for matchbox twenty's forthcoming album, "mad season by matchbox twenty," due May 23 from Melisma/Lava/Atlantic.

A key element in the promotion -- which is designed to expose AOL's 22 million subscribers to the band's music and to put AOL's services and music-related products directly into the hands of the band's fans -- is the inclusion of AOL software on the CD itself.

Each disc will include two AOL-owned Internet music players: a dedicated Spinner player and a customized version of AOL's WinAmp player with a matchbox twenty "skin." The Spinner player offers direct access to a band-designed Internet channel, while the WinAmp player will offer a live bonus track, "You And I And I." Album packaging will flag the added interactive material.

Users do not need to be AOL subscribers to access the players or Internet channel, but the discs will contain start-up software offering fans a trial subscription, according to an AOL spokeswoman.

AOL has done such start-up bundling deals with other record companies, the spokeswoman says, but this marks the first time it has put its Spinner and WinAmp players directly onto a music product.

Atlantic executive VP/GM Ron Shapiro declined to offer terms of the software deal with AOL, calling it only a "win-win for everybody."

Atlantic says initial album shipments will be slightly more than 1 million. The group's previous release, 1996's "Yourself Or Someone Like You," has sold 6.9 million copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan.

-- Marilyn A. Gillen, N.Y.