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Bands and fans singing a new tune on MySpace

Looking for a new band to call your own, or hoping to turn weekend jam sessions into a career?Thanks to the emergence of and other social networking sites, the Web is becoming a giant audition stage where millions of fans lay in wait. From weekend hacks to Grammy-winning acts, more than 600,000 bands are using MySpace to upload songs and videos, announce shows, promote albums and inter

Looking for a new band to call your own, or hoping to turn weekend jam sessions into a career?

Thanks to the emergence of and other social networking sites, the Web is becoming a giant audition stage where millions of fans lay in wait.

From weekend hacks to Grammy-winning acts, more than 600,000 bands are using MySpace to upload songs and videos, announce shows, promote albums and interact with fans.

“Bands are going to MySpace because it’s free and they don’t have to know how to do a Web site,” said Tom Anderson, the site’s 29-year-old co-founder and president. “But the biggest reason is because there are 43 million people on MySpace.”

The site’s astronomic growth since its fall 2003 launch — it’s adding 4 million users a month — has made MySpace a pop icon and a corporate darling. Last summer, media mogul Rupert Murdoch paid $580 million to acquire the site and its parent company, Intermix. MySpace has become the third most visited Web domain (Google is No. 1), started its own record label and premiered new releases by several high-profile artists, including Madonna, Neil Diamond and Nine Inch Nails.

“Every day it seems we hit these new milestones,” Anderson said.

This community is clickable

Anderson didn’t set out to create a music powerhouse. MySpace was conceived as a cyber community where people in the same city or on opposite ends of the Earth could meet and correspond — “a place for friends.” Anderson, a fan of independent bands, said he also recognized that the site could bridge the gap between musicians and fans.

“Part of the appeal (of MySpace) is that people aren’t here just for music, but casual fans can find it here,” Anderson said. “Bands themselves can reach out and find fans. It’s really opened up opportunities for bands to promote themselves.”

MySpace Music is the prime convergence point for bands and fans. Users can search for artists by name, genre, location or keyword. The section promotes new and well-established acts through exclusive content such as streaming audio and video. Audioslave, Weezer, Depeche Mode and other artists have previewed entire albums on the site ahead of their official release.

“Social networking is one of the best examples of what the Web can do: connect people, whether it’s at the micro level or the macro level, one-to-one or hundreds of thousands of people at once,” said Toby Lewis, editorial director at London-based Music Ally.

DIY promotional tool

Jonathan Buck, guitarist and lead singer for the Brooklyn indie rock group Coppermine, says his band’s profile on MySpace has drawn nearly 300,000 visitors. The band can instantly distribute messages and news to more than 115,000 MySpace users who have added Coppermine as a “friend” on their profile. Thanks to the broad reach of MySpace, Coppermine no longer has to flood radio stations with CDs or plaster concert posters around town.

“A MySpace profile is so efficient and so effective that it supplants a lot of that other stuff,” Buck said.

Likening MySpace to a big music festival, Buck says the site allows small bands to make a name for themselves without spending time and money on the menial tasks usually associated with band development.

“You go to a big rock show where a big band is headlining — say, Audioslave — and you’re there with CDs and posters, waiting in the rain to hand this stuff out to the crowd after the show. MySpace allows you to do that everyday, without spending any money,” he said.

The site’s been a boon to music fans, as well.

“I mainly use the music section in MySpace to look for up-and-coming bands,” said Nate Yeakel, or “MastaNate,” as the 31-year-old Southern Californian punk fan is know to his friends on MySpace. “I’ve seen links to even the smallest of bands’ MySpace pages. When there, you can usually find a link to either their merchandise or their label support, which can also turn you onto more bands.

“I guess the best way to describe MySpace is that it proves the ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ theory.”

A place for the big boys

Signed bands that already have a large fan base and the marketing power of a record label have also been drawn in by the DIY appeal of MySpace.

“It’s this great new place for instant gratification,” said Chris Carrabba, lead singer and songwriter for the rock band Dashboard Confessional, which is signed with Vagrant Records.

Carrabba logged onto MySpace for the same reason Anderson created the site: to connect with friends. Carrabba, who spends much of his time touring, said the site provides a central meeting place, anonymity, and a chance to connect with new fans.

“We’ve become a fairly popular band, especially among Web-savvy kids,” Carrabba said. “I do believe that’s what made us. But there are plenty of people that haven’t heard of us, or heard us yet.”

Dashboard Confessional’s nearly 169,000 online fans have translated into concert patrons, as Carrabba found out when his band performed at a special concert in Los Angeles in October commemorating the second anniversary of MySpace.

“The MySpace anniversary party was kind of a reunion between bands, and probably the same thing for ‘civilians’ on MySpace,” he said. “You had people from everywhere there.” 

Branching beyond cyberspace

The L.A. concert also coincided with MySpace’s latest music venture, a new record label. The site has partnered with Interscope Records to form a label featuring both well-established and breakthrough acts. A MySpace Records compilation album released last fall put the music from more than a dozen bands, including Dashboard Confessional, into the hands of millions of consumers.

“Honestly it’s just something I wanted to do,” Anderson said of the label. “It seemed like a fun way to support bands. It’s not a huge part of the business. It’s a completely separate venture and in no way will it affect what we do with bands and labels. Maybe we’ll sign three or four bands a year.”

While MySpace Records might be seen as an extension of Anderson’s affinity for indie music, his site has become its own animal. Murdoch’s acquisition of MySpace is evidence that major media companies are more than willing to throw big money at sites to “test the waters and see what they can do,” music analyst Lewis said. At the same time, record labels that have relied on traditional promotion schemes — radio play, street teams and magazine write-ups — are also wading into new Web waters.

Last year, Nine Inch Nails, Beck and Queens of the Stone Age each enjoyed their biggest-ever album releases, according to Interscope. The albums were featured prominently on MySpace and streaming previews were available on the site days before they hit store shelves.

Catching fire or bound to fail?

DeWolfe maintains that even more rewarding than major acts finding success on MySpace, is that the site is removing some of the traditional barriers that have confronted up-and-coming artists.

“Big labels in the past were the gatekeepers that would allow a band to make a living or not, but labels are signing fewer bands,” he said. “Along with new production tools, MySpace allows a band to reach 43 million people. It allows a band to make a living and to fill up shows.”

Lewis sounds a cautious note over the potential for MySpace or other social networking sites to revolutionize the music landscape. Online trends can arrive with a flourish only to fade into obscurity, he said.

“I’m not convinced (media companies) know how they’re going to make use of these sites. It’s really anyone’s guess how the new world and the old world will come together,” he said. “We’re hearing stories of people being paid to stay up all night and add friends to a band’s MySpace page. There’s a potential for it to burn out if it’s not managed correctly.”

“Almost without thinking about it, people put their entire biography on their MySpace page — their favorite bands, their likes and dislikes,” he said.

Media companies will have to be careful how they use such information, Lewis cautioned.

“It could go wrong if it starts to be abused by record labels and marketers.”

It may be hard to put the genie back in the bottle. New users are flocking to MySpace every day and Internet surfers expect to find bands on the site. Some bands have stopped promoting their own Web sites in favor of a MySpace profile. Some, like Coppermine and Dashboard Confessional, maintain a presence across multiple Web communities. Both musicians Buck and Carrabba said MySpace has become a key piece of their bands’ promotional ensemble.

“It’s absolutely a great tool,” Buck said. “Any kind of band out there that is trying to get something done is using MySpace.”