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In the 1990s, Sam Pinola played in a band, toured the country in a van, and dreamed of rock stardom. Today music is more of a hobby for the 32-year-old project coordinator at William C. Cox, a construction company outside Philadelphia.
With a full-time job, a mortgage, and a girlfriend who will soon be his wife, Pinola no longer tours. But more people may be hearing his music than ever before, thanks to the Web page his band, The Support Group, created on myspace.com. (NWS ) "We all now have day jobs, so we can't just jump into a car and drive to New York to play a gig," Pinola explains. "Having a MySpace page has helped expose our music to fans we wouldn't previously have been able to reach."
First, the Digital Revolution gave us inexpensive recording gear and easy-to-use software, helping amateur musicians record professional-sounding works. Now, the Internet has democratized how music is distributed and even sold. Leading the charge are social networking sites like MySpace, Friendster, and FaceBook, which have built communities around music and other shared interests. Members appreciate recommendations from friends on the sites, notes Rishon Blumberg, a partner at Brick Wall Management, a traditional music company that handles Marc Broussard, Citizen Cope, and other artists. "Putting an artist on MySpace is like opening a store in a heavily trafficked shopping mall," he says. Here are some of the best places to get your own music heard:
In the 13 months since its launch, MySpace has emerged as the mack daddy of all social networking sites, boasting 54 million members and more monthly page views than eBay (EBAY ) or Amazon.com (AMZN ), says comScore Media Metrix. While Friendster has been around longer, MySpace's easy-to-use interface and early focus on music and blogs helped propel it past its competitor.
Whether you've recorded a few tunes in your basement or a major label is heralding you as the next big thing, having a MySpace page is de rigueur, almost like owning a ripped pair of jeans and a leather jacket. With each account, you can post bios, blog entries, tour info, and photos. You can upload up to four songs, and there's a counter that tracks plays and downloads. MySpace recently launched a beta version of a video section, and it has promised a more robust instant-messaging system soon. Bands love the site both for its active, vocal membership, and for the ease of finding other bands. The URL is always myspace.com/thebandname.
Born in the dot-com gold rush, GarageBand.com (not to be confused with Apple Computer's GarageBand software) was co-founded by erstwhile Talking Head Jerry Harrison, among others. Eschewing the major-label system, the site awarded top-rated indie bands $250,000 recording contracts. The business model wasn't sustainable, and the Web site went dark in 2002. Then GarageBand was relaunched by former employees armed with fresh financing and committed to helping independent musicians gain exposure.
The heart of the service is now a review-based process: You have to rate 30 other songs before you can submit one of your own. GarageBand uses a proprietary algorithm to rank songs based on the feedback it receives from the community, with the idea that better songs will get more reviews, move up the site's charts, and perhaps garner so much attention that the artist will be offered a publishing deal. For those of us with less lofty goals, the site is still a great way to get constructive feedback. It promotes its top-ranked songs on college and Internet radio stations, including MSN Music. You can also create and distribute podcasts.
Have you ever wondered if smaller artists can get music up on iTunes and other services? Thanks to CD Baby, the answer is yes. The site has earned a devotion that borders on the cultish. Want to sell your CD? Just pay a flat fee of $35 to set up an account, set your price, and wait for orders to roll in. CD Baby gets a cut of $4 per disk, a more equitable split for the artist than any traditional retailer. Need a bar code so your CDs can get scanned? CD Baby will give you one for $20. The company warehouses all its artists' CDs, ships them promptly, handles all the financial transactions, and even sends your customers endearing thank-you notes. Since its launch in 1998, CD Baby has paid out more than $23 million to independent artists.
Now the company is helping independent artists get their music placed on download venues such as iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster (NAPS ), AOL's MusicNet, (TWX ) and Yahoo! (YHOO ) Music. You keep all rights to your music, you don't have to pay a start-up fee, and you get 91% of the artist's share of the sale CD Baby gets the other 9%), which they provide one week after they receive payment. The one caveat: CD Baby insists on being the exclusive distributor of your digital music. But with 30 days' notice, you can always cancel out.
Newcomer TagWorld is like MySpace on steroids, allowing members to attach "tags," or keywords, to photos, blogs, and even songs so others can find them more easily. Anytime you come across a new artist you like, just click the Add to My Tunes button and that song will instantly be available on your own page. While MySpace lets you keep just one song on your personal profile page, on TagWorld you can create entire playlists, tagged by genre, which will begin streaming whenever someone visits you. Your My Tunes selections are online so you can listen wherever you browse.
You can also create a multipage Web site using drag-and-drop modules for including music, videos, blogs, etc. And you can set the "permissions" for how others access the songs that you have uploaded and tagged. You can monitor how many times your song gets played, how many people have added it to their My Tunes list, and even the age and gender of your fans. While MySpace has a four-song limit, on TagWorld you can upload as many songs, photos, and videos as your 1 GB of storage will hold.
This site is part of the aptly named Music Genome Project. Pandora and its team of 35 musician-analysts listen to songs in every genre, breaking them down into 400 attributes ranging from melody and harmony to rhythm and lyrical content. That lets Pandora create playlists of tunes that are genetically similar, if you will, to the songs you like. Wanting to test its limits, I selected a disparate group of artists, including Richard Thompson, Fountains of Wayne, and The Who. Pandora sent me Echo and the Bunnymen, Free, and Yo La Tengo -- pretty impressive.
The site is free with ads, or $36 a year without, and accepts submissions from unsigned artists, once an audition is cleared. If chosen, your song might get sandwiched between two of your favorite artists, which means the person streaming your song may be strongly predisposed to like your music. For an artist, that's as good as it gets.
By James K. Willcox