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More bands finding venues on the Web

Not desiring -- or willing to wait for -- a major record deal, more artists are distributing their music online.

December 10, 2006|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer

Like many aspiring musicians, Sebu Simonian longed for the day when he would sign a contract with a major record label, giving him at least a shot at rock stardom.

But the 28-year-old lead singer of Los Angeles band Aviatic said he recently ended discussions with several record companies, including a major label, that had expressed interest in working with his band. They couldn't agree on the terms of a contract, he said, so Aviatic opted to become an "e-band," peddling its music online.

"Most musicians, when they start out, think you've got to get signed in order to succeed," Simonian said. "But now that the Internet has developed to become a really powerful tool to sell yourself, it's not as necessary."

It's nice to have the deep pockets and clout of a major record company. Without them, the guest shot on "The Late Show with David Letterman," the music video, the spot on a radio playlist and the headlining concert remain longshot dreams for most artists.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday December 13, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 56 words Type of Material: Correction
Bands on the Web: An article in Sunday's Business section about artists distributing their music online said Gary Jules and Michael Andrews wrote the song "Mad World" that appeared on the soundtrack of the film "Donnie Darko." Jules and Andrews covered the song, which was written by Roland Orzabal of the British band Tears for Fears.

Nonetheless, the Web is turning into a viable alternative with which bands can develop a following and earn some money while still pursuing fame and fortune. Such popular groups as Britain's Arctic Monkeys used the Web extensively before getting a break. Indeed, music companies are embracing the Internet as a convenient way to scout new talent.

"Labels will start to treat e-labels as farm clubs," said Aram Sinnreich, managing partner at Radar Research, a media consulting firm based in Los Angeles. "The Internet is going to become a market testing bed."

Bands like Aviatic know it's risky to depend only on the Internet and concerts to promote their music. But as more Web services provide artists a venue to make a name for themselves online, bands are realizing that signing with a label is no longer a make-or-break proposition.

"It used to be that a record label was the only way you could go," said Jay Frank, head of programming and label relations at Internet giant Yahoo Inc.

Opportunities are ample at such sites as Yahoo Music and at digital distributors like Tune Core, Orchard and Digital Rights Agency. Social networking site MySpace, which hosts 3 million bands online, recently partnered with Snocap Inc., a company that helps artists sell their music online.

"Artists are increasingly being offered a broader set of tools to distribute their music online," said Alex Rofman, director of business development at Snocap.

Portland, Ore.-based CD Baby features the work of more than 155,000 artists who earn a combined $35 million a year through the service. The independent distributor takes a $4 fee per album sold on its site, giving artists a bigger cut of their record sales than they would get through a label.

"Now, artists can give the finger to the labels and just do it themselves until the situation is really right," said Derek Sivers, president of the company.

Some artists say they like using CD Baby because they don't have to sign away the rights to their music. Others don't like feeling as if they are the property of a label.

"I am trying to make records that I'll be proud of for a long time," said Michael Andrews, a 38-year-old Glendale-based artist.

Andrews has worked on albums released by labels as a session musician and producer. But when he made his own album, "Hand on String," this year, he decided to release it over the Internet. Doing so, he said, gave him more creative freedom.

With a label "you have to moderate your music in a way that's going to be deemed acceptable to the mainstream," said Radar's Sinnreich. "It's very difficult for an artist to feel like they're doing something innovative that also has a fair shot at getting stocked on the shelves of Wal-Mart."

Not that it's an easy road. A band that sells exclusively over the Internet has to be responsible for promoting its own music, developing a fan base and booking its concert schedule. Aviatic's Simonian spends half of his time working on the band's music and the rest dealing with logistics.

"Most artists don't have that type of work ethic," Yahoo's Frank said. "Most artists like to play music and party."

But self-promotion also helps some artists develop a more loyal fan base. Rather than buying an album because they hear about it on the radio, listeners purchase because of word of mouth. Sites such as Yahoo Music and CD Baby make this possible by recommending music to listeners based on their tastes and interests, allowing a band with an eclectic sound to develop a following of a few thousand fans.

Jim Guerinot, who manages independent band Social Distortion along with such big-name acts as Gwen Stefani, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails and the Offspring, said talented artists ultimately had to decide whether they were content to remain in an online niche market or would rather trade some of their independence for a shot at stardom.

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