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Searching for swag: Music to fans' ears

Branded search sites let fans earn prizes, while bands earn ad revenue and "don't look so old and legacy-like."

Forget about MySpace. Music groups are now turning to branded search engines to reach their fans online.

By using the special search engines, fans earn points that can be redeemed for band swag, like T-shirts, posters, and autographed guitars, as well as etched iPods and other electronics, movie tickets, music, and books.

Ted Nugent fans can even win a hunting trip with the carnivorous rocker.

"It makes the bands look tech-savvy. They don't look so old and legacy-like," says Hab Haddad, vice president of business development at music management firm McGhee Entertainment. The firm represents Ted Nugent, Hootie and the Blowfish, and KISS, a favorite among Internet searchers, apparently.

Barry Manilow's site is also pretty popular, says Ron Leshem, vice president of marketing at Prodege, the firm that creates and markets the sites. KISS and Manilow are each "getting a check every month in the multiple thousand-dollar range," he says.

The KISS search site has a nice big picture of the photogenic band in all their face-painted glory, and a search box for Web, news, images, or video searches for anything your heart desires. The results are powered by Google and Ask. It gets about 20,000 unique visitors a month, according to Leshem.

KISS has a custom, branded Web search site where you can earn band swag for searching. KISS/Prodege

You earn "Swag Bucks" as you search on the site, or any of the other approximately 80 celebrity-branded search sites, which include Beyonce, Wynonna Judd, Willie Nelson, Hilary Duff, the Indiana Pacers, the Indianapolis Colts, and New England Patriots wide receiver Randy Moss.

For 45 Swag Bucks you can get a $5 credit at Starbucks; 325 Swag Bucks gets you KISS fragrance for men; and for 2,500 Swag Bucks you can get a Gene Simmons Gold Record (Rare Production Sample).

It's unclear how many searches you have to conduct to get a point. People tend to win about five times a day, and you can get matching Swag Bucks for referring friends, according to Leshem.

For the band management firms, signing up for a branded search site is a no-brainer. They earn, on average, 15 cents per click on a sponsored link; they get traffic to the bands' other Web sites through a toolbar fans can install; and they get rid of promotional items from tours that are just laying around the band office, says Haddad.

I'm waiting for the Spinal Tap search site, myself.