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Billboard turns to matchmaking

The publisher of music industry bible Billboard magazine is planning a site designed to help unsigned bands get their big break.

Billboard Music Group, publisher of music industry bible Billboard magazine, is expanding its Net reach with a matchmaking site designed to help unsigned bands get their big break.

The site, Billboard Talent Net, expected to launch in April, will contain an interactive database "showcasing new, cutting-edge music by unsigned and developing artists," according to Billboard Music Group. It will allow "the music industry's artists and repertoire executives, attorneys, music publishers, artists' managers, and the public to access up-and-coming talent via database-driven directories of artists and genres."

According to preview material posted on the Billboard Talent Net site, artists can post three songs (up to six minutes of music), two images such as an artist photo and album cover art, and biographical information for a fee, beginning at $99 per month.

Industry members such as talent seekers and music publishers also will be charged to post material on the site, but Billboard spokeswoman Jody Miller said those prices have not yet been determined.

"Many A&R [Artists and Repertoire] people already use the Internet to search for unsigned artists, while others spend many late nights in clubs around the world looking for the next big act," the site states. "And while Billboard Talent Net is set to be a prominent professional source of new artists and music on the Internet, we are not attempting to eliminate the traditional way of scouting for talent."

The site is being created to "streamline" the talent-finding process, and to gauge the potential of bands that seem to have promise. Miller said the site will allow consumers to rate the music, so that "industry executives can ascertain how popular each artist is, really early on."

The site also will use collaborative filtering software, so that registered users' preferences can be tracked and matched with other music. Registered users will get customized email when new artists are added to the database that are similar to their preferences.

Billboard Music Group claims the site will be the first of its kind, but the Internet has long been a haven for unsigned artists looking for an audience.

The Net allows for relatively inexpensive and wide-reaching exposure. But since putting up a site doesn't guarantee visitors, sites such as those by talent scouts, the encyclopedic Internet Underground Music Archive (IUMA), The Unsigned, and the Ultimate Band List are designed to wade through the countless efforts posted by hopeful jukebox heroes-to-be.

Jeff Patterson, president of IUMA--which has been housing information and samples for hundreds of artists as well as dozens of labels on the Net since 1993--said he doesn't see the effort by Billboard as a threat. He said Billboard could have trouble trying to leverage its name for the new site, which is very different from its other properties.

"I think we have a unique approach," Patterson said today. "I think when people think of our site, they think of new music. When people think of Billboard, they think of music industry news."

He said the influx of new users to the Internet and online services are just as likely to find IUMA as they are to find Billboard's new site.

"A lot of people coming online looking for new music would never think of going to Billboard," he said. "I never looked at Billboard until I got into the music business."

IUMA offers artists space for one song, two pages of text, two images, one page of lyric text, and one logo, along with online merchandising capability (IUMA provides the warehousing, inventory, order-taking, billing, and shipping of CDs or other merchandise on a consignment basis), for $240 per year--a fraction of the cost being promoted by Billboard. Other services, such as space for video clips and additional songs, also are available for additional fees. Labels are charged $600 per year for similar services.

Patterson noted that industry executives already turn to IUMA as a source for new talent.

"Some of the labels--Geffen, for example--tell their people to come to our site regularly to find new talent," he said, adding that popular bands the Mermen and Sublime started on IUMA in 1994.