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Singer breaking from Net to mainstream

Songwriter Geoff Byrd has used the Web to kick-start his music career. But the rest is still old-fashioned hard work.

Portland, Ore., singer-songwriter Geoff Byrd may be the first artist to break into the mainstream music world from the Internet, but he's learning that there's still no free ride.

Byrd's Internet fame has been growing slowly over the past year. As an unsigned artist on the Web site, his music was consistently rated high, and ultimately drew strong support from Live365 and Microsoft's MSN. For a short time last December he was the most-played rock act on Net radio, beating out U2 and Green Day, according to Webcast raters RadioWave Airplay Monitor.

All of that was enough to garner him attention from major labels, but no record contract. So this week, his managers--who include the founding member of the band Kansas--are signing Byrd to their own new label that will give him national distribution through a Universal Music Group affiliate and access to mainstream radio stations around the country.

"The Internet has worked to get exposure for him," said Dave Austin, a longtime music promoter and manager who is one of the founders of the new Granite Records label. "Now we have to turn that around for him and see if we can do that on mainstream radio."

Byrd's experience shows the power that Internet promotion can have for unsigned artists, as well as the limitations of a medium that still plays secondary role to the traditional routes of FM radio and live performances.

The Portland musician has been the focal point of a considerable effort by GarageBand, a site which uses recommendations and rating by other musicians in an attempt to find music likely to be popular.

GarageBand Chief Executive Officer Ali Partovi said success by Byrd in cracking into mainstream radio play would help traditional record labels take the Net more seriously.

"It's amazing to me that the mainstream industry has not paid more attention to this kind of thing," Partovi said. "Why not sign artists who have already made it on Internet radio? That makes it much more of a sure thing on traditional radio."

That idea will be tested this week as Byrd goes on the road in a motor home for a tour of 50 radio stations around the county, in hopes of getting DJs to play his song. Several have already agreed, swayed by the music and the backing of powerful allies like the Los Angeles Creative Artists Agency, which is booking his tour.

Byrd said he's happy with the new label deal, believing it will give him more creative freedom than a traditional major label, while still having good distribution.

"We feel we can do things outside the box," he said. "Big corporations can't do that."