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Music sites sounding off

The Net is evolving as a distinct venue for music lovers and as a potential moneymaker for record companies and high-tech firms.

Although MTV and most radio stations are still light years ahead of the Internet in the market for music's audience, the Net is evolving as a distinct venue for music lovers and as a potential moneymaker for record companies and high-tech firms.

Major music labels increasingly are joining an online party to showcase multimedia and interactive capabilities. In addition, music companies are using the Net to sell everything from artists' images to their CDs, while high-tech giants are jumping on the bandwagon to show off the latest bells and whistles in their technologies.

For instance, Intel's New York Music Festival will host 400 bands and Webcast their performances live between July 16 to 19. The event will feature kiosks equipped with Pentium II processors at five clubs in New York and six in other cities worldwide, featuring audio and video streaming. Videoconferencing will also be available at certain clubs so fans can interact with bands and their followers.

"The PC is really the new medium for music," said Wendy Hafner, director of music marketing for Intel. "Only through the PC can you have interaction. Through the PC you have choice." (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

MTV, television's pioneering music channel, is not standing still, either. By the end of this month, MTV and Yahoo will launch a digital road map that gives fans a guide to some 75,000 music sites on the Web. Dubbed, it will offer a search engine for music sites, reviews by MTV editors, and event listings, according to Yahoo spokeswoman Jennifer Hwang.

Those 75,000 sites, which include those of recording giants such as Sony and Geffen Records, have sparked some competition among sites, but it hasn't reached a critical level yet. "Everybody's too confused by the medium to worry about direct competition right now," said Scott Hess, program director for JamTV, a site of music reviews, live concerts, and interviews with new artists.

"The thing that brought investment to the Internet was commerce," Hess observed. "To have commerce, you need to build community. When you have something like sports or music that will build community, commerce will follow."

Companies are reluctant to say how much they're investing in sites or how many hits they've received. Most record companies are trying to sell CDs as well as their artists' image through their sites, but the payoff isn't clear yet.

"There are some sales coming through. It's probably not enough to justify the cost of the site, but we justify the cost as [providing] more street marketing," said Dave Neupert, director of new media and marketing for Maverick Records, which has developed sites for artists such as Alanis Morissette and will be launching a company site on July 9. "There's 48 million people on the Internet, and that's a lot of people to market to. I think the potential is huge."

There are technical hurdles, too. JamTV's site warns users of "glitches," the downfall for music sites as leaders in using audio and video streaming and animation. While the New York Music Festival will have ISDN lines running for their PC kiosks, home users surfing music sites are still working off standard modems, which can mean hellacious download times.

Another problem can be the users themselves, who don't necessarily download every viewer, player, or plug-in to get to all the rich embellishments of the sites. In order to get the information out to all users, "we believe you need to put training wheels on your sites," JamTV's Hess said.