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Musicians befriend IM buddies

Warner Bros. is joining the instant chat craze by launching a self-branded IM buddy for one of its musicians, a sign that major record labels hope to grab music fans where they live online.

For a 14-year-old aspiring pop musician, an instant chat buddy devoted to your songs could mean "You've got stardom."

Lindsay Pagano, a wunderkind whose first full-length album will be released by Warner Bros. Records this fall, is hoping that instant messaging can help propel her to the top of the charts. On Tuesday, the record label launched a specialized chat buddy on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) to answer questions about Pagano's upcoming album, lyrics and inspiration.

"Lindsay is an IM fan and user herself, so it makes sense to have her interact with her new fans through this medium," Betty Lin, Warner Bros. senior manager for new media, said in a statement.

Pagano may be the first teenager with a self-branded IM agent, but not the first musician. Earlier this summer, Capitol Records introduced a first-of-its-kind instant chat buddy for fans of the popular band Radiohead, promoting its latest album to stellar response. Now Warner Bros. is following suit, a further sign that major record labels hope to grab music fans where they live online.

The buddies, engineered by technology company ActiveBuddy, respond to natural language queries by delivering information, Web links and services on demand via instant messengers. The new agent for Pagano, called "LindsayBuddy," sits on AIM buddy lists, ultimately to promote the artist and her upcoming album "Love & Faith & Inspiration," due out Oct. 23. Fans can add the name to their buddy lists to pull up Pagano's concert information, her biography, horoscopes, games or movie information.

The promotional agents are just one of the ways Internet companies hope to take advantage of the popularity of instant chat. Long associated with casual text-based conversations among teens and singles on message boards, IM technology is poised to establish itself as an independent platform for a variety of communication and information-gathering applications. Already, Yahoo, AOL Time Warner and Microsoft offer an array of services through instant messenger, including audio chat, PC-to-phone connections, videoconferencing, file sharing and multiplayer games.

These technology giants have long been looking for ways to profit from the millions of people chatting via instant messenger, and licensing room on their networks to the likes of record labels could mean added revenues.

For its part, ActiveBuddy has developed mainstream agents including "SmarterChild," which provides news, weather forecasts, reference tools, financial data, movie times, horoscopes and games. Last week, the company updated it seminal service with additional games, translation services and Web search. Consumers can type in Web queries such as "search cars" and pull up links related to autos, for example.

The company is also testing an interactive agent that specializes in baseball information that it hopes to release in September. It would deliver baseball scores, team and player statistics, and related sports news.