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Web Gives Exposure To Unsigned Acts

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Brooke Allison was just another struggling singer trying to get a record deal when she got her big break — via the Internet.

"A friend of mine, she made me a site and also put me up on the MP3 site," recalls the 14-year-old singer, whose first single, "The Kiss Off (Goodbye)," has cracked Billboard's Top 40 sales chart.

"The president of my record label went to the MP3 site and looked for unsigned artists ... (and) he e-mailed both of us."

Soon afterward, Brooke was meeting with 2KSounds President Michael Blakely and was awarded a recording contract. Her self-titled debut album on 2KSounds a division of Virgin Records, is scheduled for release later this month.

Brooke's story is the stuff MP3 dreams are made of, and is not unique. Other artists who have parlayed popularity on MP3.com and other music-sharing sites into major-label contracts include the duo Fisher, whose song "I Will Love You" was oft-played on "Ally McBeal" this season, and the rock band Transmatic, which recently signed a multi-album deal with Virgin Records.

"I actually look at (the Internet) about twice a day, every day ... What it does is it opens up a completely new area for discovering talent," said Blakely. "I used to have to go to shows and bars and clubs ... but now I can see and hear it online."

Still, no act so far has made the leap from Web star to pop star, and it may be awhile before an artist of multiplatinum status can claim Web roots.

"I think that overall the traditions of A&R (Artists & Repertoire) sourcings of new artists do tend to hold," Ray Cooper, co-president of Virgin Records, said of the labels' traditional means of finding artists — through managers, lawyers, from solicited tapes and in nightclubs.

"Those kind of things still seem to hold the main weight of the A&R approach to discovering acts and finding talent."

But for many acts, getting the connections that would provide that kind of access is extremely difficult, and they may not have the popularity from playing clubs that garners attention from record labels.

Kathy Fisher, who along with husband Ron Wasserman makes up the group Fisher, said the Internet "was the turning point for us."

"The Internet was an invaluable tool for us to actually create a fan base that we could present to the labels," she said.

The group, which gained exposure in 1998 after its music was featured on the "Great Expectations" film soundtrack, sent out its music on the Web, on MP3.com and other sites — and got, if not millions of record sales, millions of hits by users.

Fisher drew the attention of farmclub.com, a site that not only prominently promotes unsigned bands along with the 'N Syncs of the pop world, but also has its own label with Interscope Records.

A radio station in San Diego found Fisher's "I Will Love You" on the Web, downloaded it and added it to their playlist. It became an instant hit on the station.

The band released its first album, "True North," in November. So far, sales have been modest, to say the least, but Fisher says the Internet has helped the group come farther than it would have without it.

Chris Montgomery, vice president of subscription services at MP3.com, said that while hundreds of artists who have posted their music on the site have been signed to small labels, Fisher and Brooke Allison are its biggest successes because they were signed to major labels.

"I think what we're starting to see is what we would expect: The cream rises to the top," said Montgomery. "You'll start to see the really good act and the really popular act rising to the top of the charts."

Yet it's unclear if record-company executives are patient enough to sift through the avalanche of unsigned artists who post on the Web. Blakely admits he only started to check Web sites after he injured his leg and was homebound for awhile.

"The downside of the Internet is that there are so many artists on there that the competition is so fierce," said Blakely. "I think for the most part, most A&R people still like to go and see the band in front of them. Most people don't have the time to go through the Internet as I did."

But the Internet has proven to be at the very least an important tool for the emerging artist.

"I think if an artist is not putting themselves on the Internet, they are making a big mistake," said Fisher. "It used to be that record companies just wanted to see how many people you could bring into a club ... (now) you need to think of the Internet as a new form of the nightclub."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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