Trying to strike a chord


DUMONT, N.J. - Darrin Bradbury's music CD is titled Boy Without a Plan.

But the 17-year-old Dumont High School junior actually has a carefully laid-out strategy for becoming a famous musician.

The singer/songwriter/guitarist is using new Web-based music companies to market, promote and distribute his 10-track album in the hope of getting attention from a major record label.

"Everything is on the Web," Darrin said. "It's real easy to just give out a Web site."

And his plan just might work.

Record companies are increasingly looking online for new talent.

Gone are the days when talent scouts frequented dimly lit clubs in New York and New Jersey in search of the next big thing. To get a label's attention independent artists must create a buzz over the digital airwaves by promoting and distributing their music online.

"It starts with a dynamic Web site," said Dave Roberge, president of Everfine Records in New York City, a label affiliated with Lava Records and part of the Warner Music Group. "If you are an artist, you want individuals to go to the Web site and get everything that they could get at a show."

Roberge said music scouts - known as artist and repertoire representatives, or A&R; people - typically will visit a Web site to hear music, view pictures, and check out band chat rooms or press clippings before deciding to go to a show.

Roberge picked up the Maryland-based band O.A.R. (Of A Revolution) after executives at his company learned its music was the most downloaded of any band on the Internet. Roberge said the band developed a nationwide following by spreading its music through Napster and its own site. Now O.A.R. can be heard on radio stations nationwide.

Creating a buzz

The new system of finding bands has in some ways created a more egalitarian industry: Produce great music that sells on the Internet and record executives will notice. But the system also puts pressure on musicians to think like executives as they record their own albums and try to sell them online.

"The Internet changed the way bands work," said Matt Coban, 20-year-old lead singer and guitarist with The Better World, a band based in Allendale, N.J. "Web sites, putting up links to the band site, promoting and selling your CD - it's just something that you got to do."

"We know we are not going to get signed playing in his basement," said bandmate and fellow guitarist Justin Miskowski, 19.

The Better World recorded a self-titled debut album in 2002 and now sells it on the Web. It has spent more than $6,000 to record, produce, market and sell the CD.

Darrin Bradbury and his mother/manager, Donna, have spent $4,500. The demo tape makes up the bulk of the cost. With the new emphasis on marketing and promotion, independent artists must spend more money than before to produce a professional-looking product.

Donna Bradbury spent $1,500 for a package from Oasis CD in Virginia that included packaging and printing of 500 CDs and a Web program that teaches how to make a professional-looking online media kit.

Darrin said he was naive before receiving the lesson in marketing.

"I wasn't sure if you just threw the CD and bio into a bag and passed it out," he said.

In response to the recent demand for help in promoting music online, dozens of companies that specialize in selling independent music have emerged in the past few years.

CD Baby, based in Portland, Ore., is one of them. Started in 1997 by musician Derek Sivers to sell his own CD, it is now the largest seller of independent CDs on the Web. More than 54,053 artists, including The Better World and Bradbury, sell their CDs on the company's site,

Customers can search for independent artists by, among other things, genre or famous bands that they sound like.

The company takes a $4 cut from every album sold, and independent artists can set their own price for their CDs. So far, the company has paid more than $6 million to musicians, Sivers said. To sell a CD on the site, a musician needs only to contact CD Baby and mail some CDs to its offices.

Sivers says it's great that labels are looking online for new talent.

"Instead of playing favorites and who you know, the companies are saying, 'Sell as many CDs as you can,'" and whoever creates the biggest buzz wins attention, he said.

Starting small

Even small independent labels are relying on the Web to choose which bands they will sign.

Independent record producer Joe D. Martinez started the Web site to find independent bands that he may want to sign to his new label 1Two8Records.

Martinez, of Neptune, N.J., allows bands to put their music on his Web server free of charge while also providing links to bands' Web pages.

He tries to sign the best musicians to his label. His goal is to eventually get his bands signed to a major label in exchange for a cut of their new album sales.

"There are sites out there now that break down bands into two groups - bands with money and bands without money," he said. "I want to find a way to level the playing field."

Darrin Bradbury said that while the online music industry can be complicated to navigate, it has already helped him chase his dreams.

"It's really weird to sell CDs and walk down the halls of school and know that people have your CD," he said. "This is what I've always wanted."

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