Portals aim to do heavy lifting for music execs

It can be a time-consuming task seeking out the next hot new music act to plug into a project, with music supervisors having to spend hours inside cramped clubs or listening their way through stacks of CDs sent by band reps.

But an increasing number of websites are doing some of that heavy lifting, showcasing up-and-coming performers looking to land a big break.

Among them, Yahoo Music’s Who’s Next regularly spotlights new acts that have crossed over and struck a chord with mainstream auds.

The series, which reaches Yahoo Music’s more than 20 million visitors each month, kicked off in 2004 with a performance by My Chemical Romance. Soon after, the young goth-rock band landed several major tours, saw their album go platinum and earned a Grammy nom.

Since then, Yahoo has helped introduce acts such as Amy Winehouse, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Corinne Bailey Rae, Duffy, Adele, the Plain White T’s and KT Tunstall, discovering them at events like SXSW in Austin and showcasing them through performances and profiles months before their albums or singles broke out and topped U.S. charts. But Yahoo isn’t taking the full credit for launching the careers of those artists.

“I’m not going to say that we helped make them a star,” says Neal Weiss, executive producer of Who’s Next. “But an outlet as big as Yahoo is going to move the needle.”

Sites like AOL’s music blog Spinner.com, CBS’ online radio service Last.fm and online music TV channel LP33.tv also provide visitors free plays of new songs and interviews with new artists.

With musicvideos hardly appearing on television anymore, YouTube has been able to turn itself into a key vid platform and launchpad for new acts. It introduces new acts every Tuesday.

It essentially turned Soulja Boy into a major star, with the hip-hop phenom generating more than 300 million views on YouTube, which has lead to a new album, line of sneakers and animated series. Esmee Denters went from appearing in videos singing from her bedroom to a record deal with Justin Timberlake’s label after generating 100 million hits. And Lisa Lavie became an instant star when the newcomer’s musicvid “Angel” bowed and was viewed more than 1 million times in the first three days. Her first album is now being produced by Ben Margulies, who launched Mariah Carey’s career.

“It’s about pure talent,” says Chris Di Cesare, head of marketing and community at YouTube. “A lot of the artists have channels, and they’re very active on the channels. ”

MySpace is also looking to give indie artists a push with MySpace Music, a site it launched in September and will promote to its 120 million members.

The site initially bowed with several million tracks from artists signed by the major labels, but it has since expanded its indie cred with more than 1 million tracks from the Independent Online Distribution Alliance.

With all those songs available, however, acts can end up being lost in the shuffle — again.

That’s where the sites’ editorial teams — who are flooded with emails, press releases and recommendations — come in.

“We’re about seeking out the best new stuff,” says John Lenac, head of label relations and programming for Yahoo Music, which has more than 1.2 million songs and 30,000 musicvids in rotation. “We’re not in the job of throwing everything up against the wall and hoping it just sticks,” Weiss says. “There’s stuff that you recognize that you know is going to be big.”

Any exposure is welcomed by the music biz, which continues to sing the blues. But appearing on a Yahoo or YouTube isn’t enough to promote a fledgling act, industryites say.

They still need to play the small venues but also spread the word about themselves in other ways across the Web as well. That includes frequently updating a blog or creating profiles on MySpace or Facebook.

“The bands that leverage where the music fans are across the Web are the ones that are going to win,” Lenac says.

In January, Yahoo will launch artist profile pages that include links to any of the major sites on which they feature music.

“Music fans are experiencing music all across the Web,” Lenac says. “We want each artist page to be a best-of-the-Web experience.”

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