U tunes web music

Artists worldwide can send demos to site

Universal Music’s online record label Jimmy and Doug’s Farm Club launched Tuesday as Seagram CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr. talked of a potential spinoff of the company’s Internet music business.

“We expect it will have an independent value that we (can) bring to Seagram shareholders (through) an IPO, a tracking stock or something else,” Bronfman told reporters after a press conference in New York unveiling the new label, which can be found at FarmClub.com.

The project allows aspiring artists worldwide to upload music to the Web site for critique by industry execs and music fans. The most promising acts will be featured on a new TV show, FarmClub.com, to air on the USA Network following top-rated “Raw” from the World Wrestling Federation. That’s synergy. Seagram controls the cable net’s parent, USA Networks Inc. Seagram/Universal execs see the young, male “Raw” audience as a good bet for FarmClub.

Other partners in the venture include an exclusive marketing and promotion agreement with America Online and a non-exclusive arrangement with MTV Networks’ MTV and VH1. AOL will own 3% of FarmClub.

Universal plans to offer recording contracts to the best acts.

“This will provide young artists a ticket from obscurity,” said Bronfman, a former songwriter himself.

“There’s a lot of great music out there that needs to be heard,” added Jimmy Iovine, co-chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M and chairman- CEO of the new venture.

There’s also a lot of bad music too. Execs said FarmClub will have its people listening 24 hours a day to weed out the unworthy. The label will announce a president and staffing in coming months. Until then, personnel include six A&R employees in L.A. and six in N.Y.

The Doug of FarmClub is Universal Music CEO Doug Morris. He said the label will be ready to sign up artists with Universal as of Feb. 1. Music can be uploaded starting in December.

Bronfman wouldn’t discuss Seagram’s dollar investment in the project, which is part of a pattern of spending on online music initiatives that he’s discussed a number of times with Wall Street without giving any specifics. He said the cash outlay would be “significant,” but partly offset by projected revenue from advertising, merchandising and licensing. “We’re going to spend what it takes to be competitive in this space,” he said.

He also declined to elaborate on how Universal can prevent other music companies from snatching away the best acts once they’re discovered. “It will be an extremely robust site. There is a certain competitive process I don’t want to go into” that will address that issue, he said, adding that Universal “has a really competitive edge by being first and by having the partners we have.”

FarmClub won’t be the only site where artists can send demos. Garageband.com, among a host of other sites, also accepts them. But Universal is the first major music company to enter the fray. “Why post your stuff on Garageband.com when you can post it on FarmClub,” said one industry insider.