Musicians looking for a recording deal long have been at the mercy of artist-and-repertoire executives, who send a clear message to rock-star wannabes: Don't call us, we'll call you.
But Universal Music Group is bringing a little democracy to the music business.
Universal's new online record label, Jimmy and Doug's Farm Club, was founded by two of the industry's most influential music executives Jimmy Iovine and Doug Morris (hence the name). Its Web site at provides a platform where unsigned musicians can upload their music and listeners from around the globe can vote on who should receive a coveted recording contract.
The site is the first major online A & R; development effort by a music-industry heavy hitter, and may well stand as a model for future labels.
"As the Internet evolves, the opportunities for music companies to use the Internet to develop their A & R; programs is going to become increasingly important," said Christopher Dixon, an analyst at Paine Webber.
Taking artist development to the Internet seems a natural and cost-effective extension for the music business. The last few years have been sluggish, with lagging sales, consolidation and cost-cutting. As a result, contracts to unsigned bands have been few and far between.
With a booming population of online music sites offering streaming and downloadable music, Universal's parent company has signaled that Internet ventures of all kinds will be a priority. Edgar Bronfman Jr., chief executive of Universal owner Seagram Co. Ltd., is especially passionate about expanding opportunities to reach new listeners via the Internet.
Morris, chairman of the Universal Music Group, and Iovine, founder of Universal's successful Interscope hip-hop record label, developed the idea for Farm Club last September. Morris provided the name and concept and Iovine suggested multimedia distribution.
"We did it very much together, and Edgar (Bronfman) thought it was a great idea," said Iovine, now CEO of Farm Club.
The new company includes a cross-promotional deal with America Online and a weekly cable television show on USA Networks. Revenues will come from both advertising and e-commerce. The USA connection, said Dixon, "provides a platform to gain access to a wide market, and to test market artists very quickly."
Farm Club solicits unsigned artists to upload up to four songs in the MP3 digital audio format to the Web site. Users can download these songs, and then vote for their favorites. Farmclub.com's A & R; executives will also be keeping a careful ear on artists with a good sound and staying power.
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