In a town where every 12-year-old geek with a modem has his own Web page, hundreds of local band and artist sites have popped up all over the Web in the last few years, laying to rest any belief that Austin musicians are mired in the pre-digital past. But venture capital, it seems, has been slow to follow; as of early May, there were fewer than a dozen major sites devoted to promoting Austin music on the Web, and even fewer offering music "samples" for free.
It's no secret that there's no money being made in MP3s -- unless, of course, you're Ginger Mackenzie, who recently made No. 1 pop artist on MP3.com. Maybe that's why some Austin artists shy away from putting their music online -- if you give something away for free, the logic goes, why would anyone want to buy it? But supporters of free-music sites, including Jim Werking, president and CEO of AustinMP3.com, say the sites give independent artists a forum for people to hear their music -- and, hopefully, purchase their CDs. "Artists want people to listen to their music; they're not expecting to be paid," Werking says.
Still, a few local companies are bucking that trend -- and, in the process, becoming the vanguard of what may one day be the major medium for music distribution. Right now, none of these companies are making any money; in five years, few may be around to enjoy the payoff. And, as with anything on the Web, the list grows and contracts monthly, as new sites appear and old ones sink into obsolescence. So with that in mind, here's a totally non-exhaustive, unofficial guide to a few Austin music sites that we hope will stick around for a while.
As its name suggests, this is a site where Austin artists put up their MP3s for free. Most of the 70-or-so artists on AustinMP3 are unsigned or self-released, and few of them -- from Hotwheels Jr. to Sunset Heights -- are names you're likely to see featured on larger commercial sites like MP3.com. The site includes an alphabetical index of artists and songs, a top-20 list where the site's most popular songs are featured, and artist bios with contact information and links to band Web sites.
It's the latter feature, CEO Werking says, that makes sites like AustinMP3 worthwhile for bands who put their music on them for free. "These (free-music) sites are just a place for people to listen to the music," Werking says. "The idea is they could go back to your own site and buy the music." In addition to the band site links, Werking's site, which he designed and updates periodically, includes a few news links, a message board where artists and fans get together and talk, and a tutorial on uploading and playing MP3s.
The first thing you notice about this live music Webcast site is that it's just plain attractive -- really, one of the best-looking local sites around. The next thing you notice is how easy it is to navigate: The layout is simple, straightforward, and unpretentious, with the current day's club listings featured first, and links to the next week's listings off to the side.
Clubcastlive, which describes itself as "the world's leading Internet broadcaster of live music," offers a service that's both unique and controversial: real-time access to local live music, via "streaming" audio technology you can access using RealAudio and your Internet connection. Some artists have cried foul on the site, pointing out that an old industry maxim -- "you can die of exposure" -- is undoubtedly true when artists are giving away access to their live shows. (Artists who don't want to participate can opt out of the Webcasts; the club's link on Clubcastlive simply goes "dark" during those bands' sets. Others say that sites like Clubcastlive -- which also offers MP3s, band information, and CDs for sale -- give artists access to a new, potentially worldwide audience.
This locally based artist support site, still in its beta version, will eventually feature information on the local music scenes in nearly two dozen cities and regions, as well as free music from bands across the nation, access to music for sale and previews of events, and contacts and other services for the music press nationwide. In addition, Audiopia aspires to be a one-stop portal for artist support services, including booking and management, Internet exposure (the Audiopia Web site boasts nearly two million page views a month, thanks to a partnership with popular shareware site TuCows.com), and a profit-sharing plan -- 10% of ad revenue and 90% of sales -- for artists who put their music on the site.
Like similar companies, Audiopia has yet to turn a profit, but president John Avignone believes his business plan -- "to acquire content for free and make money on advertising and share it" -- is, unlike other dot-coms' models, built to last. "Audiopia is only one part of a very large Web-based plan, and as a result our plan has withstood scrutiny," Avignone says. "We don't have to change our business model every week."
This is another Austin-based free music site where artists put their music, photos, and merchandise information online for free. Audiogalaxy is a little different, however, in that it provides free Web page hosting for artists (several thousand have reportedly signed on) and numerous forums for feedback, including chat rooms and a bulletin board. The company, which is just over a year old, also has six full-time music writers on board to review albums by the most popular bands hosted on the site. Audiogalaxy's front page content changes daily, and its Web visibility -- currently some 80,000 page views daily -- continues to increase.
Other Austin-based Web sites include:
The online outpost for the Austin cable station focusing on Austin music.
Beautifully designed Web site promoting Austin music. Includes events schedules, links to artist sound clips and sites, and daily news updates, along with artist services.
"Your Internet connection to Austin music." Includes connections to artist and music business Web pages, songwriters groups, and the online independent music channel TexasInternetRadio.com.
Austin music from a fan's perspective. Updated infrequently, but includes a good list of band and club Web page links.