Drinking the Kool-Aid

Last weekend, I joined MySpace. It wasn't easy. For weeks people had been telling me about the Web site, the latest trendy wasteland for college kids and computer nerds, but I'd resisted joining--part Internet cynicism, part contrarian nature, the same portion of me that refuses to watch The Sopranos. And yet, there's my goofy profile at www.myspace.com, ready to receive creepy e-mails from strangers in, say, Bangladesh or Hackensack. Bored geeks everywhere: I await your uncomfortable correspondence.

As you can see, I remain skeptical. Two years ago, along with all the other lemmings, I joined Friendster, which surely proved to be the least utilitarian of Web phenomena. I've posted a profile--now what do I do? For months, I received e-mails from people who were already my friends asking permission to be my friend online. This is the kind of trend that makes pet rocks look cool.

But MySpace, founded last year by Californians Tom Anderson and Chris De Wolfe, is a reputedly more useful program, and that's what finally tipped my scales, so to speak. The ability to upload music onto the site has made it a stomping ground for indie types and curiosity seekers. While Clear Channel and other corporations hold the strings at commercial radio, MySpace has become a way to break bands and create buzz. Last September, REM offered users a free two-week preview of Around the Sun. Last summer, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo posted new songs on his profile, including remakes of John Denver's "Annie's Song" and "Tomorrow" from the musical Annie. (I e-mailed Cuomo about this months ago, but he never wrote back. MySpace snob.) Major-label artists from Hilary Duff to The Donnas to My Chemical Romance have found the site is, at the very least, a good way to get free publicity and reach out to fans. More compelling, however, is what it can do for struggling artists.

A slew of Dallas musicians have profiles on the site, joining more than 60,000 bands nationwide: The Deathray Davies, Baboon, The TahDahs, the pAper chAse, Boys Named Sue, The Burden Brothers (the highest-ranking Dallas band on the site, by the way). And what MySpace offers them is not only easy access to an established fan base--reminding them of upcoming shows, CD releases, etc. --but also a chance to reach new listeners, since those links and downloads get passed around easier than the nasty cold you're still trying to shake. It's rare that a casual listener will bother to visit a band's Web site; hopping around MySpace, which plays a band's music as soon as the profile loads, makes for supremely convenient browsing.

That wasn't lost on Lance Yocom, president and founder of Burleson-based artist development company Spune Productions (which hosts a bang-up Christmas show on Sunday, December 12, at Gypsy Tea Room). "At first I was not a fan of MySpace," Yocom writes by e-mail. You know, it's kinda dumb, kinda like a high school yearbook. But after a while, he saw "similar established companies, admired record labels and respected mainstream bands (like REM) utilize the site. I knew they must be using MySpace for more than the gossip/dating hook-up junk." Yocom's MySpace profile currently hosts music from locals Record Hop, John Lamonica and The Southern Sea.

This facet of the site has helped bring together not just bands but also music lovers to share, flatter, coerce and--of course--bitch at each other. Just a few weeks ago on MySpace, Buzz-Oven founder Aden Holt engaged in a thrilling little debate with NationalNoise founder Sabrina Gunaca, who also works for the Dallas Music Festival, which Holt had attacked in a posting as "a complete hoax." Gunaca defended the fest, taking place this February, and the two went back and forth in a dialogue that proved just how complicated the matter really was. Personally, I find the DMF fishy; I distrust the way it books bands based on their ticket sales. Even if it is a reality of the modern marketplace, I'm not quite cynical enough to embrace a festival that promotes salesmanship over talent. But wait a minute. We were talking about MySpace and the way it's become a forum for discussing these concerns. See, there's so much left to say and argue about and listen to. And if MySpace is a place to do it, then hell, I'm glad I finally joined.

There's just one problem. Not sure how to ask this, but, well, you know: Will you be my friend?

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Sarah Hepola