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Local bands are taking it to the 'net.

By Joe Tarr

JUNE 26, 2000:  When the local band Jag Star started a website last January, the musicians saw it as an essential way of spreading the word about their music.

They never imagined the word would go as far as Denmark. But that's just one of the many countries where orders for their CD have come from, says the group's singer, Sarah Lewis. "It's weird to think that there are people in other countries ordering our CDs. They somehow stumbled across our website," she says.

Cheap, easy access to the Internet has created a whole new way for local bands to get their music heard. Most bands are aiming, at least for now, to use the technology to gain exposure and give the local scene a good kick in the rear. But with MP3s now available online, some believe it could eventually topple the corporate recording industry.

The sheer number of local music links is hard to get a handle on. And the technology is too new and changing so quickly, it's hard to predict just how these changes will affect music or the industry.

But if nothing else, the 'net gives local bands a simple way to get the word out about shows and CDs, and trade information with other bands.

Jag Star finds it invaluable in finding out-of-town clubs to book shows in. Oftentimes, out-of-town bands will contact them about trading out shows—playing together in each other's respective cities, Lewis says.

The Jag Star site includes music samples, tour information, pictures, and a journal.

Not all local web presences are that elaborate. Several local artists—Jonathan Reynolds, Mobius Dick, Weight, Big Fish, Idiot Savants, The Rude Street Peters, stoney 69, the Opposable Thumbs, the Knightman, E-fex, the Ghosts, Jay-Beezy, French Broads, DJ MoRoN, ILLneZZ, Pegasi 51, Evil Twin, to name only a few—have posted MP3s on MP3.com. The website provides bands all over the world free space to place their digital music samples.

Predicted to soon revolutionize (or perhaps even destroy) the music industry, MP3s are CD-quality recordings that can easily and cheaply be downloaded from the Internet. The site can be searched by city or genre.

John Tilson of the Vacationist League took advantage of MP3.com's free service.

"As is the reason for so many things, I was curious and there weren't any prohibitive barriers. It's easy, I've got a computer, I've got the songs," Tilson says.

Tilson's songs got about 40 to 50 hits in the first two weeks up. And, with his music online, he suddenly had other local bands interested in playing shows with him.

As for the MP3s he's heard online, "It's professional presentation of something that may not be ready for prime time."

Tilson floated his songs out on the World Wide Web just for the heck of it. "What I'd really like to do is find a drummer and play out in clubs," he says.

Paul Noe, formerly of the Judybats and now one of the owners of Disgraceland Records, predicts MP3s and the Internet will allow musicians to usurp control from the monolithic record companies.

"I personally love it. It's going to eventually bring about the downfall of the major labels...They'll have to seriously change the way they treat artists. Everybody has access now," Noe says.

In business since 1995, the indie label has released records by Jag Star, Opposable Thumbs, Smokin' Dave and the Premo Dopes, along with former Knoxvillians-turned-Nashvillians Brian Waldschlager and the Cheeksters. Disgraceland is one of many indie labels around the country that thrive online. Another notable local indie label is Lynn Point (www.lynnpoint.com), which is owned by former V-roys Jeff Bills and Mic Harrison. Lynn Point has so far released records by Harrison and the now defunct Taoist Cowboys.

Disgraceland's current website (www.disgraceland.com) has been functional for less than a year, and includes about a dozen MP3s for people to sample. "We primarily use it as a way for people hear what we've got, to see if they want to buy it," Noe says of the webpage.

While many musicians and record executives fear the pirating potential of MP3s—once widespread, computer users will easily be able to trade music online, particularly with programs such as the infamous Napster—but Noe is elated by the technology.

"Are we giving too much away? We want people to buy the CDs. But at the same time, we want them to know what they're getting. We'd rather err on the side of giving too much away and having people wanting to come to the site."

The 'net's real power on a local level may be in networking and strengthening the local scene. A couple of websites have sprung up with that purpose in mind.

Knoxville's Local Music (www.geocities.com/localknoxmusic/main.html) features a calendar of shows, classifieds, MP3s, questionnaires that bands fill out, links, and a message board where people can talk online about local music.

Currently under construction, KnoxMusic Online (www.geocities.com/knoxmusic/), holds out a lot of promise for the local music scene. The 'zine is spearheaded by Todd Stapleton, formerly of Beeswax, who now leads threeappleshigh. The online music magazine is expected to include interviews and profiles of local bands, MP3s, show promotions, and a directory of local bands.

"We're going to try to promote local music here in Knoxville and have an online resource," Stapleton says. "We think there are a lot of good bands here that need and deserve to be heard."

The site was hoping to launch its first issue May 1, but Stapleton says the project became more complex than anticipated. But the first issue is expected in four to six weeks, with updates coming every three or four weeks after that.

"All of the submissions we've got so far are rock, but we want to cover all styles. It's all Knoxville music. We're just trying to work together for a common cause," Stapleton says.

To help pay the bills, KnoxMusic Online is staging a benefit show on June 29 at Moose's Music Hall featuring The Shine, Apelife, Pegasi 51, and threeappleshigh.

Tilson is skeptical the Internet will do much for the Knoxville music scene, in and of itself.

"It's just a matter of conduit. The whole thing about promotion is the same as it was back in the days of the circus—you still have to get people excited about it," he says.

A more pressing problem for the local scene is that there is a dearth of local venues where bands can improve their art, getting feedback from an audience, Tilson says. "There aren't any places to be awful," he says. "There's not the kind of laboratory that you need to hone skills in order to get good."

However, the Internet's ability to link like-minded people up and its ease of access will definitely help, Noe says.

"It can only help the local scene," he says.

Despite Knoxville's relatively small size, the town can still be quite insular and cliquish, Noe says.

"You can still be in Knoxville bands and never meet up with [Knoxville] musicians you may have something totally in common with," Noe says.

The Internet will change that. "That will continue to grow once people realize what a vast resource it is. It's only going to grow," he says.

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