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MySpace is the Place
By Robert L. Doerschuk  © 2006 CMA Close Up News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

Mention Radney Foster at just about any venue in Texas and you’ll get knowing smiles and nodding heads in response. But beyond the state line his name might earn a little less recognition. That’s only natural, since the celebrated singer/songwriter paid his dues on the Lone Star circuit, and one can only claim so many places as home.

At least that’s the way it was until Foster opened shop on MySpace.com. Within hours, he was hearing from strangers throughout the world, most of them raving about his music and clamoring to be his “friend.”

“I heard from college freshmen who were learning about Country Music, not through traditional radio but through the Randy Rogers Band or Cross Canadian Ragweed on MySpace,” Foster said. “They’re telling me, ‘Dude! I learned about you from Randy Rogers! You’re so cool!’ And I’m like, ‘Great! I made a new fan.’”

That, in a nutshell, is the magic of MySpace, an online community on which members spread the word about their favorite new artists faster, and with more peer-group credibility, than most old-school publicists. Since becoming active in July 1996, the site has enticed more than 1.8 million artists to set up spaces, according to its official figures, drawn by prospects of achieving instant fame through word of mouth.

Teenage users dominate MySpace, so it’s no surprise that most of its acts identify their sound as rock, hip-hop or rap — 425,660, 400,268, and 328,862, respectively, as of Aug. 7, 2006. With 32,129 artists claiming a Country affiliation, that’s a mere blip on the radar screen. But according to many among that group, that blip is moving faster by the day. In October, Music Row trade group SOLID (Society of Leaders In Development) sponsored a free panel at Belmont University to discuss the effects of MySpace on Nashville’s music community.

For young headliners including Miranda Lambert, a presence on MySpace is as much a part of Country stardom as riding horses and wearing cowboy hats. “It’s the new way for fans and artists to get in touch with each other,” she said. “I’m kind of old-fashioned, because I still prefer to get hand-written notes in the mail. But I do have 40,000 ‘friends’ now on MySpace, and while I wish I could write back to them all, thank goodness I can at least write one message to let them all know what’s going on with me.”

Lambert and several other major Country artists who draw the most visitors on MySpace — Rascal Flatts, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, The Wreckers and Dixie Chicks: numbers one to five — might be too busy to do more than check messages now and then. But new performers, and even aspiring songwriters seeking co-writers or new ways to hook up with publishers, are using it more aggressively.

Lance Christopher, for instance, a Nashville-based Country singer/songwriter, has been on MySpace since late 2005, and already it has become vital to his career strategy. “One fan in Illinois, who discovered me on MySpace, has gotten me airplay on some smaller stations up there and even gotten me booked for some shows in January,” he said. “Then, when I go to do one of these shows, I’ll put out that I have a MySpace page, and listeners there get very excited. Rather than just tell maybe 10 friends about me, now they’re telling God knows how many through MySpace. I can’t think of a more powerful promotional tool than that.”

On the Web: www.myspace.com  

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