Record labels being bombarded by emailed auditions from the next generation of bands discovered

Next month a band called Smokers Blend 3000 will release their debut album. Nothing unusual in that, you may think - except that the band were signed by One Step Records based on demo tracks posted to a website, rather than sent in to the record company.

They are just the first of an wave of wannabe stars who are flocking to websites such as musicunsigned.com and peoplesound.com, who promise a revolution in the way that record labels' A&R ("artists and repertoire") staff will find their next signings.

But for the A&R people, already accustomed to spending evenings shuttling from gig to gig in the hope of finding the next Oasis, Blur or Radiohead, it is turning an already difficult job into a nightmarish one.

"If you're looking at a website with a whole list of bands' names, you don't know whether to pick one over another," said Ian McLaren, A&R manager at the alternative rock label Beggar's Banquet. "And the Web is making it easier in a lot of ways for bands to target record labels." Once a band has your e-mail address, they can bombard you with messages suggesting you visit their site.

A&R staff nowadays they are secondary to record labels' marketing departments, according to Stewart Feeney, now A&R manager for musicunsigned.com, which showcased Smokers Blend 3000.

"There are more and more bands, but fewer reaching the highest levels of success. The major labels are increasingly marketing-led, whereas it should be the A&R people who are telling them what to sign, what's hot on the street."

The trouble though is that A&R people already have more music to listen to than they can manage. And some music is simply impossible for the record companies to get a handle on. Kitty Empire, who edits 'On', the new bands section in the New Musical Express said: "A lot of the electronic music flying around is better than the guitar band stuff you get on sites like musicunsigned.com and peoplesound.com."

In fact, she says, most of the music posted on the web would be better off it: "I get a lot of demo CDs, and e-mails saying 'Go to this site and hear this track'. But the vast, vast majority is still ropey stuff by kids who can't play, where it sounds like the guitar's got five strings and the drummer's using a kettle. I would love to find an amazing band, but by the fifth or sixth disappointment you lose heart."

Yet some A&R people see their future in the Net - notably Alan McGee, who signing of Oasis to his own Creation Records made them (and himself) stars. Last year Mr McGee announced that he was selling Creation and setting up a new label, Poptones, and a website - to sell music CDs.

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