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Music Websites Discover Political Audience

CQ WEEKLY – VANTAGE POINT

Music and politics have a long history: the musicians-cum-activists of the 1960s and ’70s, the Live Aid and Free Tibet concerts in the ’80s and ’90s, and the concert/political fundraisers hosted by Bruce Springsteen and Elton John on behalf of presidential candidates John Kerry and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And while musicians like to moonlight in the world of politics, some political candidates such as Sen. Barack Obama enjoy an appeal bordering on rock stars’.

Now, with the growth of social networking online, Web sites such as MySpace and Eventful, whose biggest audience is music fans, are branching out to appeal to a new and quickly expanding constituency: political supporters.

For this election, MySpace — long a bastion for up-and-coming bands and their followers — launched a channel dedicated just to politicians and advocacy groups. Called Impact, this section of the site offers political candidates and groups tools to communicate with and raise funds from supporters, as well as a team of advisers to help campaigns get the most out of the site and its users. This month, MySpace debuted a beta version of a self-serve advertising program for candidates.

Lee Brenner, MySpace’s executive producer of political programming, says the growth in campaigns’ use of the site was “absolutely organic.” Starting in 2006, “we saw users posting blogs, and we saw candidates and campaigns and nonprofits really utilize the tools.”

Eventful, a site created in 2004 to list local entertainment events — over 8 million are currently featured — is also drifting into politics. The site has an interactive feature where visitors can call on performers to hold events in their towns, a feature that can also be used to get the attention of political candidates.

According to Eventful’s CEO Jordan Glazier, musicians and their fans make up the biggest proportion of the site’s users, with 30,000 musical acts posting events. Politicians and candidates are now tied for second, along with comedians.

Glazier said that when he and his colleagues started the site they didn’t intend to target a particular audience, but they did think about likely categories of users, which he characterized as those who “feel strongly about their connections with events.” There were two that immediately came to mind, said Glazier: “People are very passionate about their favorite music, their favorite artists. And they are very passionate about the political process.”

It’s that hard-core group of supporters — “the most engaged end of the spectrum” as Glazier calls them — that the site appeals to, and it is that population that musicians and candidates alike can tap into through Eventful. The company’s business development manager, Alex Hunsucker, said the site saw a pickup in its political usage last winter as the presidential primary season began. “It really started with Barack Obama ,” Hunsucker said, recounting how thousands of requests for appearances by the Illinois senator suddenly began pouring into the site. Now, Obama ranks among Eventful’s top 10 “hottest demands,” along with various musical acts and comedian Dane Cook.

The goal now for sites such as Eventful and MySpace is to broaden their appeal beyond a handful of “rock star” candidates to the whole range of national, state and local political campaigns.

“We want every candidate from president to student body president to have a MySpace profile,” said Brenner. “But it helps that the next president of the United States will have one.”

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