Musicians back social network Web sites

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NEW YORK - Hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons, AOL founder Steve Case and former rap star MC Hammer are each backing a version of the latest media trend: building fans' music consumption into their social networks.

The music industry has watched as fans buy less music even though they listen to more of it than ever through a proliferation of outlets on the Web.

One of the biggest trends has been for fans, particularly those under the age of 30, to spend hours on social networks to connect with their friends and family. Their music is following them there.

Now Simmons, Case and Hammer have each backed Web-based start-up companies which take advantage of social media like popular networking sites Facebook, MySpace and Bebo.

"Music discovery has never really been nailed, but the opportunity to bring a social approach to music by leveraging the networks is huge," Case told Reuters. He is backing a company called Qloud (pronounced Cloud) that was founded by two former executives of Time Warner Inc Internet unit AOL, Toby Murdock and Mike Lewis.

Qloud is now the second most popular music application on Facebook after iLike. Both allow friends to send music clips to each other and link to Apple Inc's iTunes music download service to buy songs.

Qloud also links to music videos on YouTube and other sites when the user watches a clip through their Facebook page.

"Kids want unlimited music inside their social network," said Murdock. "Music is the great Internet application."

News Corp. owns MySpace, YouTube is part of Google Inc and Microsoft Corp. has a minority stake in Facebook.

The idea of music as social media and cultural force is part of what attracted Simmons to back the founders of GlobalGrind, a personal Web page focused on hip-hop culture that helps the user link to the latest music, news and videos as well as to their social network pages.

Since building the first major hip-hop label, Def Jam, in the 1980s, Simmons has been involved in a range of entrepreneurial and charitable ventures.

"The idea is that we're going to build a way to connect young people," said Simmons in an interview. "We want to have all the social networks up on GlobalGrind."

GlobalGrind founder Navarrow Wright said GlobalGrind is compatible with multiple social networks since users typically use more than one.

"We'll give you a way to take all that activity and put it in one place," he said.

DanceJam.com, co-founded by MC Hammer and Geoffrey Arone, aims to bring the social experience of dance online. The site lets users upload and share videos of their latest moves.

Hammer -- who had the top-selling rap album of all time, "Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em," in the early 1990s -- is also well known for his elaborate dance routines and large entourage.

Hammer says dance styles have been a defining characteristic of every era for the last 50 years. He expects DanceJam to benefit from that, with everything from ballroom dancing to cheerleading contests on the Web.

"There are already plenty of dance videos on YouTube and MySpace, but there isn't one community for these people to express themselves," Hammer said. "DanceJam will provide that."

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