Search for an artist on any of the popular search engines, and the top three results are practically guaranteed: the artist's official Web site, Wikipedia entry and MySpace page -- often in that order.
But while artists and their handlers devote massive attention to the Web site and MySpace, the Wikipedia page is often overlooked. Recent data suggests they may want to reconsider their priorities.
According to data provided to Billboard from Yahoo -- the second-most popular search engine on the Web after Google -- those searching for artist information are selecting the Wikipedia entry link over artists' MySpace pages by a factor of more than 2-to-1. The Wikipedia entries are also more popular than artists' Web sites.
"The interest that people had to go to MySpace to find out more about their favorite band is waning in favor of going to Wikipedia," Yahoo head of programming and label relations John Lenac says. "In the last six months, it's surpassed it."
Yet when compared with the number of artist profiles on MySpace, Wikipedia entries are noticeably fewer. MySpace claims 3 million artist profiles. Wikipedia does not have an exact count of artist entries, but estimates that it's in the "tens of thousands," according to Wikipedia Foundation head of communications Jay Walsh.
What's more, because of Wikipedia's low profile relative to the MySpace hype machine, many artists and their managers remain ignorant of the resources available to them.
"There's been many people I've talked to that didn't even know they could upload a Wikipedia page," Lenac says. "There's been some managers that didn't even know what it was."
For those in the latter category, Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that relies on everyday users to submit the information listed about a given topic, using a collaborative software system known as "wiki." It contains more than 7 million articles in 200 languages and receives some 300 million page views per day. Anyone can contribute to a given article, BUT they must first past muster from a team of volunteer editors with a particular passion about the subject before the text appears live.
The result is a rather tight, focused and vetted overview of the subject, which some online marketing experts feel is why fans are selecting Wikipedia over other options.
"Wikipedia is a fantastic landing page," says Jason Feinberg, owner/president of On Target Media Group, a Web promotions consultancy. "It's so clear, so concise, and it's standardized. That's something I think is a draw over MySpace, where you never quite know the experience you're going to get. Is it going to be a horrible jumble of images and video and text that's difficult to read? Also, (Wikipedia is) rooted in fact. It's not promotional. Especially these days when the Internet is full of artists trying to essentially ram their message down your throat, I think a fan is a lot more receptive to a simple, no-hype approach."
But don't expect to see Wikipedia offering full-song streams or links to buy digital songs anytime soon.
"That's not what we're about," Walsh says. "We're about knowledge. We're about bringing the reader to other free content ... content they can use and enjoy without worrying about violating any copyrights."