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Belgian music label tracks tweets in hunt for hits

By Ben Deighton

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A Belgian record label that gets fans to fund its bands and identifies future stars by tracking Facebook and Twitter, has scored three number one hits in the past year.

"If you look at how music is getting distributed nowadays, it's a lot of people talking about their favorite bands on Twitter and Facebook, so we turned the model around," said Bart Becks, a former chief executive of a Belgian internet company, who co-founded SonicAngel.

"We have a platform that scans the networks that we want, in general it's always going to be YouTube, Twitter and Facebook," said Becks, 39, in an interview in Brussels.

Unlike other fan-funded websites, Brussels-based SonicAngel actively selects its artists before fans get the chance to chip in and help pay for them to launch an album.

"The most important difference with SonicAngel is that we do like an A&R, so we choose the artists and don't allow every artist on the platform," said co-founder Maurice Engelen, who is also the frontman of electronic band Lords of Acid.

"It's the same way that you would be a supporter of a football club, and you know that they have a great coach and a great talent scout, and you can invest in the football club," said Engelen, 52.

SonicAngel, founded a year-and-a-half ago, has had three number one hits in Belgium in the past year, a number three and a number seven hit in France, and 20 artists currently being funded.

It has a separate online system where musicians can upload their tracks and try to get votes from fans. As well as collecting votes, SonicAngel tracks the buzz around these bands by looking at social media.

Becks and Engelen decided to set up a label after Engelen coached a contestant on Belgium's version of X-Factor, Tom Dice, who failed to get a record deal.

"When I was in X-Factor and I saw this one contestant that was extremely good, when the contest was finished he didn't get a record deal, there was not one single record company that was interested," said Engelen.

"We said there are a couple of problems with the current record industry and let's try to solve them," added Becks.

Through SonicAngel, fans can buy a share in a band for 10 euros each and then they get a payout when a band starts making money.

It pays out every six months, so for Tom Dice, the first artist they launched, they paid back 26 euros per 10 euros share for the first semester and 6.8 euros for the second semester.

Now they are working with the University of Ghent and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a new project which could scan the entire web for the top-trending bands, they said.

"Ideally you could have a scan of popular bands across the entire web, but that's still in the future, that's something we're working on with universities," said Becks.

(Reporting By Ben Deighton, editing by Paul Casciato)

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