PARIS Leo Wolff, a woman who joined the online world of Second Life in 2005, bought a small plot of virtual land with eight other musicians and opened the "Virtual Garage" to showcase and perform their music.
Her online character, or avatar, Slim Warrior was the first British musician to perform in the popular virtual world with its own currency and a growing economy. She was also the first to duet online with another artist based as far away as Texas.
Wolff, who promotes other Second Life musicians and organizes music festivals within the online world, is part of a growing number of artists who have found a launching pad for careers in the 3-D game.
Created by San Francisco-based Linden Labs, Second Life currently has about 13 million members -- or residents as they are known -- and just over 100 musicians performing "live" shows.
"The main benefit is being able to reach a wider audience, as well as the ability to reach out to audiences globally and create a larger fan base," Wolff told Reuters in an interview.
"Second Life also increases a musician's confidence, especially to those up and coming artists, who feel the virtual world allows them to grow into their personas before performing outside the virtual world," she said.
Wolff, 42, who makes mostly electronic music, describes herself as a "virtual musician." She has never performed outside Second Life though she said "it would be wonderful to do so."
She does, however, work in the real world, giving advice to bands and indie artists about performing on Second Life.
In Second Life, artists use the game's audio-video software to perform from their homes, music studios or even from real world shows.
And apart from a good computer, there is little cost or hassle involved with gigs in Second Life. After all, there is no transportation required or equipment to haul around.
Some performers charge a fee, but most like Slim Warrior play for free: "It's great for marketing, increasing name recognition, which can lead to selling merchandise," she said.
Gigs are billed on the community's events calendar and followers sent an instant message inviting them to beam their avatars to virtual venues.
Unlike the social network MySpace, Second Life offers a live platform with interaction that only can come from playing in front of a real audience.
"In MySpace, users either stumble over your page or hear about it through friends. Whereas in Second Life you are being actively promoted, whether that be by bars, islands, or forums," Wolff said.
But there are some limitations to the application, notably the number of people who can attend a gig at the same time.
"If you have a private island you can host up to 100 avatars; on a mainland area, the general max is around 40. You can increase the number of people to attend by either having more than one island joined together or by simulcasting the event via in-world video stream or just via audio," Wolff said.
It isn't clear if success in Second Life will translate to success in the real world through a major label contract, suggesting that it may be best in conjunction with more traditional ways to promote music.
Still, the mainstream music industry is slowly getting into the act.
In August 2006, American singer Suzanne Vega became the first major artist to perform live in Second Life in avatar form for Second Life's radio show The Infinite Mind and 1980s band Duran Duran has set up its own island to perform.
U.S. singer Regina Spektor held a listening party in a facsimile of a Manhattan loft and U2 devotees have created avatars of the Irish band to re-enact a show from their favorite band.
And last summer, the Guardian newspaper and technology group Intel sponsored SecondFest, a three-day music festival in Second Life with such acts as Pet Shop Boys, New Young Pony Club or Simian Mobile Disco.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Derek Caney)