The SXSW Festival and Conference is a mecca for live musicians of all stripes, from rock to metal to country to rap to electronic and pop and everything in between. It all has a home here, and as far as music cities go, few can touch Austin's open accommodation of music culture. Of course for most bands, writing songs, playing shows and recording albums is most of the focus, but at some point, nearly all bands turn to the question of how to get their music out to more people and build their fan base, which is why many of them play at SXSW. But a festival like this is only the start of one path to stardom, and success never comes without hard work and calculated business.

The business side of music has traditionally been a snarled thorny thicket, the ultimate undoing of more bands than anyone can count, and in the traditional music business -- the old guard machine of big labels and fast talkers -- most small time independent bands don't have a chance against the byzantine machine of the music industry.

But this is the new millennium.

The internet has opened the flood gates for independent bands to have a fair shot at a larger audience, and SXSW Music Conference is rich with proposed solutions. The best we've seen so far, however, is from Topspin Media, a Los Angeles and San Francisco based software company behind a suite of tools engineered to help bands achieve efficient, affordable, analytical direct-to-fan marketing, sales and distribution.

Thursday morning we settled in for a demo from company CEO Ian Rogers, and he showed us how simple the software is to use, from creating campaigns (and even whole web sites) to selling products, building hype, collecting e-mail address, offering incentives to users, and tracking everything that happens, from file downloads to accounting minutia. We were floored by both the powerful scope and the simplicity of the platform, and even more surprised to learn that Topspin has been quietly operating behind some of our favorite artists and recent releases: Paul McCartney, The Beastie Boys, The Pixies, Peter Gabriel, Dave Holland (who is selling sheet music along with MP3s directly from his site), David Byrne & Brian Eno, Josh Freese (whose multitiered price structure is as hilarious as it is genius), and Metric, which seems to be Topspin's biggest success story: a year ago, the band had a negligible number of e-mails on their direct marketing list, that number is now well over 100k; and a year ago the band wasn't claiming much in the way of sales revenue, but now, according to Rogers (who made it very clear that the band's manager was comfortable sharing this info publicly), the band's web site is a six-figure operation.

The real beauty of the Topspin engine is that it makes it so easy for fans to share free tracks, and help spread the word about their favorite bands, sorta like this…

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