The Tangled Web

The Web's most intriguing music-related destinations. This week: Charity ticket auctions and Epitonic.

Keeping you up to date on the Web's most intriguing music-related happenings and destinations.

TICKETS FOR A GOOD CAUSE: Online auction sites such as eBay and StubHub have become major sources of income for concert ticket scalpers, brokers, and others looking to make big bucks on ticket markups. Lately, charitable organizations -- whose aims are more altruistic -- are also increasingly turning to online ticket auctions as a way to raise money.

While not-for-profit organizations have often used fund-raising auctions as a moneymaking method in the past, it's now routine to see a number of charitable auctions running simultaneously on the Web. Fans can currently head to StubHub to bid on tickets for Christina Aguilera's summer tour with Justin Timberlake, with proceeds benefiting the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. The site has offered more than 40 sets of tickets to the North American outing for the Women's Center initiative, with each winner getting two front-row tickets and two backstage passes.

Christina AguileraIn an auction ending last week, a pair of tickets for a June 16 Aguilera/Timberlake show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles went for about $1,000. Two more pairs for L.A. are still open for bidding, and auctions for shows in New York, Las Vegas, and Chicago, among other cities, will run through the end of the month.

A spokesperson for eBay says the company has lined-up a number of music-related charitable auctons for the summer. In coming months, Sugar Ray will be offering a number of prime tickets, which will include passes to meet-and-greets with the band. The auction site will also offer front-row tickets in June or July for upcoming matchbox twenty concerts. Both auctions will benefit Pax's Speak Up campaign, an anti-gun initiative aimed at high-school students.

Last week, Amnesty International utilized eBay to auction tickets to six North American Coldplay concerts. To prevent the tickets from falling into the wrong hands, the U.K. modern rock band agreed to put the winners' names on its guest list for the shows.

For each of the six dates, two top-tier tickets were available for bidding. The pair for a June 13 show at New York's Madison Square Garden went for close to $700, and a pair for a May 23 performance in Vancouver was sold for more than $400. Minus eBay's 15% transaction fee, the six concerts raised more than $2,000 for the worldwide human-rights organization.

Amnesty International began working with eBay last year, posting for auction skateboard decks custom-designed by the likes of Moby, Beck, and System Of A Down. Earlier this year, eBay and Amnesty partnered to offer tickets to see Audioslave and the Roots. A spokesperson says the auctions generally raise "a couple thousand," and the charity deals directly with band management to ensure the best tickets are available for auction. In return for the added publicity, artists allow Amnesty to have a presence at its shows.

Later this summer, Amnesty will offer online a pair of front-row tickets to one of Pearl Jam's shows at New York's Madison Square Garden, July 8-9. Additionally, the charity is planning a second auction featuring custom-designed skateboards.

Last October, Charity Ticket Auctions teamed with the Surfrider Foundation to auction off one pair of tickets to see No Doubt in Long Beach, Calif. The auction raised more than $2,000 for the charity, and a charity spokesman says No Doubt is hoping to stage a one-off performance later this year, in which some of the tickets would be sold through an auction.

Yeah Yeah YeahsSONIC TONIC: With all the attention recently directed toward the major labels' ongoing efforts to sell digital music online, it's nice to remember that there are still a number of sites and portals on the Web that allow visitors access to free, authorized digital music. Epitonic is one of these, offering users free downloads and streams from a variety of independent artists.

The self-described "site for sore ears" is broken up into a number of sections: Album Streams, New Releases, Big Shots (well-known bands), and the Epicenter (editors' picks of new, unique music). Fishwrap is a print section full of album and concert reviews, news updates, features, and links. Scanning through any of those or searching by genre, artist, or label will bring up hundreds of artist-specific pages with copious collections of Windows Media streams and/or downloads of MP3 and Windows Media Audio files.

Epitonic's artist pages feature bios, album reviews, and various samples and downloads, offering users the chance to discover new artists, read about them, and listen to their work. Links to label and artist sites and online retailers that sell the artists' albums are also prominent. And Epitonic also helps the exploration process by providing dozens of cross-references on each artist page. For instance, scanning the entry for New York punk trio the Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- which features downloads from the group's first two EPs as well as streaming tracks from its recently released full-length Interscope debut "Fever To Tell" -- reveals links to Epitonic pages for more than 30 similar artists, including the Strokes, Sleater-Kinney, and Sahara Hotnights.

The site also offers a variety of listening options for streaming music. Epitonic Radio allows users to set up an online player with a designated number of tracks culled from a selected combination of 50 sub-genres. The new Blackbox feature encourages site visitors to create playlists that can be stored on the site for future listening (requiring a free registration) and "send" to other users.