Social networking site Bebo has joined with independent artist site Music Nation for Bebo Onstage, a competition that will identify an up-and-coming band and help launch their career with a record deal and a performance at this year's SXSW.

The chosen band will get a joint record deal with Original Signal/Epic Records and a trip to SXSW, where they will perform at Music Nation and Bebo's party at the Beauty Bar March 14. Bebo and MusicNation will help launch the band in the U.S. and other countries, providing them with Bebo toolkits to promote themselves and tour.

The deal is part of a broader push into music by Bebo, said VP of music Angel Gambino. Gambino said Bebo has found that music video add-ons for Bebo homepages are the most popular way for members to define themselves on their profile page. That has led the social network to focus on adding new ways to incorporate music into the site. Right now members can list their favorite bands on their profile, add videos to their page from Yahoo! Music or buy songs from iTunes, but Gambino said the site wants to partner with labels and artists to do even more.

"We don't want to just become a secondary URL for artists," she said. "We want to create a more intimate relationship between the artist and user, a new way to relate to the audience."

Last year, the site debuted an original series "KateModern" that also introduced music from Atlantic artist The Days. The Days were promoted in the series by star Kate dropping clues on where the band would be playing and in other subtle ways.

The partnership with Music Nation is aimed at finding bands through both sites and exposing them to a global audience. Bebo claims 40 million users worldwide, most of them aged 16-24.

For the contest, artists can upload their mp3s and videos at bebo.musicnation.com. A team of staffers from Bebo, Music Nation, Original Signal and Epic will sift through the entries to determine which band gets the grand prize. Music Nation CEO Daniel Klaus said judges will take into consideration any bands that gain a following with users during the contest.

A second band, chosen by Bebo users, will get $500. Online voting starts Feb. 11 at bebo.com/musicnation and is open to all.

The contest will use Music Nation's head-to-head player, which randomly picks two bands to compete against each other. Bebo's online community will vote on their favorite. The band with the highest ranking at the end of four weeks wins the cash prize.

Winners of both prizes will be announced March 3.

Both companies said this is the first part of a long-term partnership to develop up-and-coming artists.

"We're really looking for some great artists and we feel like Bebo is great way to find them," Klaus said.

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