SMITHEREENS FRONTMAN Pat DiNizio has been diversifying. For starters, he's the chairman of the advisory board for Jim Beam's program Benefiting Emerging Artists in Music (BEAM), which provides money to unsigned artists. In Seattle, the program offers free rehearsal studio time to applicants, while a national BEAM grant program offers a few thousand bucks at a time for equipment, recording fees, and other expenses incurred by musicians.

DiNizio speaks with a becoming humility, as if he's well aware of his own limitations and yet struggles against them. He's alarmingly charming, and his years of living the musician's life have imbued him with a surprising generosity. When I repeat some quotes attributed to him over the years, he laughs and says, "I've said some pretty stupid stuff." One of the wiser things he's said is, "At the time that we [the Smithereens] got the record deal we weren't 21 and thought that the world owed us a living." Bands today tend to feature entitlement over entertainment. But DiNizio is convinced that BEAM can ferret out the deserving musicians.

"We're helping, with the BEAM project, people that need to get their foot in the door -- real working-class people that need help financially. It's a real pleasure to tell them, 'You've won $3,500. You can get that studio setup. You can put your record out.'"

The BEAM project led DiNizio to start his own website, Psycholaborations (, on which anyone can write a song with DiNizio. You send him the lyrics and he writes the music, records it, and sends it back to you.

"I'm writing songs with complete strangers, which has been more rewarding on a creative and personal level for me than it is for my customers. In the past I would write only if I had an album deadline; now I'm writing all the time, and I'm getting better.

"On the Psycholaborations website we've got free musicians' classified ads. Within several weeks we'll have a free Internet radio station that plays only indie label and unsigned bands, and hopefully some of the BEAM winners could be highlighted.

"Ultimately what I'm trying to do with Psycholaborations is turn it into a completely free service, almost a charitable thing, with celebrity Psycholaborations: Sheryl Crow or Madonna or Elton John, would, at auction, write a song with a complete stranger for like a half a million dollars or a million dollars. And my dream, in the next few years, is to open up a free music school for kids with special needs, to try to give them a voice through music."

DiNizio speaks with such gratitude for his musical career that it's clear he's become devoted to charity, to the idea of "giving back." "Certainly, I'm at an age where I could be a role model and hopefully would be a good role model. I get a lot of e-mail from fans who are musicians asking for advice based on my experience in the business, and I've always felt it was better to share that information than to keep some sort of air of mystery. That information, when I was younger and just starting, was denied to me.

"It was a different world back then, wasn't it? I'm excited about the possibilities of the Internet in terms of marketing music. The fact that I can write a song on a Friday, record it Saturday, and have it for sale on Monday -- there's no middle-man. The record companies are making containers, putting milk in containers -- whereas you can just buy your milk from the cow on your computer. How's that for an analogy?

"The Smithereens still have a record label, and the new album's gonna come out on October 19th. It's called God Save the Smithereens (Koch). I got out of my solo deal, and virtually all of my music is gonna be on the Internet" -- including DiNizio's new project, the V.I.P.s, with Carrie Akre from Goodness.

"I met Carrie when Goodness opened up for the Smithereens last October. It was brewing in my mind that I wanted to do something that reflected my love for electronic music. So after touring with Goodness and seeing how fabulous a performer Carrie is, we formed a songwriting team -- I do all the music, and she sings. It's all electronic. The first single is called 'House at the End of the World' and the flipside is 'Theme from Rosemary's Baby,' but it's done in our own style. Rather than wait for someone to come and sign us, we're releasing it through With Liquidaudio, you get to keep 70 percent of your money. At the record labels it was absolutely horrible -- you never made any money. I've chosen to embrace the technology rather than run away from it like some old fart."

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Information about BEAM grants and applications can be found at Next application deadline: August 31.

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