Gossip Maven Perez Hilton Tries Music Biz

Mother Mother might just be the next big thing in music that you haven't heard of—unless you read PerezHilton.com. Two weeks ago, Hilton ran a post that said, "Mother Mother is one of the most exciting bands in the Canadian music scene." In less than an hour, the band's page views went up by 5,000—amazing exposure for an obscure rock band releasing its first album. "If people are checking out new music that they wouldn't normally have an opportunity to hear because Perez posts something, then thank God for it," says Jennifer Hirst, former A&R manager at Mother Mother's label, Last Gang Records. "I liken it to Oprah's Book Club."

You may know Perez Hilton (a.k.a. Mario Lavandeira) as the snarky gossip king of the Web, the blogger with 5 million readers a day who dishes the latest dirt on Britney and Lindsay, along with the occasional R-rated post, such as his recent photos of (allegedly) David Beckham in the nude. But that's just his day job. His passion, Hilton says, is music, and he promotes it vigorously—lavishing praise if he likes you, or scribbling LOSER across your photo if he doesn't. (Talking to you, Avril Lavigne.) Either way, Perez praise is valuable. Scottish singer Paolo Nutini's CD "These Streets" spiked on the iTunes chart after a post in January. "The thing just started moving. I mean, jumping up the chart," says Gregg Nadel, senior director of marketing and A&R at Atlantic Records, Nutini's label. "You sit around and think of all these different things to try to introduce an artist, and then Perez does this one post and, boom, it lights a fire." He's even one of sideswiping Simon Cowell's idols. Cowell called to thank Perez after he wrote about Leona Lewis, the winner of the Cowell-produced British show "The X-Factor." Hilton, ever the fan, saved the message for a month.

He's actually more of a fanatic than a fan. Hilton was so devoted to the pop singer Mika that he started blogging about him ("Mika's music is just as hot as his model looks. However you describe it, it's f---ing fierce!") months before the release of Mika's debut CD, "Life in Cartoon Motion." In fact, he posted about Mika more than 20 times. The result: in the first two weeks, the CD sold 50,000 copies. "For a brand-new artist, that is unheard of without traditional airplay," says Monte Lipman, president of Mika's label, Universal Republic Records.

The "Gossip Gangstar" seems as surprised as anyone by his tastemaker status—"That's very flattering," he says—especially since his Web site is only two and a half years old. Hilton is a staff of one, and he answers every e-mail that comes in to his "office"—the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on L.A.'s Sunset Boulevard. "It's important for me to stay very accessible," he says. "I might take a day, a week or even a month to respond back to people, but I eventually do get back to everyone." And persistence pays off. Shervin Lainez, a 23-year-old photographer from Washington, D.C., fell in love with a little-known indie folk singer named Jenny Owen Youngs. He e-mailed and IM'd Perez several times in a week. Hilton finally listened. Then he posted, in his typically over-the-top style: "If you don't know Jenny Owen Youngs, then you must. You must! She has created what we think is one of the best love songs of all time." "The effect was massive and immediate," Youngs says about the impact on her MySpace page. "I was getting an average of 2,000 [plays] a day, and I got 60,000 in one day from Perez. People at shows were saying, 'I would have no idea who you are if it wasn't for Perez Hilton'."

So what's in it for Hilton? He insists he gets paid nothing for an endorsement—unless hanging out with celebrities counts as some kind of currency. "I get free clothes," he admits, "but no one's ever offered me money." "I wish," says Jennifer Hirst of the post-for-pay idea, "because if that were the case he would just take any music we send." Though Hilton does plan to capitalize on his new noncelebrity celebrity. Next year, he'll program his own night at the massive South by Southwest music conference. He also hopes to start his own record label and launch a "Perez Hilton"-branded tour. Think it's all talk? Maybe, but his words have already gotten him this far.