BLOGS: 'REEFER AND BEER' IN THE TOFU HUT

John Seroff, like lots of other New Yorkers, ekes out a living bartending and waiting tables. But each night the 29-year-old music aficionado spends three hours holed up in his apartment in front of his computer, spinning records for the world. His online music journal, or "MP3 blog," The Tofu Hut (tofuhut.blogspot.com), features obscure songs, each available for downloading, and a running commentary about musical tastes and trends. Seroff's preferences are diverse, to say the least. Last week he posted an unreleased free-style rap from a seemingly boozed-up Tupac Shakur, the smoky John Coltrane riff "Vodka" and a honky-tonk hip-hop cut called "Reefer and Beer," by an artist you probably haven't heard of, Devin the Dude. "I see it as a way of helping the artist on a real grass-roots level," says Seroff, who accompanies each song with a link to a site where visitors can buy the artist's album.

Think of MP3 bloggers as a fusion of the local dance-club DJ, playing his favorite records, and the pirate-radio-station operator broadcasting songs over shortwave without permission. With the proliferation of broadband Internet access and the availability of cheap data storage, the phenomenon has exploded; there are now hundreds of MP3 blogs, each reflecting its owner's personal predilections and eagerness to unearth musical nuggets of undervalued artists. "There is not much of a role for free-form DJs in America," says Matthew Perpetua, whose Fluxblog (newflux.blogspot.com) draws about 3,000 visitors a day. "This is filling a void."

Like nearly every other grass-roots online music movement, MP3 blogs are shaping up to be a major pain for the recording industry. Songs posted to the sites are free for downloading without the consent of copyright holders. MP3 bloggers say their hobby can help music labels exploit their old catalogs and draw attention to new bands, like sibling rockers the Fiery Furnaces, a blogger favorite. But Recording Industry Association of America spokesperson Greg Larsen says, "Owners of the copyright should get to decide how they want to promote their music."

MP3 blogs haven't drawn the same attention, or hand-wringing, as file-sharing networks like Kazaa, but that's quickly changing. Last month Warner Music tried to persuade MP3 bloggers to promote a new song by the band the Secret Machines. Only one site posted the tune, while most criticized Warners' effort to co-opt a fiercely independent medium. Then there are the nasty letters. Last week Berkeley, Calif., DJ and music journalist Oliver Wang, who runs the MP3 blog Soul Sides (o-dub.com/soul sides), got a cease-and-desist notice for posting a rare song of saxophonist John Klemmer's. Wang took the song off his site immediately. Like other MP3 bloggers, he is looking to share his passions, not pick a fight.