Few things make you cooler than finding a great band before they get big, but few things make you look like a grasping liar more than talking about how you liked a band before they got big. For tasteful hard proof you know your stuff, join The Next Big Thing. Launched by four Northwestern guys, Next exposes you to up-and-comers -- and lets you play fantasy A&R man by assembling a roster from about 200 unsigned bands mostly from Chi and the Midwest. The process: register for free for "mogul" status, then gorge on gratis tracks, selecting up to ten acts you deem promising, from current faves like funk-rockers Mind At Large (120+ signings), to the R&B-synthed Mr. Music, who's gotten the nod a mere three times (perhaps due to Mr.'s confounding listing of both Coolio and Sarah McLachlan as influences -- not a fantastic voyage). Signing a band gets you one point added to your "rookie" mogul score, and after that, every time someone signs the same act you'll receive a fraction of a point, Amway-style; top a preset point total, and you can sign additional bands to move up levels (professional, silver, gold, platinum) 'til you reach diamond status, making you a virtual Clive Davis without even having to avoid burns from Whitney Houston's crack pipe. If you're convinced you've got chops of your own, Next is open to submissions; as a bonus, they also lets users drop bands from their roster -- what's cooler than approximating the most authentic moment in a rocker's life, when you're virtually screwed by management.