Monday, February 7, 2011

The King Is Dead: With Myspace floundering, where do bands turn?

The reports of the demise of Myspace have been coming at a steady pace for a few years now. But despite the vast emigration of personal profiles to Facebook, bands that have long used the seminal social networking site as their online home base are now in a precarious position. When you search for a band online, the first page that will likely appear (aside from their own website—if they even have one) is their Myspace page. That's because of the dominating role the company has played in changing the way bands distribute their music and cultivate fanbases during the past five years. But despite this, the company continues to shrink. Last month, the social networking hub implemented a 47 percent staff reduction, with approximately 500 employees losing their jobs. That obviously doesn’t bode well for the company, but does it signal the official end to their ability to maintain a foothold in the musical networking and distribution climate? And if so, which sites—if any—will fill that potentially impending void for bands? Will the functionality of a site like Bandcamp, or the streamlined design of music players like SoundCloud put the final nail in Myspace's coffin?

For years, Myspace had one big advantage over competitors: Every band you'd ever want to find (and tens of thousands more you wouldn't) have maintained a presence there. It wasn't necessarily the best option, just the most popular one.

Myspace CEO Mike Jones sounded optimistic nonetheless in a statement he released in conjunction with the job cuts. “While it's still early days, the new Myspace is trending positively and the good news is we have already seen an uptick in returning and new users,” he said. “Since the worldwide rollout of the new Myspace, there have been more than 3.3 million new profiles created. We also introduced Topic Pages, which connect users to entertainment-focused content from news sites and blogs all over the web. Over 134,000 topic pages have been created since the introduction of the new Myspace.” (Myspace did not respond to AP’s request to comment for this story)

Perhaps sensing a potential void to fill, dozens of new sites have emerged with hopes of picking up where many consider Myspace has failed. Sites like SoundCloud and Bandcamp seem best poised to succeed at the moment, although their models differ from each other and from the original purpose of Myspace. Others like ReverbNation, alonetone, SoundClick and many more are looking to take a slice of the pie as well.

BAS GRASMAYER, a web 2.0 expert who writes frequently on the future of social media as it relates to the music business for sites like Techdirt and his own blog doesn't think Myspace is dead just yet, although he wouldn't necessarily advise artists to spend too much time on it. “Even though it seems most people 'moved' to Facebook, on the web, this often just means spending more time on the one than on the other site. The two don't exclude each other.” A better approach, he says, is to use some combination of two or more sites. Sites like SoundCloud, Bandcamp and YouTube integrate easily with Facebook, making for a much more efficient experience for both the bands and the fan.

Users may have migrated away from Myspace because it didn't provide that cross-platform experience. Grasmayer says one of the biggest reasons people began pirating music was because it was easier than acquiring it legally. “So as an artist and as a platform, you want to create the most convenient user experience,” he says. “This means the least clicks, the least bugs, the least scrolling, the least clutter. I think the combination of Facebook and the three hosting services earlier mentioned do a great job at that.” The nature of the internet tends toward decentralization, so a site like Myspace—which was at one point the one-stop shopping portal for music fans and bands—was bound to become fragmented. “What we see now with Facebook is not a centralized approach,” says Grasmayer. “It's the integration of fragments: YouTube, Bandcamp, Twitter, SoundCloud... they're all fragments put together.”

One of the reasons sites like SoundCloud and YouTube have proven so user-friendly is that they are easily adaptable to this fragmentation. By making themselves easily embeddable on other sites, they've broadened their relevance. Think of the way Facebook has wormed their way onto nearly every other site on the web through “like” buttons. Going forward, a successful music site needs to be able to replicate that, easily weaving into the broader fabric of the internet, rather than serving as a static destination. In the new digital climate, Myspace has become much like the brick and mortar record stores that it once helped to render obsolete.

“The more functional something is, the easier it is for the editors, writers and radio stations that we deal with to check out,” says GEORGE CORONA, co-founder of Terrorbird Media, the marketing and publicity firm behind labels like Warp and Kill Rock Stars as well as bands like Panda Bear and Baths. “I think programs like SoundCloud and Bandcamp are great, and we use the former, and many bands we work with use the latter. But our preferred method for sharing music has always been our own in-house digital delivery system. It's truly the only way you can maintain total control of the functionality and appearance.

“Myspace is not the tool it once was, which is sad because their massive redesign was all about the music side,” he continues. “I still think it's a helpful tool in some cases, like when bands send Myspace links, I will still check them out. But the load times and poor design make it far less desirable than it used to be. It's much easier and quicker just to check out a SoundCloud or Bandcamp page from bands as opposed to their Myspace page. And if presented with a choice, it no longer is the Myspace page that I go to.”

A surprising number of bands, publicists and labels continue turning to Myspace, though. SHERRI DuPREE BEMIS of EISLEY is one in particular. “I do think Myspace is important, I think it will always be essential, it just makes it so easy,” she says. “I still use it to listen to and find new bands. As far as finding new music, it's still one of the easiest formats to use. I use it every day.”

From a musician’s perspective, one of the biggest advantages a site like Bandcamp has over Myspace is the ability to track data about who is listening to your music. (Bandcamp also declined to comment for this story.)

“They make it super-easy for other blogs and sites—including our group website—to embed, and have a wonderfully straightforward way of showing exactly where traffic is coming from,” says MARCUS SMITH of ambient indie-rock group QUIET LIGHTS. “I really like seeing that X amount of people came from Website A, and Y amount of people came from Google search B. They also have great hooks, like ways to get an e-mail [address] from everyone who downloads a song.” Other features like setting up a pay-as-you-go download price option are considered big steps forward as well. Still, Smith isn't ready to write Myspace off entirely.

FREDRIK SAROEA of Norwegian electronica outfit DATAROCK still has a soft spot for Myspace as well. He points to Spotify as one of the best new options for streaming music, although that system isn't available in the States yet. His band currently use a combination of, Myspace, SoundCloud and direct file sharing through YouSendIt to get their music out. Still, he says, Myspace has fallen off. “Myspace's impact changed a lot for many reasons, and they didn't exactly help themselves with the new programming and all the annoying changes,” he says. “Everybody's hating on Myspace nowadays, and nobody seams to like maintaining their own [site] nor utilizing others. I think it's kinda sad, because in my mind, MySpace was on the absolute frontier of opening artists' current global online 'direct to consumer' revolution. They'll be around forever, I'm sure, but kids want the latest toys, and the only way to stay on top is to be the very best. To me, it seems as if Myspace lost that position long ago.”

DECODER bassist BRYCE STIPES also says the age of Myspace has nearly come. “I wouldn't say it is completely dead yet, but it's on it's way out. It's mostly just spam mail from other bands and artists who still use it and next to no real users. It's also extremely slow and bogged down from bad coding, and all those new features are so clunky and too much for me to even bother to try and wrap my head around.”

Yet Stipes doesn’t find Myspace entirely hopeless. Sites like Myspace, and Facebook too, are hurt by the sheer amount of things you can do on them. More specific music-to-fan functionality would be much more efficient in order to make them viable again. For the time being, Decoder use Facebook to embed Soundcloud and Bandcamp players. “Facebook is what people are using more than anything else,” Stipes says, advising that a combination of sites is still necessary. “Cover your bases and keep your Myspace available just in case. It's gonna stay fragmented unless someone can mimic what Myspace started or if Myspace reverts back to the old site.”

JUSTIN COLLIER of  MAN OVERBOARD prefers the multi-tasking approach, saying the ability to personalize your URL on Facebook, and use an interface with ReverbNation, RootMusic or DamnTheRadio to share high-quality music players and tour dates makes it an ever-improving option. There's just one little drawback there, as mentioned above, Myspace is still the link that appears first when people are looking for his band. “Until Google stops listing Myspace at the top of most band listings, you are going to have to keep updating your Myspace page,” he says. “Whether you want to or not.”

That's a huge impediment to bands as far as MICHAEL J. EPSTEIN, a musician who performs as THE MICHAEL J. EPSTEIN MEMORIAL LIBRARY, and a writer who has covered this issue extensively, including in a recent piece called “Seven Rules For Effective Social Networking for Artists” on Music Think Tank. “I've pretty much always thought Myspace was useless because it never gave any interface for communication with 'fans' at all,” he says. “I've been complaining that it actually harms bands because they don't control their identity and have no access to the lists they spent a lot of time building. The player also streams at 64 kbps and sounds awful.”

Perhaps the better option for bands is to focus more on carving out their own specific online identity, and taking the cafeteria approach to making it functional. A little bit of this, a little bit of that; ReverbNation here, Bandcamp, Wordpress there.

Myspace doesn't play well with others, he says, and it hasn't for a while. “It has been dead for a long, long time. We're just all waiting for it to go away. It's not a major tool at all for bands,” says Epstein, who thinks it may be better for bands to delete their pages entirely. Like Collier of Man Overboard, he's annoyed by the fact that it's often the first impression a web user will get of the band. “Bands have mostly stopped updating their pages and the new Myspace system is so horribly unwieldy that even if they have been updating their pages, you can't get to anything.”

What’s next then? Who fills the hypothetical Myspace void? Epstein, like a lot of other people writing and thinking about what comes next doesn't see any of these alternatives as a complete replacement to Myspace. SoundCloud, Bandcamp and all of the others may provide improvements on specific functions that Myspace once served, but none of them do them all at once. “Myspace served as a one-stop one sheet of sorts for bands,” he says. “Soundcloud and Bandcamp concentrate on music listening and commerce systems. Bands still need to create full web pages to house other content.”

“I don't think there’s ever been a good one-stop site and I don't think there ever will be one,” Epstein says. “If bands are smart, they will direct people to their websites (which can use tools and widgets from Soundcloud, ReverbNation, Bandcamp, etc.) and get people to sign their mailing lists. Every site that provides tools for social connection and fanbase building is only going to do it on terms that make sense for the sustenance of the site. Facebook doesn't want people on your mailing list, they want you to think that your fan page is the destination for all interaction. Bands that spend a lot of time building audiences that they can't take with them from place-to-place and site-to-site will ultimately lose out.”

KALEB JONES of Nashville’s THE YOUNG INTERNATIONAL says that replacing Myspace isn't likely. “Myspace is dead. There is no question about that. We use both Bandcamp and SoundCloud. Both are awesome tools, however, there will never be another site that is to music what Myspace was. Everyone was on Myspace... the site was very social, open and conducive to finding new music. Sites like Bandcamp and SoundCloud don't have that social element to enable those searching for new music to easily discover it.”

It doesn't seem likely any of these sites will fill the impending Myspace void, not even a newly designed Myspace, and that may a good thing. Perhaps the most logical replacement for Myspace for bands is literally their own literal “my space.” At least then we'll know where to find them.

“It'd be cool if everyone went back to official band websites,” says MOVING MOUNTAINS frontman GREG DUNN. “Remember those? I have a nostalgic part in my heart for that stuff. I remember when Thursday’s Full Collapse first came out [in 2001], and going to  for all my Thursday news. It was so awesome. Although I don't know if stuff like that even happens anymore. Everything is so streamlined, and you tend to access everything from your phone. So long as there will always be a way to connect and interact with the people who support and love your music, then we'll be on the right path.” 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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