Can Myspace Survive?

Justin Timberlake brought sexy back, but can he do the same with Myspace?

I’m an American, which means I love a good comeback story (especially when the resurrected second-time hero has the potential to lend a hand to independent musicians and bands.)  Whenever there’s a down-and-out soul  on the verge of slipping into oblivion, my American-born empathy for a second chance rises to the surface.

There was a time when Myspace appeared to be gasping for its last breath, drowning in the sea of social networks.  But it seems the once sinking social platform has been thrown a lifeline from Justin Timberlake .  Purchased in June by  Specific Media ( Timberlake’s media investment group) from Ruppert Murdoch scandal-ridden NewsCorp, the once down and out social network is receiving a facelift, but what, exactly, will Myspace look like when the bandages come off? Colin Petrie-Norris, the international director of Specific Media hopes to take Myspace back to its music roots by using Timerlake’s star power to attract other big name musical acts.  The full revamp will attempt to bring commercial entertainment more online real estate, while still having to cater to other lesser known artists.  It appears that Fox still has a hand in the direction of the social network as Fox Digital Studio has just announced they will distribute a 7 episode comedy show  exclusively on Myspace.  But where does this leave the struggling indy bands trying to get a foothold?  It appears that the focus of “music” has left the little guy behind.

In the early and mid 2000’s, having a Myspace page was an obligatory marketing tool for independent musicians, but artists have followed their fans over to Facebook and shifted their marketing efforts to more music-oriented websites like Bandcamp.com and Reverbnation.  As the Myspace team re-purposes the ailing social network by injecting a heavy dose of corporate commercial entertainment into the mix, it feels like the indy musician is once again getting pushed aside.  But does it matter?  The digital landscape has more fertile soil for the independent musician than Myspace.  Perhaps only time will tell if the new-and-improved Myspace will be a contender again in the social network arena.  The fierce fight for social media users may be aimed more at the consumer than at the indy musician.  I love a good comeback, but I certainly don’t know if there is one on the horizon.

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LINK: Mashable.com – “How Musicians Are Using Social Media to Connect With Fans”

For everything you need to know about social media

In his MASHABLE.com article, Greg Rollett  discusses how musicians are using social media to connect with fans and raise money for projects.

His article can be found here:

MASHABLE: How Musicians Are Using Social Media to Connect With Fans

Wrapping Up the Cloud (Pt. 5 – Finale)

Flatpicking acoustic guitar guru Tony Rice can be found in The Cloud at the music streaming service Grooveshark.

With the enormous amount of musical data floating around the Internet and the seemingly unlimited number of ways to distribute it, I begrudgingly admit that I only have a  limited amount of time and space to dedicate to the subject, therefore I am wrapping up my multi-part series on Music in The Cloud.  Constraints aside, this post will look at some of the other portions of The Cloud that help musicians promote their music.

The Swedish music streaming company Spotify has become a major player in the music industry in just four short years.  As a “freemiuim” service Spotify allows registered users to search through and play millions of selected music tracks from a range of major and independent record labels.  Commercial advertisements are frequently interjected into the music stream for the free portion of the service, but listeners who upgrade to the premium (paid) service lose the ads and gain access to higher bit rate streams and mobile phone apps.

The way that Spotify benefits the independent musician is that it pays royalties to artists and/or labels for every time they play their song.  Because all the music played on Spotify is tracked – all participating labels and artists have access to reporting from Spotify allowing the artist the ability to see where and how their popularity is growing.  Spotify actually encourages independent artists to use artist aggregators in order to license their music so that it can be  played on music streaming sites.  For instance, Tunecore is one of many digital music distributors (or aggregators) that enters into agreements with music labels and artists. For a fee, Tunecore will distribute and stream digital copies of single tracks or entire albums to retail outlets like iTunes and amazon.com or music streaming sites like Spotify. Some of the other benefits Tunecore claims to offer musicians (from Tunecore’s website):

  • Musicians retain 100% of royalties and maintain all rights to their music
  • Songs can be made available on music video games like Rock Band
  • Physical on-demand distribution at Amazon
  • A streaming music player for the musicians’ webpage that plays the artists’ own music
  • Physical distribution, licensing and endorsement deals
  • Free digital cover art or physical CD art

Music streaming sites are usually heavily embedded with social media features as well.  Grooveshark, another music streaming service, allows users to sign in with their Facebook, twitter or Google plus account. As users listen to songs, they can post comments and the link to the music on their social media page of preference.  This has huge benefits for musicians when building a fanbase.  For artists, the task of gaining exposure through “word-of-mouth” promotion is transformed online with these types of embedded social media applications.

I’m sure this will not be the last post regarding music in The Cloud, but I want to open the blog to another range of topics. And besides, it’s been too long since I mentioned Valient Thorr.

Till next time…

Happy New Year from The Cloud (Pt. Two)

While the SOPA opera continues to play-out in Washington DC, I have become more aware of so-called “music piracy.”  It’s obvious to me that if  bands do not want their music downloaded illegally, they have an option: don’t release any music. No albums. No singles.  Just play live shows.  Unfortunately there is the off-chance that some one could illegally record the live show and upload the recording to the internet for all to “steal.”  Personally, I think bands should be flattered if someone goes to the trouble of recording their shows, but that is going down a long and winding path; I’m here to discuss The Cloud.

I recently discovered that Soundcloud uses a flash video format for embedding audio files onto web pages.  The benefit of the format is that it allows listeners to play the soundclip but it prevents them from downloading it.  Musicians also have the option to “unlock” the audio clip in order to allow people to download it.  As part of the embedded audio/video file, Soundcloud  shows the audio wave form (a graphical representation of sound) while the audio clip is playing.  Here’s a link to an example of Souncloud at work:  Geneva punk grrl duo The Chikitas have embedded the audio clips on the music page of their website.

Many radio stations simultaneously stream their broadcast signal on their dedicated web sites.  If a band is lucky enough to get the station to play their song, then they have successfully had one-play on the web.  Not very significant or user friendly for the fan.  An online alternative, Last.FM is a music recommendation service that uses a process called scrobbling to identify music that a registered user likes and makes playlists and recommendations for the user based on the scrobbling data.  Here’s how Last.FM describes scrobblin

  • Scrobbling is a little note The Scrobbler sends to Last.fm to let us know what song you’re playing.
  • Scrobbling helps us tell you what songs you play most often, which songs you like the most, how much you’ve played an artist over a certain amount of time, which of your friends have similar tastes… all kinds of stuff. By focusing on the music you already play we can help you discover more music.
  • The Scrobbler automatically fills your library and updates it with what you’ve been listening to on your computer or iPod.

Essentially you build your own radio “station” by adding recommendations to your playlist.  If a musician wants to upload his or her music they simply play it on their ipod or computer and it automatically uploads to Last.FM.  Sorry SOPA.

In the United States there is a similar service called Pandora where a registered user can play musical selections similar to song suggestions entered by a user.  The user provides positive or negative feedback for songs chosen by the service, which are taken into account for future selections. While listening, users have the option to buy the songs or albums at various online retailers. But Pandora does not allow users to upload their music like Last.FM and play of a single artist is limited.  Pandora provides similar music, not a play-on-demand service.

There is still a lot of more information about The Cloud.  In part three, I will be taking a look at a build-your own social networking site and more.

 

Happy New Year from The Cloud (Pt. One)

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Taking time out over the holidays to visit friends and family in the US, I managed to have a few conversations with different musicians and what I’ve quickly learned is that there are a lot of choices available when it comes to getting their music out there. In lieu of radio airplay which can be unheard of for certain styles of music, the “cloud” is the de facto place that hosts music. Because this post could get excruciatingly long, I am going to break it up into different parts.  Welcome to part one.

I was going to reserve an entire post for itunes and I may revisit it later, but one can not talk about hosting music in the cloud without talking about itunes’s contribution.  Whereas music was once bought, sold and traded as a tangible formats (CD’s, tapes, vinyl records), now a single song takes up virtual space on a server  in Silicon Valley and can be downloaded in an instant.  But in order to be a partner with itunes musicians must enter into agreement that shares rights with Apple on all downloads and meet stringent requirements (like a 20 album catalog!)  But I don’t want to turn this into a itunes post.  My goal is to cover just a few of the other cloud hosting spots for music.

Youtube is also another good source for musicians to post their music. ( I’ve created a page that has some of my favorite videos here.)  Although some bands can’t afford to produce a music video they can simply post a picture of the band or of their album cover (or even a video of the song being played on a turntable) while the song plays.

Soundcloud not only allows musicians to upload their music but record directly onto their “cloud.” The sounds canthen be shared private publicly or posted to social network platforms.  Musicians can also join groups within the website and communicate with other musicians or fans.

Bandcamp is quickly becoming a favorite among artists.  It is a site that allows bands to truly “own” their space.  Bands can create the look of their page, upload their music and videos, host comments, etc.  Bandcamp also doesn’t have awkward ads and links that clutter up the artists’ page.  The website earns a 15% commission on all sales from the artists’ sites.

And with that, I’ll end part one.  Next time, more cloud.

Buying In to Sell Out

For bands, making money from music alone is not enough. Sometimes it's all about the merch. (Photos from Kings Road Merch and Indiemerch.)

Taking more notes from Mr. PJ Bond who, as of this writing, is playing his music around the United Kingdom, a musician can not live on music alone.  A lot of the money generated for independent bands and musicians doesn’t come from the sale of their music, but from their merchandise.  Getting from one show to the next means keeping a tight rein on expenses and shilling t-shirts, stickers and posters out of a well-worn suitcase after the show.

Although selling merchandise face-to-face is the most efficient way to turn money into food or gas, it’s impossible for one person or band group to manage a “merch booth” while performing.  Keeping an eye out to make sure money and inventory doesn’t disappear can be handled by a manager but most bands and musicians barely make enough money to keep the tires from falling off the tour van so musicians turn to the internet for solutions.  While a dedicated website is a great way to get information to fans, it can be cumbersome when it comes to selling merchandise.  Also, “official” band merchandise is difficult to keep “official”, in that more popular bands have their name and image re-sold “unofficially” through sites that have no link with the bands, therefore the bands do not receive compensation for money generated on their name.

Online retailers are numerous but some specialize in catering to musicians and bands specifically.  In an effort to find out which merch retailers are used  I have subscribed to some independent bands whose music I like.  Metal/Punk band Valient Thorr uses indiemerch.com. From their website:Indiemerchndising prides itself on relationships and quality… with the industry’s most advanced manufacturing capabilities and distribution services.”  The site is subdivided into the indiemerchstore section which allows a band to sell their merchandise through a web-based secure interface (indiemechstore.com)and another section specializes in manufacturing the merchandise whether its t-shirts, pants or hats (indiemerchandising.com ).

Indiemerch.com also offers a value add service by allowing bands to customize the look of their site in order to brand their retail page alongside their merchandise.  From the band-specific page a band can place links to their official website, latest blog updates, and the site automatically lists the best sellers.  Here’s a look at Valient Thorr’s indiemerch page.

A more popular indy band, Social Distortion, uses Kings Road Merchwhich offers similar services but has a larger distribution network throughout the world. (Social Distortion’s kings road merch page.)  King’s Road Merch offers merchandise production, tour supply, design, online stores, and retail distribution but doesn’t allow the same page customization as indiemerch.

There are countless merchandise sites that perform similar services but may not cater specifically to musicians such as: grindstore.com; zazzle.com; cafepress.com; rockabilia.com; scrappyapparel.com; bandwagonmerch.com; bandwear.com

Still there’s many other sites that cater to musicians merch needs and if you know of any that need adding to this post or to my research please send it along.

Musicians’ Preference

PJ Bond at The Fest 10 in Gainsville, Florida 2011. Photo by Nicole Kibert - elawgrrl.com

A brief road trip with three musicians has yielded some highly useful information. Using the convenience of a captive audience in a van ride to Lausanne, Switzerland, I managed to get some great info from those of the musicians not sleeping. A consensus from all the musicians is that Facebook seems to be the preferred social networking tool because of its ubiquitous properties and its ability to allow musicians to upload music to their profile.  All agreed myspace is a dead format for interactive communication but everyone still had “legacy” myspace pages with their music uploaded to the site.  PJ Bond, a musician from the US was really forthcoming about the amount of technology he uses. (PJ’s myspace page.)  PJ also uses tumblr as a blog and photo hosting site (PJ’s tumblr page.)  Other tools that were mentioned on the van ride to Lausanne was artistdata.com.  According to the site it “helps artists publish information to a variety of destinations with a single point of entry.”  PJ uses this as a way to update all his new media outlets regardless if it’s about a blog update, an upcoming show, or a new picture post.  Twitter is also on the list of tools that these musicians use albeit more of a status notification tool rather than an interactive device.  (PJ’s twitter page.) This was a fantastically informing trip and I feel that I am just starting to scratch the surface for what’s out there.  Till next time…