The first thing you should know about the Product Manager for MySpace Music is that he’s an independent musician. He’s in a band called Big Kid. That’s him playing the drums. He also writes most of the songs. I found that both encouraging and surprising.

Myspace Music Product Manager Steve Clark approached me through my blog to have a chat about what was going on at Myspace, the big changes that they were making, and what they were doing to belatedly address the fact that they have access to (as I put it) every frickin’ band on the planet.

Now, I’ve been critical of Myspace in the past (to say the least). My complaints have been many and varied, but my concerns have been especially with respect to the fact that all of their efforts in the music space have been directed exclusively at major labels – and the fact that as an interface, both for artists and for fans, it’s a pile of crap.

A friend of mine once joked that you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll it in glitter. Basically, Myspace has been rolled in glitter.

It’s not about music online

Like this band? Buy that chocolate!

The reason I mention that Steve is in an independent band is to underline the point that, to a large extent, he gets it. He knows what it means to be in a band that is not signed to a record label, and to get together with a bunch of likeminded people to make music they like, and hope that other people might like too.

And like a lot of other people in bands, he has a day job. In this instance, he works at Myspace. So my problem here is not with Steve Clark. In fact, in a sense, I don’t even have a problem with his employer – because his employer is not relevant to my interests.

I am interested in independent music online. Steve Clark is interested in independent music online. Myspace is not.

Because essentially, what I want Steve to be able to do for independent artists is not something that could happen within that professional context.

Myspace does not want to be something that I want it to be. It seems likely it is not capable of being something that I want it to be. Because the fact is – Myspace is not an internet service for artists and fans despite what it may appear to do on the surface.

Despite having the second largest membership of any social network platform on the planet, it’s also not a social network – because by and large, that’s not what people use it for.

And Myspace is certainly not a free service that connects musicians with their audience in a meaningful or helpful way. That’s not what it’s for.

Myspace is purely and simply a broadcasting platform that makes money for Rupert Murdoch’s corporation by selling advertising. That’s it. That’s the whole story. In the picture above, Myspace’s customer is NestlĂ©, who make KitKat.

You’re not the customer. In fact, you’re not even the product. You’re the bait.

Like radio, without any of the benefits

Photo by screenpunk

Among other things, I teach about radio. And commercial radio is really simple. Like many other businesses, it has products and it has customers. The audiences are not the customers, they’re the product. The customers are the advertisers.

And the music (as well as all the tasteful billboard marketing) is used as the bait that draws in the audiences to sell to the advertisers. We all know that’s how it works.

But we also know that there are benefits to being played on the radio. There’s the exposure to a wider audience for a start, the potential for increased sales and the PR benefits of being able to say ‘as heard on…’ – not to mention the performance royalties.

But the reason those benefits exist on radio is because radio is programmed. If you’re listening to the radio, you will hear whatever’s next. The context brings the audience. On Myspace, you bring your own audience.

The benefits of Myspace
Here are the benefits of Myspace as told to me:

It has good SEO. If you’re searching for a band on Google, Myspace will likely appear in the top results.

Myspace has all of “the plumbing” in place. That is, it has deals with all of the big labels and the rights collection organisations worldwide.

They have good filters in place so that rights can be managed effectively, to honour those copyright arrangements, and quickly remove anything thought to infringe those rights.

You can now have a whole Myspace website – not just a profile page.

It now uses auto-syncing and feeds. That is, if your gigs are booked by Live Nation, they can automatically appear on your MySpace page. If you use The Orchard, CD Baby or even Tunecore, your music can be piped directly into your profile. It wasn’t actually clear how that bit works; my suspicion is the more famous and signed you are, the more likely it is to work smoothly. BeyoncĂ© and Linkin Park were cited as examples.

You can have Amazon and iTunes “buy” links.

And finally (this is my favourite one – and it’s a direct quote): “It’s the only service other than Youtube that has married User-Generated Content with Premium and is making the business work.”

There’s an essay to be written unpicking that one sentence.

You don’t have to be signed to make money for the majors
Steve also talked a good deal about JV partners. For a moment, I couldn’t place the acronym, and had to ask what JV was. It’s shorthand for Joint Venture.

In other words, Myspace is part-owned by major record labels and possibly also by rights organisations like ASCAP or BMI.

He wouldn’t be pressed on what the deals were or just how much they own (“it’s not something I feel comfortable discussing”), but it’s fair to say that sharing your music with your audience on Myspace not only generates revenue through the placement of advertising on your own page, but is potentially a better business opportunity for, say… Universal Music, than actually signing your band would be.

That message again, just so we’re clear – now every frickin’ band on the planet is making money for the major record labels.

There’s not very much glitter

The thing that I was most interested in was the user interface, which has changed, but seemingly not very much.

I’d seen the Grinderman page recently (great band – great album – amazing video) and was impressed by the extent to which it didn’t look dreadful – which is not high praise from a web design perspective, but it’s still a radical improvement on what there was before.

But as a fan, the button I was most interested in was the ‘Share’ button. And there is one. It allows me to link to that page. I’m unable to embed any of the content on this page (a hosted WordPress site) or my Posterous blog. Or, I can, but it involves a hack rather than a code provided by Myspace themselves.

The best music pages are still the ones that have worked out how to hide the Myspace player and provide Bandcamp or Soundcloud players instead.

So – yes, it has been rolled in glitter – but not very much. The fact remains that in order to be fixed, the whole Myspace architecture has to be rebuilt from scratch, and they’re not going to do that.

Call me a socialist…

U2 – brought to you by suspiciously affordable clothing

My one sticking point kept coming back to the advertising. I know there are artists out there who aren’t comfortable with the fact that they have no say about what gets advertised on their page.

It might be McDonalds or Coke, cosmetic surgery or Windows 7. You may have a problem with some of those or you may not. The point is, you have no choice in the matter.

I suggested to Steve that artists be offered the opportunity to pay a small amount (but more than the advertising revenue from their page) to have an ad-free service. Let’s say – $1 a month per 5000 friends your band has, for instance.

It’s something they’ve considered – and may return to one day – but it’s not something they’re offering.

Meanwhile you’ll continue to offer your fans the corn syrup-filled goods and debt-creating services of planet-raping, child-enslaving corporate psychopaths. Or maybe Oxfam. Who knows?

Soon it will be October 24th
When I did my rant about Myspace nearly a year ago (which Steve tells me he’s quoted extensively in internal Powerpoint presentations), I suggested we give them until October 24th this year to sort everything out and properly respect the fact that they have every frickin’ band on the planet – and not only make the most of that opportunity, but actually provide a service to them that is helpful rather than contemptuous and outright exploitative.

My suggestion was that if they haven’t sorted things out by then, we stage a mass exodus. Everyone leave simultaneously.

You want a platform for your music? There are other choices. I will, of course suggest Bandcamp partly because (full disclosure here) I’m on their board of advisors, but mostly because I think it’s brilliant both for artists and for fans (which is why I’m on their board of advisors). There are other choices. The important point is would be that they’re not Myspace.

Steve assured me that the changes that have been made already are only the tip of the iceberg – and that there are more and exciting changes yet to come. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by them… but it would certainly be a surprise.

My expectations were very low, and they have not been raised but confirmed.

After my interesting, thoroughly pleasant, intelligent and amiable one-hour chat with the very nice man from Myspace Music, it is my considered opinion that they are not capable of making those changes.

My account is closed. Tom is not my friend.