Professor Lance Strate
Understanding New Media
27 February 2010
The Effects of MySpace on the Music Industry
The internet has undergone a dramatic shift in recent years toward the direction of user-created content. Web pages are more than just static content – users are able to create and edit content themselves as well as interact and form communities on these sites. Today pretty much anybody with an internet connection can create a blog or an account on a social networking site and immediately begin creating content and interacting with other users. The recent rise of the internet has also affected a number of other forms of media. One industry that has suffered a great deal has been the recorded music industry. With sales dropping, stores closing, and executives being forced to re-evaluate their priorities and change their business models, the music industry has seen a great deal of turmoil in recent years due in large part to internet activity. It is also due to this new type of web content that the music industry has changed as well. User-created content centered around music has been a driving force in the success of many sites, with one being an especially notable example. MySpace, a site created for social networking purposes, found popularity through the music elements featured on the site. Musicians were able to use the site as an outlet for their music and way to reach out to new and existing fans. Fans in turn could interact with and around their favorite performers and also find new music. Many artists have been able to find success with the help of MySpace, and the site’s efforts have also changed the way many labels do business. Even though the site has undergone changes of its own in recent years, its effects on the music industry still remain.
The music industry has undergone a number of changes over recent years. File sharing and digital downloads have altered the musical landscape. CD sales have been declining annually from 10 to 20 percent over the last few years (Stone), which has made it difficult for record stores to survive. For example, Tower Records was forced to file for bankruptcy in August of 2006 due to losses of over $210 million (Knowles 9). Despite the growth of digital music sales over recent years (Dhar and Chang 9), most internet users consider music to be free (Knowles 9). The introduction of new technologies has also created a “democratization” of sorts of the music industry. Musicians are now able to produce their own music, which has led to an explosion of content (Knowles 7). The increase of available content as well as the ability for this music to be distributed freely through the internet has created a demand for music that the industry that made it difficult for physical stores to survive. The demand for out-of-print, niche, and obscure music increased at the expense of more mainstream artists, which caused file-sharing as well as online distributors to thrive at the expense of stores like Tower (Knowles 8). This change in demand has been called “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson, which refers to a pattern of distribution where mainstream hit sales constitute the “head” of the pattern, with “decreasing demand flowing through to a long ‘tail’ made up of lesser selling titles” (Knowles 8). Digital distribution has considerably helped to increase the length of this “tail,” with “long tail titles” making up nearly 40% of music sales in 2006 (Knowles 8). As a result, the demand for mainstream acts has decreased with this increase in demand for niche and lesser-known artists (Knowles 8-9). These developments have caused users to seek their music through new outlets.
New media technologies such as social networking and blogging have allowed users and artists to connect to each other in new ways. Social networking has been able to allow artists to connect to their fans in a number of ways (Beer 224), and blogging can both distribute and review music as well (Knowles 7). The movement towards user-generated content on the internet has been dubbed Web 2.0, which “looks to harness ‘collective intelligence’ through the development of a ‘participatory culture’” that allows “users to become ‘co-developers’ by generating as well as browsing content” (Beer 226). The various Web 2.0 websites have attracted millions of users (Beer 228) and have dramatically influenced the music industry. One of the best examples of this trend is the social networking site known as MySpace.
MySpace was created by Brad Greenspan, Tom Anderson, Chris DeWolf, and Josh Berman, who were all members of e-Universe. The site launched in August of 2003 and was “built upon the social dynamics of America Online, CompuServe, message boards, forums and computer conferencing” and has grown to include over 300 million accounts as of 2009 (Levinson 110-111). MySpace was not the first social networking site – Friendster had already emerged before it and become popular on the internet as a dating site. Because of this nature, it did not allow “non-personal profiles,” which prevented musicians from using the site. Tom Anderson took note of this, and created a strategy for MySpace that would include those not allowed on Friendster (Shklovski and Boyd 1). Anderson allowed musicians to use the site to connect with fans as well as promote themselves. In additional to bands and the casual user, the site was also populated by band managers, club promoters, and independent musicians who “leveraged the site to promote local bands and provide VIP access to a handful of premier clubs” (Shklovski and Boyd 1). In response to the number of artists who were joining the site as well as the closing of MP3.com, which allowed artists to post their music online, MySpace launched music profiles in 2004. These profiles were different than the traditional MySpace profile in a number of ways. Although they followed the same structure of most social network profiles by including description, a list of friends, and a comment section, these profiles were listed separately from regular users, allowed bands to list their shows, and perhaps most importantly, gave artists a way to distribute their music (Shklovski and Boyd 1). The site built in a player that allowed musicians to upload songs to their profiles, which users could then stream directly from the page. A few months later MySpace allowed non-music users to stream these songs from their own profiles (Shklovski and Boyd 1). Artists are able to customize the content of their profiles however they like, and are able to post a variety of things on these profiles such as upcoming shows, blogs, videos, podcasts, and other forms of content in addition to their music (Beer 230). In September 2004, R.E.M. unveiled their upcoming album on the site, allowing fans to listen to the album online weeks before its release date. This changed the reputation of MySpace to “something other than a dating site” (Shklovski and Boyd 2). As the site grew in popularity, the site continued to focus on music. In March of 2005 MySpace allowed bands to create simpler addresses for their profiles, making it easier for the bands to advertise their pages. MySpace also created a record label, started a MySpace tour, and put out a compilation CD in November of 2005 (Shklovski and Boyd 2). The social networking aspect of the site combined with its musical features allowed the site generate “more community-related music activity than any other music-related site” according to a 2006 report from Jupiter Research (Shklovski and Boyd 1).
MySpace has proven to be effective for artists in a number of ways. The site allows artists to promote themselves in a number of ways, such as by posting messages on the site and reaching out the new people (Shklovski and Boyd 2-3). The community aspect of the site has proven to be a valuable tool to musicians as well. Artists can find potential fans by promoting themselves on the page of a similar artist, asking people to listen to their music as well (Beer 234). Bands are able to connect with each other as well, allowing them to foster existing relationships as well as build new ones in an effort to help each other out along the way. Bands have been able to use the site to set up shows with each other as well as help smaller bands play in new environments that they might not have had the chance to without these resources (Shklovski and Boyd 2). However, as important as the community aspect between bands may be, this relationship is not as crucial as the one between the one between musicians and their fans.
MySpace, like other social networking sites, operates by collecting “friends” on the site. MySpace does not distinguish between different types of “friendships” on the site, so fans are able to add bands as “friends” and vice-versa (Shklovski and Boyd 3). The fans and artist can then interact between each other. Fans can post comments on the artist’s blog or profile, and the artist can join in the discussion as well. Comments can spark ongoing discussions between fans as well. In a sense these profiles not only serve as “a portal through which the fan base can communicate with the popstar, or a space where the popstar (or the music industry) can communicate information to the fans” but also an outlet that creates networks of friends around the performers (Beer 231, emphasis in original). The artist does not need to be present for the community to survive – it operations regardless of whether or not the artist is in attendance during the various discussions and comments in order for the interaction and connections to continue (Beer 231).
MySpace has allowed bands and fans to create a sort of mutually beneficial relationship on the site. Bands can “collect” fans, allowing them to promote to a larger audience, while fans are able to “friend” a band to display their fandom, receive updates from the band, and show their support through comments (Shklovski and Boyd 3). Fans use music as a form of self-expression, and often select songs to display on their profile based on how they identify themselves. This feature has been considered to be an effective way to spread new music to friends and was an important reason why Jupiter Research considered MySpace to be the most influential music site (Shklovski and Boyd 3).
MySpace essentially created a new way for fans to obtain information about their favorite artists. The social networking sphere allows musicians to “become part of the communicative flows of the social networking site” by “checking and updating their profiles, making friends, posting music, and so on” (Beer 232). This allows fans to connect directly to the artist and not through a magazine, radio, or TV show (Beer 232). Regardless of whether or not the musician himself is the one checking the page, there is still the perception of communicating directly with the performer, which “fits with the broader rhetoric of democratization and participation that has ushered in Web 2.0” (Beer 232). However unlikely it may be that Mick Jagger himself logged on to the Rolling Stones MySpace, it still creates a “perception of accessibility” (Beer 232) that has gone on to challenge the way music culture is organized (Beer 234).
A number of recording artists have been able to help their careers with the help of MySpace. Lily Allen, a singer from London, created a profile where she posted demos of her music. She began to attract a number of fans as well as mainstream press attention. She would go on to have a top single in the United Kingdom and an album that has sold over three million copies (Levinson 117). MySpace was definitely instrumental in her success.
The success of Lily Allen through MySpace was also instrumental in the career of another singer from London. Kate Nash started her music career by recorded some songs at home that she posted on MySpace. She would then reach out to Lily Allen through the site, asking her to listen to her music. Allen liked what she heard and recommended Nash on her own page, asking her fans to check her out. Thousands of people would go on to listen to Nash’s music after this recommendation, which caused her fan base and concert attendance to increase dramatically. After releasing a single on an independent label, she would soon be offered a contract by a major record label. Her first album, “Made of Bricks,” reach the top of the United Kingdom music charts (Pareles). Her songs were played over 20 million times on MySpace alone (Levinson 116).
Another example is that of Sean Kingston, who found the MySpace account of record producer J. R. Rottem. Kingston repeatedly contacted Rottem in 2007, claiming to have sent him messages “eight time a day for, like, four weeks” (Levinson 117). Eventually Kingston’s persistence paid off, as Rottem eventually took notice. He would soon have number one songs in the United States, Canada, and Australia (Levinson 117).
In 2007 a teenager was able to ride use MySpace and other websites to get the number one single in America during the summer. DeAndre Ramone Way, who is known as Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, started off by uploading his self-created songs to the website SoundClick.com. He was able to sell his songs for 99 cents each, reaching over 35,000 downloads daily on the site (Arseniuk). Despite making nearly $20,000 a day on that site, he realized that MySpace attracted larger audiences and started posting his music there. After finding a manager and putting his contact information on his profile, he received numerous calls for live performances. His independently released debut album was extremely successful, despite receiving no major label backing. As his online reputation began to grow, he eventually got the attention of Michael Collipark, who would sign Soulja Boy to Interscope Records in 2007. He re-recorded and released his album on the label, shot music videos, and soon had the number one single in the United States for seven weeks in the summer of 2007 (Arseniuk). He even created a video on YouTube that teaches people how to do the dance in his music video, which got over 40 million videos (Arseniuk). In addition to the money earned from record sales and downloads, Soulja Boy is now also able to generate revenue through ringtone sales, his own record label, and even his own clothing line (Arseniuk). Despite the success he was already enjoying on SoundClick.com, his migration to MySpace was an extremely significant move in the career of this performer.
One final example of somebody who has used MySpace to launch a musical career is that of Tila Tequila. Tila Tequila caught the attention of record labels for having the most friends on the website, but actually rejected a number of offers she received (Aspan). Despite the fact that the music on her website has been said to “veer between incompetent and unlistenable” (Weiner) and many contribute the success of her page to the fact that it is full of provocative pictures, she has spent considerable time at the top of the MySpace charts ahead of plenty of established artists (Weiner). People were quick to point out the flaws in the system – that the charts were based on total page views and nothing more – but the buzz created around Tequila was enough to attract industry attention. She now has a clothing line, a number of magazine covers, and an endorsement contract with a cell-phone company (Weiner), in addition to a television show. Despite her insistence to go around record labels, many people noted that her strategy would not cause significant damage to the industry. With no prior recording history and little attention on music-specific communities, some researchers doubt the ability of Tila Tequila to be overwhelmingly successful as a recording artist (Aspan).
Despite the success these artists were able to reach through their presence on MySpace, as well as the boost the site has given to bands such as Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Panic! At the Disco (Weiner), some critics feel that the site is not as successful in finding talent as some people would like to believe. Critic David Hajdu cites Bruce Springsteen as an example, who had to play in small bars before he could make records, as opposed to these artists who get record deals with little more than a MySpace following (Weiner). Regardless of the criticism, the site has still brought a number of artists into the mainstream and also been important to the careers of others.
In 2005 MySpace decided to take its musical aspect a step farther and created its own record label. The company joined up with Interscope Records to create MySpace Records, a label created to “support niche artists as well as break-through acts expected to become mainstream” (BusinessWire). Although it was created as a partnership with Interscope, MySpace Records was designed to “operate as an independent label, structured with its own marketing, publicity and A&R business units, all designed to capitalize on the existing MySpace infrastructure” (BusinessWire). The label aimed to develop its independent acts as well as assist Interscope with larger acts. The first band signed to the label was Hollywood Undead, who used MySpace to build a following at a rapid pace and quickly move to the top of the site’s charts (BusinessWire). The label would also go on to add established artists such as Pennywise, as well as artists such as Kate Voegele and Mickey Avalon, who would eventually be promoted to the main Interscope label (Kincald). However, the MySpace Records label itself did not have any major commercial successes (Rodriguez) and rumors have circulated that the label may be disbanding (Kincald). Although those rumors have yet to come to fruition, in January the label did let go of a number of staff and its General Manager Jay Scavo returned to his old label Hollywood Records. Despite the reshuffling that went on, the label announced that its artists would remain signed and the partnership with Interscope would continue (Kincald). Regardless of what eventually happens to the label, it still has proven to be important for a number of artists. In addition to a few acts that would eventually find their way onto the main Interscope Records roster, Hollywood Undead would also go on to become very successful. Unfortunately for MySpace Records, however, this success would be with another label. Not long after signing the band, the label had a dispute with them over the content of their album. The band refused to compromise, which would cause the label to let them go. The band was then moved to A&M/Octone, another label in the Interscope family. The band would then go on to sell over 600,000 copies of its debut album (Rodriguez). Even though they reached success with a different label, Hollywood Undead was still able to use MySpace Records as a springboard to their music career.
In addition to fostering relationships between fans and musicians, sites like MySpace and other Web 2.0 websites have proven to be effective resources for advertisers and researchers. These sites can provide a great deal of data than can be useful for marketing purposes (Beer 237). The millions of people that use sites like MySpace also create large potential audiences for advertising (Stone). Advertisers have been able channel information gathered from social networking sites and can advertise accordingly (Gallagher). Studies have also shown that pages on the site belonging to major recording artists generally receive the most visits, which reflects “established offline hierarchies” (Jean-Samuel and Thomas 189). This is another piece of information that could be useful to advertisers. MySpace has also proven to be important to advertisers because of its demographics. Studies have shown that “internet users over 13 years of age who access music through social networking sites spent $70 per capita on CDs, paid downloads and music subscriptions, more than double the $25 per capita spent by those not using social networks” (Gallagher). The ability to target ads to a potentially receptive audience is no doubt appealing to a possible advertiser.
In 2006 MySpace made its first attempt to sell music directly through its site. In September 2006 the site announced that it would sell music as part of a partnership with Snocap, which was a company created by Napster creator Shawn Fanning (Levine). The company created the music store as a way to compete with iTunes, with the hopes that fans who were listening to music on a band’s page could then buy the music right there without having to go to another website. The music store was designed to work with the four major record labels, but was also designed to allow independent labels and unsigned bands into the system as well (Levine). The Snocap database featured an audio fingerprinting technology that would prevent illegal selling of the files and also allowed labels to set their own prices, which iTunes did not allow at the time (Levine). This was another important development for MySpace as a music site, as it not allowed opened up a new source of revenue for the site (Levine), but it also created yet another avenue for the site to go down in the music industry. The fact that labels were willing to join in this MySpace/Snocap partnership shows how legitimate MySpace had become at this point. MySpace had become more than just a website for bands to make a page on – it had now become a digital music retailer.
In addition to the effects it has had on the online music world, MySpace has also had its effects on the more traditional aspects of the music industry as well. The introduction of its own record label has put artists in stores that may not have found their way onto shelves otherwise. Many of the aforementioned artists were also able to launch or assist their careers with the help of the website. The previously mentioned “long tail” of the music industry made up a large percentage of record sales in 2006 (Knowles 8), with many of these artists also considered to be the most recommended on the site (Jean-Samuel and Thomas 189). Even though the site reflects popular music trends in the sense that 10% of artists receive 90% of the page views on the site (Jean-Samuel and Thomas 189), studies have also revealed that these popular artists are not by any means the most influential or recommended (Jean-Samuel and Thomas 189). Even if these artists may be drowned out in older media forms, they can still have a presence on MySpace and reflects a growing democratization of the industry (Beer 223). Now musicians can even chart without a record contract, as the band Koopa did in the United Kingdom (Beer 223).
Studies have also been done to see just how effective the effects of Web 2.0 content can be in terms of album sales. Past research has shown that word of mouth and peer reviews have been effective in influencing the opinions on movies, and that “better” movies seemed to attract a greater number of postings in return (Dhar and Chang 3-4). In an attempt to apply these findings to music sales, a study was done that measured a sampling of blog posting and MySpace friends over a period of time of a number of albums’ life spans (Dhar and Chang 7). The study was unable to obtain Nielsen SoundScan data to track album sales, but instead used sales rankings on Amazon.com (Dhar and Chang 9). The study done by Vasant Dhar and Elaine Chang suggested that “higher blog post volumes and higher percentage changes in MySpace friends correspond to increased weekly sales in the future” (15). Although the study found out that an increase in blog posts corresponds to a greater increase in sales than an increase in MySpace friends (Dhar and Chang 16), a relationship does seem to exist. There is also the theory that an increase in blog chatter and MySpace friends could very likely be due to the quality of the artist of the album itself (Dhar and Chang 18), there is still a relationship between Web 2.0 content and album sales. In addition, there are a number of older, more established artists who had very few MySpace friends, which could also mean that their older fans likely do not use MySpace (Dhar and Chang 20). Although the study itself even admits that further study is needed and that it is dangerous to assume causality from its findings (21), the authors posit that this sort of information could be used by record labels in an attempt to predict sales (21). The authors also suggest that genres of music that are not covered in mainstream media sources might also benefit more from online activity than more popular styles (21-22). Even if the number of MySpace friends may not prove to be an accurate measure of the future success of an album, it has already been shown that artists with large numbers of fans on the site have been able to catch the attention of people in the music industry. It also bears repeating that a 2006 study revealed that people found music more often on MySpace than on any other site (Shklovski and Boyd 1), which likely had at least some sort of effect on the record sales of some artists.
MySpace has proven to be so effective in linking together fans and artists that record labels have recently attempted to implement their own social networking capabilities. In January of 2009, Warner Music announced that it would be implementing a social networking platform onto its websites (Gladkova). The label introduced these tools to allow fans to interact with their favorite artists on their own websites rather than have them go to another site (Gladkova). Market research has revealed that many fans do go directly to an artist’s website, so the label decided to implement this technology in an attempt to keep viewers on the site for longer periods of time and possibly increase sales (Gladkova). Although the label does not intend to compete with MySpace (Gladkova), the introduction of social networking to its websites shows that record labels have taken notice of the effectiveness of MySpace and are trying to get a piece of social networking revenues for themselves (Gladkova).
Although MySpace had become an extremely popular social networking and music site, it began to lose a great deal of users over recent years. MySpace has been surpassed by Facebook as the top social networking site, and has lost millions of users in the process. Although MySpace had 64 million users in August 2009, that number is 12 million users fewer than just one year prior (Perez). Around that same time, Facebook got its 300 millionth user (Perez). Recently MySpace announced that it was “giving up on trying to be a major social network” (Perez) and instead changed their direction to a more music-oriented one. Although the site has been built around music for quite some time, the new strategy aims to create “a site for socializing around music instead of a site for just socializing” (Perez). It was with this strategy in mind that the site launched MySpace Music.
On September 25, 2008, MySpace launched MySpace Music, a music service launched in collaboration with the four major record labels (Sandoval). The partnership was created with Warner Music Group, Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, and EMI, and is designed to make money through a combination of advertising and digital music sales (Stone). Although the company had attempted digital sales before, the updated strategy also implemented the ability to instantaneously stream any song from the millions available in the site’s database for free (Stone). Users were also given the ability to create their own playlists of songs, which could then be posted on their profiles and shared with friends. Fans who wanted to download the song itself onto their own computers could do so through the digital music store on Amazon.com (Stone), which is implemented directly onto the MySpace page (Sandoval). Ringtones are also provided through the site, which can be purchased through Jamster (Sandoval), which is also owned by News Corporation, the parent company of MySpace (Stone). The labels themselves all hold a stake in this project as well, owning about 40% of this venture (Stone). Although MySpace would not comment on the terms of the deals made with the record labels, it has been speculated that the “penny-a-play fee” that other streaming music sites must pay has been waived for MySpace (Stone). The site also announced plans to eventually add exclusive music and video content as well as create deal to encourage more downloading (Stone). Concert ticket and merchandise sales are two more revenue streams that the site plans to implement in the future as well (McCarthy).
MySpace Music started off very well for the site, citing high traffic and usage. By the end of its fifth month over 5 million bands had music on the service and more than 100 million playlists were created (McCarthy). The site also claims that it hit its billionth stream after only a few days (McCarthy). Although MySpace Music seems to have had its share of early successes, it is still too early to tell just how successful it will be in the long run. It remains to be seen whether or not Facebook will introduce a competing music service, which would prove to be a significant challenger to MySpace Music (Gallagher). As mentioned earlier, MySpace has already lost millions of users to Facebook over recent years, but shifting the focus of the site could ultimately help MySpace remain profitable (Perez).
It is still early to speculate on the fate of MySpace Music and whether or not it will work out for MySpace itself in the long run. However, this shift in strategy reflects the important role that music played throughout the history of MySpace and will also play a large role in its future. Whether or not MySpace Music succeeds remains to be seen, but what the site has meant for the music industry is definitely notable. A number of artists have been able to use the site in a number of ways to connect to their fans as well as find new ones. Fans in turn can also use MySpace to connect directly with their favorite artists, creating an aura of approachability that was once missing from music. Although overall record sales have declined over the years, “long tail” artists have seen an increase in their sales thanks to MySpace and other similar sites. Many musicians have also used the site to break into the industry, as with musicians like Kate Nash and Soulja Boy using the site to get noticed. Even a singer with no musical background like Tila Tequila could get the attention of record labels with the help of MySpace. Record labels have adopted social networking capabilities recently as well, an indication of how successful MySpace has been in combining music and social networking. Despite losing its rank as the top social networking site, MySpace has proven to be an extremely valuable resource to both musicians and fans and has had a profound effect on the music industry.
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