Current Initiatives

When the first social networking sites debuted in the mid-1990s, the functions available were nothing new. User profiles and 'friend' lists had previously been available in different forms. However, no one had managed to combine such features in a public space until the launch of classmates.com and SixDegrees.com. While SixDegrees.com folded in 2001 and Classmates.com has never achieved the status held by relative late-comers MySpace and Facebook, the sites can be credited with starting a revolutionary trend in Internet use.

Social networks can be characterized as web-based platforms that allow users to establish viewable profiles, generate lists of fellow users with whom they are in some way connected, and "view and traverse" their lists as well as those articulated by others within the system. It is this connection among users — and the public nature of interests shared — that have made social networks particularly appealing to marketers. The introduction of music to the mix via MySpace galvanized the desire to engage this new type of platform as a promotional tool

I. Marketing on Established Networking Sites

A. MySpace

When MySpace entered the online scene in 2003, it quickly attracted the attention of independent concert promoters in the L.A. area. While indie artists have continued to use the site as an economical means of getting their music heard, mainstream acts have also jumped on the MySpace bandwagon. From MySpace Records to the recent relaunch of MySpace Music, the site has equipped member bands with innovative tools for content delivery.

1. Band Profiles

As of January 2008, more than 8 million bands maintained profiles on MySpace. A typical artist profile is not unlike the personal profiles that populate the rest of the site. The same visual cacophony of content boxes and color schemes dominates MySpace's music section. However, band profiles are equipped with added promotional tools including a streaming audio player (and the option to permit downloads), a tour date section, an artist blog, and space to name drop influences and contemporaries. Artists can also post videos and promotional images within the profile framework.

The comments sections on artist pages inevitably are dominated by two types of messages: the standard "I LOVE your music!" fan response, and the "Thanks for the add…come check out some new tunes I posted…" request from fellow musicians. Regardless of message content, the idea that MySpace allows a fan to personally connect with the artist is embodied in the conversational language of the postings. While an upstart act may, in fact, read and respond to every message posted in its comments space, it is unlikely artists of superstar caliber are hovering over their keyboards, ever ready to shoot back a quick response. Yet, the Top 40 band's MySpace page can make the adoring fan feel just as connected with his or her favorite artist as the page belonging to the responsive upstart. There remains a chance of personal interaction, a chance largely absent in the pre-Internet world.

While self-design may remain the preferred method of unfunded, independent acts, numerous sites have sprung up promising to add fan-luring pizzaz to band MySpace pages. Other companies offer widgets for selling music through a group's MySpace portal. The growing list of available widgets and page layouts allows bands, as well as individual users, a high degree of customization. Although such tools are attractive on paper, MySpace has been criticized for overly restricting the inclusion of widgets on profile pages. Furthermore, until recently, users had to go offsite to obtain add-on applications. In the spring of 2008, MySpace finally opened its doors to third-party developers, following in the footsteps, for once, of its main competitor, Facebook.

Because visitors often investigate other artists that both favorite bands and friends endorse on their MySpace pages, MySpace has given rise to a growing trend in online marketing: word of mouth promotion. Word of mouth marketing strives to "inject 'buzz'" into online communities about a product. Research has demonstrated that individuals view reccommendations from peers as more authentic than information received through traditional marketing techniques. Thus, the real value of a MySpace profile, seemingly, is inherent in simply having one. The buzz generated by a band on MySpace has the proven potential to attract interest from labels. While having a well designed space could, conceivably, increase label attention from site-browsing A&R scouts, it likely will be the size and fervency of one's networked fan base that turns a profile into a winning promotional platform.

2. MySpace Music

Touted as a groundbreaking integration of e-commerce and social networking, MySpace Music relaunched in early April 2008. MySpace Music remains the name for the section of MySpace devoted to band profile pages. However, the revamped version, a joint venture involving Sony BMG, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group, provides both multimedia support and direct e-commerce options for artists. Possibilities include streaming audio, DRM-free downloads, and, potentially, a fee-based music subscription service. Attracting some 18 million unique visitors per month, the music portal is a prime place for the industry to begin experimenting with integrated product delivery. Designed to compete with iTunes, the venture, developers insist, is not merely a store, but "a thriving, growing community of people [that will feature] products that quite frankly iTunes does not offer" (L.A. Times). Artists will receive a cut of the revenue generated through the ad-supported streaming media made available on their pages.

While the major label deal marks a major coup for the social networking site, some have voiced concern that MySpace is abandoning the independent artists responsible for its rise. The social network has become an integral tool in getting the music of unsigned bands heard. Unlike major label artists, indie acts do not have the resources of a large record label to rely on for promotional support. MySpace has provided smaller acts with a free means of both reaching out to fans, and publicizing new releases and shows. Understandably, major artists have recognized the independent model as engendering a sense of community, a quality sought by young Internet users who have come of age in the online space. At the same time, MySpace would be foolish, from a business perspective, to reject dealing with major labels on an innovative venture when there are established online music outlets with which they are competing for user attention.

Yet, indie artists view themselves just as worthy of the new technology proffered, regardless of their less expansive fan bases. Indeed, maintaining a smaller group of highly devoted listeners conceivably can result in a sufficient level of profitability. While, comparably, they may not add much to MySpace's bottom line, indie bands have relied on the network as a key implement in self-promotion. Some even argue that social networks //owe// artists, independent and otherwise, for increasing network popularity. The business world is not known for being one where a moral sense of obligation drives corporate decision-making, but it would appear that at least providing integrated e-commerce support for indie bands would be a small price to pay for their continuing endorsement. In part, the underground, 'hip' factor is what continues to hold young America's interest in browsing MySpace Music.

3. MySpace Records

Launched in 2005, MySpace Records operates as a wholly owned subsidiary of MySpace/NewsCorp. Releases are distributed through Universal Music Group. In late 2005, the label released its first compilation album, MySpace Records, Vol. 1. In the fall of 2007, MySpace Records-sponsored a music tour, with Say Anything and Hellogoodbye as the headlining acts. This spring, the second label-sponsored tour took off, featuring of-the-moment indie dance outfit, Justice.

The label's current roster includes Mickey Avalon, Kate Voegele, [http://www.myspace.com/christinamilian] Christina Milian, and Pennywise, which, in late spring 2008, offered their latest release, Reason to Believe, as a free download to 'friends'. Still hoping to entice dedicated fans to make a purchase, MySpace Records simultaneously released a CD/DVD version of the album to retail outlets, as well as a vinyl edition containing songs not available through the free download.

Tom Anderson, MySpace co-founder and president, serves as president of the label, and retains a personal role in recruiting new talent. In Kate Voegele's case, her invitation to join the label came in the form of a MySpace message from Tom, himself.

B. Facebook

As MySpace's main competitor in the U.S., Facebook has become another prime target of music marketers. Facebook's early adopters were not indie scenesters but Ivy League undergrads, giving the site a different look and evolutionary track than that of its predecessor, MySpace. Launched in February 2004, Facebook has since amassed some 69 million users. The Facebook population distribution centers around the coveted college contingent, with 52% of site members being between the ages of 18 and 25. Unlike MySpace, Facebook continues to be run as a privately held company.

1. Artist/Label Pages

Band profiles are a relatively new addition to the Facebook community. Users have always been able to list favorite artists on their profile pages and search for other fans. Widgets have provided Facebook users with an additional means of designating favorite artists and receiving tour information. But bands, themselves, have not maintained a presence on the site until recently.

As on MySpace, bands can maintain their own Facebook profiles. Site members can designate themselves a "fan" of the band, and receive notifications each time the band issues a news bulletin. Band pages feature the same white background and segmented information categories as personal Facebook profiles, lacking the customization options available on MySpace. However, artists remain able to post a variety of media content to their pages, from both official photos and fan snapshots, to music videos and song samples. Select artists, including college campus favorite the Dave Matthews Band, utilize MusicToday's MusicShop application to vend merchandise through their profile pages. A significant number of independent record labels (and scattered big names) have also launched Facebook pages of which users can "Become a Fan."

2. Third-Party Applications

Facebook has opened its platform to third-party applications, allowing sites such as iLike.com to develop widgets that site members can add to their Facebook profiles. The iLike application, for example, enables users to post icons of favorite artists in their profiles, share clips from a self-selected list of favorite songs and music videos, and identify which upcoming concerts they plan (or want) to attend. Thus, the application serves the dual function of identifying certain users with particular artists, while publicizing the artists' latest releases and upcoming appearances every time a user adds such information to his or her profile. Since launching its initial widget, iLike has since introduced other widgets serving select functions.
Additional music networking sites with Facebook applications include imeem, last.fm, Pandora and SellABand.com.

While Facebook has made strides toward providing bands with attractive promotional opportunities, MySpace has long commanded the music industry market. Absent a groundbreaking offering from Facebook (which, arguably, the company's willingness to experiment with third-party development may one day facilitate) or a complete shift in membership totals, MySpace is likely to remain the musician's primary social networking resource.

3. A Record Label Joint Venture?

In March 2008, Billboard reported that Facebook was rumored to be in talks with the major labels about launching its own music acquisition service. Due to the recent debut of MySpace's revamped music space, such a move would allow Facebook to at least keep pace with MySpace in matters of content delivery. The launch of Facebook Music in February 2008, which has permitted bands to infiltrate the network, remains a step forward for the networking site, but it has yet to follow in MySpace's label-partnering footsteps.

II. Music-focused Social Networks

A. Examples

1. Last.fm

  • Founded in 2002 in the U.K.
  • "Last.fm connects you with your favorite music, and uses your unique taste to find new music, people and concerts you’ll like.”
  • Provides list of users currently accessing the site
  • Analyzes user profiles to provide song recommendations and connect fans
  • "Scrobbles" songs users play to create last played list and identify favorite tracks
  • Enables artists to promote music for free, gain statistics about listeners, add downloadable tracks, and access optional pay-for-use promotional features

2. imeem.com

  • Launched in October 2004
  • Self-described as a social network where fans can discover and share new music, videos and photos
  • Content organized by genre and medium
  • Combines content filtering function (e.g. Flickr) with social networking
  • Visitors can access media content, but registration required to comment, tag, etc.
  • Can create multimedia playlists and browse those created by other users
  • Artists can create playlists of own music, embed media content on their pages, build a fan community, post tour dates and other relevant information, and track popularity among users

3. Mog.com

  • Launched in June 2006
  • Users can listen to "millions" of full-length tracks at no cost, and share their opinions on particular songs, music libraries and playlists with the Mog community
  • Users can search for recommendations made by fellow listeners
  • Site features both album and concert reviews, as well as discussion forums for fans

4. SellABand.com

  • Launched in August 2006
  • Innovative platform where "Believers" directly fund a band's recording efforts
  • Bands create profiles, uploading tracks, listing upcoming shows and linking to their other websites in an effort to enlist "believers"
  • "Believers” purchase $10 “Parts,” to help the band raise the necessary 5,000 parts, or $50,000 to enter the studio
  • Sellaband provides an A&R rep, studio and producer once requisite funding is obtained
  • Artists are required to provide three free downloadable tracks on site for promotional purposes if they receive funding for and complete recording
  • Ad revenue, CD sales, and profit from downloads are split among believers, artist and website based on market share

5. iLike.com

  • Launched in November 2006
  • Emphasis on connectivity: “Discover new music with friends,” “Share iTunes playlists with friends”
  • Over 23 million registered users
  • Ability to add iLike application to Facebook and hi5 profiles directly from site
  • Allows artists to build "viral fan communities"
  • Downloadable "Sidebar" application scans user's music collection to generate list of recommended artists and identify others with similar favorites
  • Informs users when favorite artists are playing at nearby venues
  • Much the same features are available when accessed through a mainstream network such as Facebook

B. Trends Observed

  • All of the sites accentuate the community aspects of their platforms. While the opportunity to discover new music certainly receives due attention, each site sells itself as an opportunity to participate in collective musical exploration.
  • Membership is free. Taking cues from mainstream social platforms, none of the sites require users to pay a fee to join a network or access media content. The bands can also establish their online hubs at no cost. Only SellABand.com and Last.fm (to a more limited extent) incorporate monetized options into their sites.
  • One-stop profile pages remain a means of disseminating artist information. Just as on MySpace and Facebook, bands create profile pages on each of the music networking sites which they can use to distribute relevant information, including tour dates, free downloads and streaming audio, and links to band websites/profiles on other networks.
  • The sites interact with and make public music data on the user's computer. With the exception of SellABand, each of the sites explored accesses playlists stored on users' computers to generate publicly posted information, such as songs last played and artists similar to those already included in a user's library.
  • Users can integrate their music community profiles with their profiles on mainstream networking sites. Facebook members can add iLike.com and Last.fm applications to their profiles, notifying other users of their affiliation with the relevant music network.

IV. Artist-controlled Communities

Increasingly, social networking functions are being integrated into previously non-interactive websites. Made keenly aware of the popularity of social networks through their own involvement, artists are beginning to establish their own networking communities (e.g. Sheryl Crow, The Cure, 50 Cent). While communities such as The Cure's resemble traditional online message boards or member forums, the 50 Cent model more closely imitates the MySpace model.

Of course, promoting a new release or upcoming appearance through a self-organized community arguably constitutes 'preaching to the choir' — those who take the initiative to join an artist's network clearly are familiar with and, presumably, enjoy the music of that artist. Still, the emergence of such communities underscores the change in promotional approach compelled by the rise of social networking. Artists' participation on networks such as MySpace and Facebook center around establishing a connection with fans. Fans relish listing a favorite performer among their Top Friends, while artists benefit from the viral publicity generated through their social network presence. Indeed, music listeners have come to expect the opportunity to connect with their favorite artists in such ways. Establishing an artist-run network ups the ante: a user may spend more time discussing an artist and socializing online with fellow fans on an artist's own website than he or she would on MySpace where there are extraneous topics to discuss and real-world friends to interact with.

Isolating one's fan community also allows an artist to capture more direct music sales (or sales through preferred channels). While outside networks may offer opportunities to sell downloads, there are transaction costs involved in vending tracks through a third party. The artist maximizes his profit through tunes sold directly from his own site. Thus, the more fans already frequenting an artist's webpage, the more fans that are likely to both hear about and purchase a new release through artist-sanctioned outlets. While CDs sold direct tend to be priced higher and incur higher delivery costs than those available at outside retailers due to economies of scale, direct digital sales, presumably, are no more expensive for a small actor to manage than a large commercial entity. Clearly, many artists (or their record companies) will prefer to outsource all sales to a more experienced outlet, however, there will still be some outlets from which the band or label obtains more revenue than others. Capturing fan traffic on one's own website allows such outlets to be more effectively promoted.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License