Facebook and the Music Industry Experiment at Outside Lands

Outside Lands launched a year ago as perhaps the largest music festival ever in the long and storied history of music festivals in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This past weekend, it tried to outdo itself, introducing a version 2.0 loaded with new technology features so music fans could do things like watch shows online and discuss them with friends on social networks. On display: The competition between Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and other web services for the heart of the music industry. Also on display: How broad and potentially confusing all of these options currently are for musicians and organizers.


In what it claimed was a first for a show of this size, Outside Lands organizer Superfly worked with YouTube to create a live streaming channel of shows for all three days of the festival this past weekend. This way, you could watch a near constant flow of live acts at the festival from anywhere with an internet connection. And, before the festival kicked off, Outside Lands’ web site also let you log in with Facebook Connect, create a customized schedule for all of the acts you planned to watch over the weekend, then let you share it with friends on Facebook. For attendees, organizers set up kiosks so you could upload your own photos and videos of the shows Then share them online with friends on Twitter, Facebook and other sites.

I’m still looking for data on how successful all this technology actually was. For example, did more Facebook users buy tickets as a result of being able to see what acts their friends planned to attend? Did more people hear about Outside Lands through all these promotions this year, and will they be inspired enough to show up next year as a result?


The organizers, musicians and technology companies involved were effusive about early results, at least. The YouTube channel received more than 675,000 views as of today. More than 14,000 Facebook fans joined Outside Land’s official Facebook fan page, and hundreds of thousands likely followed the festival on the fan pages of individual acts. Dave Matthews Band, which has 612,850 fans on Facebook, posted on a note on Friday morning telling everyone about their Saturday show, with a link to watch their YouTube live stream the next day. That item got 1,754 likes from fans, 152 comments, and certainly made people more aware of Outside Lands as a concert, and as a live-streaming YouTube channel.

Smaller, newer acts like Silversun Pickups and The Dead Weather also posted about their activities, and got positive responses from their fans on Facebook. Another up-and-coming group, Cambodian/psychedelic rock group Dengue Fever, was especially active on Facebook, using the buzz around Outside Lands to advertise a documentary they screened last night at a nearby movie house. When I asked about numerical results of online music promotion like this at the Outside Land’s press event on Saturday, Dengue Fever’s Senon Williams replied by saying that the group gets a lot of interaction with fans every time they post about concerts and such. In fact, he said, his band has hired specialized online promoters to help handle Facebook posting and other online interaction with fans.

The value of music

Of course, music has been an important part of the web for many years. The technology at Outside Lands is just the latest iteration. Napster at least proved the popularity of free music sharing in the early part of this decade, before the music industry shut down the free part of that service. Facebook rival MySpace saw early growth in 2004 and 2005 through helping indie groups connect with fans online. YouTube arguably gained a lead over rival video services in the middle part of the decade through letting people share music videos, some of which were pirated, and many of which were distributed through MySpace. And, with the launch of Facebook’s developer platform in 2007, iLike established itself as the leading third-party music service on the site, providing a suite of features for music fans to listen to song samples, play music-focused games, share what concerts they were going to, and connect with musicians on iLike’s own music pages.


So Outside Lands this year is but the latest example of how big festivals and touring musicians are experimenting. The difference is its sweeping official deployment of social media. For example, Intel sponsored the media kiosks, and encouraged everyone to share what they were doing at the show. Aside: Intel’s sponsorship didn’t promote MySpace nor Facebook but Twitter, a microblogging service that some top musicians prefer for sharing activities with their fans.

Superfly is also not alone in organizing concerts with an innovate technology focus. C3 Presents, the organizers of rock festival Lollapalooza and live music festival Austin City Limits, introduced Facebook Connect to its web site earlier this year. Similar to Outside Land’s scheduling feature, it let Facebook users log in with their Facebook identities, pick what acts they planned to attend, then share that information back with friends on Facebook — with good results, from what C3 told me in May. After introducing Connect, it saw a 99 percent increase pageviews, a 20 percent increase in the average user’s time on the site. In other words, music fans were likely able to discover more music and more groups they would want to see at the show.

The result visible at Outside Lands is that the competition for the attention of musicians and concert-goers is getting more intense, as more and more big web services try to tap into their users’ love of music.

Facebook is at the front of the crowd, sort of

outside1Facebook is in the middle of this, in some way competing with each of the other big companies, and yet not competing with them. It has its own video service, yet musicians use it to drive Facebook users to YouTube. It has its own status updates, yet many musicians use Twitter instead to do the same thing (“tweets” which can in turn be fed into Facebook). Meanwhile, MySpace has MySpace Music, a joint venture with record labels where fans can stream live music.

Facebook seriously considered a similar idea last year, but it has not acted yet — and may never act on, at this point, from what I’ve heard. Also, iLike, a third party developer, has a larger presence for musicians on Facebook than Facebook, with some 10 million monthly active music fans on the site. And it has applications, widgets and desktop music toolbars, and most recently the iPhone. It offers musicians an online dashboard for managing all of these services from a central place; and, it has just been bought by MySpace. Look for MySpace to try to integrate iLike features with its core music offerings on its Music site.

However, Facebook is by far the largest social network, with more than 300 million monthly active users. It is in a strategic position to become the central site for the music industry. At this point, though, it is trying to create a horizontal platform for anyone — not just musicians, but advertisers, non-profits, various other celebrities, and really anyone else who wants to use its fan pages to reach Facebook users. The features that musicians use on Pages, like photo and video uploads, status updates, threaded comments and such, are generally available to anyone.

For organizers like Superfly, online audiences are looking like a better and better way to make their concerts a success. But how to do it? Should they tailor their web sites to Facebook, to Twitter, to MySpace, to iLike, to YouTube, or what? Given the popularity of online music, expect lots more aggressive yet highly experimental concert venue promotions on web services as organizers fine-tune where they spend their resources. If MySpace and iLike execute well in developing more music-focused services, maybe they will be the social network of choice for Superfly at Outside Lands next year.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from Outside Lands, as a snapshot of the volatile music industry as it tries to make a business of the web, is that everything is once again about the music — an unintentional throwback to the 60’s, you could say. And after decades of cutthroat deals with record labels, and a decade of digital piracy, musicians now have more control than ever. They have an ever-increasing number of online tools to get people to come to their shows and spread their favorite acts with their friends. This means more ticket sales, more online track sales through digital music providers like Apple’s iTunes and Amazon, and more swag sales like t-shirts.

Going forward, musicians and organizers will need to experiment much more with every web service, tailoring their use of web services to the sites where their fans are, and that offer them the right tools for reaching those fans. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and other sites are all themselves developing new products. It remains to be seen if Facebook’s more horizontal strategy will work best, if MySpace Music and iLike’s vertical strategy will work better.

Are you a musician, a promoter or concert organizer with a Facebook or otherwise online success story? Email me at eric (at) insidefacebook (dot) com.

[Outside Lands panorama photo via San Francisco Citizen.]