Myspace and Music — Still xoxo or Just Exes With Benefits?

Myspace's massive redesign has angered many musicians and threats of jumping ship abound. However, could it be that this is a short-sighted view that's missing the new MySpace's promise for sharing music better than ever before?

For the duration of the spectacular spanking that MySpace has endured since Facebook’s rise to power, its proponents have always had the ‘well…it’s still the best place for bands’ argument to fall back on. With the site’s complete retooling, many musicians are crying foul and threatening to desert the ‘Space and return to .coms. However, could it be that this is a short-sighted view that’s missing the new MySpace’s promise for sharing music better than ever before?

Over a month ago on October 27, MySpace (pardon my capitalization, Myspace) debuted not only a massive redesign but also a plan to shed their floundering ‘place for friends’ guise in favor of attempting to become the ‘social entertainment’ hub of the internet. “What’s the big deal?” one might ask. Switch around a few banners, go through the learning curve and business as usual, n’est pas?

Sadly, this is not at all the case. To those unfamiliar, part of Myspace’s charm was the extreme customizability of its profiles. For bands, this free resource built into a massive network was indispensable. With no hosting fees, this one page website could easily be modified to your heart’s desire – to perfectly match your band’s colours or CD design. If the musician himself or a friend had rudimentary html knowledge quite a professional look could be achieved, and for far less than the cost of a full website, a stunning work of art done by a designer could be your band’s home on the web.

No such luck in these post common-‘s’ days. Gone is the full-screen malleability – now two wide columns on each side sandwich the strictly structured meat and potatoes of each profile. And by ‘structured’, I do mean structured; the layout you see on JoeBlow and the Schmos’ profile is roughly the same one you’re going to see on Metallica’s. In fact, a foray into a page’s layout options presents you with the not exactly endless options of adding a ‘marquee’ (read: space) between your profile and the myspace top bar plus interchanging (not freely arranging in space) the positioning of each section (which are more akin to tiles, much like many iPad apps). Most bands that bothered to customize their pages at all have opted to go with a banner in the marquee area that matches solid coloured sidebars, made sure their media content is neat and tidy, and called that George.

As one could expect, most major label acts were on top of things from day one and by the time the change became mandatory their Myspace sites were simple and slick with nary a misaligned jpeg to be seen. However, many smaller acts were caught off guard – and here’s where the hubbub began. The time and the money they had spent to make their profiles stand out in one of the most competitive entertainment fields seemed to be all for nought. Gone were not only their custom layouts but also the flashy image maps directing you to their other social media sites. Lost, the flash powered twitter feeds and the giant headers highlighting links to buy their latest CD and their latest music video. Already miffed by this loss, the common view that Myspace now ‘allows them to do less’ has many seeing it as just an overgrown flash player where people know they can find their music.

But I suspect that the savvy self promoters among the bunch have discarded any initial negative feelings and are already rubbing their hands in anticipation. What may or may not attract/keep individual users is a potential goldmine for musicians. ‘Social entertainment site’ you say? This may warrant a closer look from those in the *drum roll* entertainment business.

That we’re in the ‘information age’ is pretty much an old cliche. A more accurate statement may be that we’re now in the ‘shared media’ age, and nowhere is that more true than in entertainment. And that’s what the new Myspace is all about. It’s no coincidence that top centre in the default music profile is first the music player, then the band’s info stream followed by videos and pictures. There’s your media. And sharing it has never been easier. For every song, video and picture, the option exists to share either internally or through other media avenues such as facebook and twitter. Even info stream entries can be shared throughout myspace. Even more tellingly, your twitter feed sits above it all – so better make sure your daily tweet is your most important news.

The fact is, any musician regardless of computer literacy has a chance at easily getting their media to an extremely broad audience with this set up. If one of your strengths lies in videos like The Johnstones, flick those up to the top (but make sure to re-upload them directly to myspace so your shares bring them back). If you’re a touring juggernaut like Four Year Strong your best bet might be to have your shows take centre stage (also sharable across the social media spectrum and now with an option to find tickets for each date). Represent your discography in the ‘music’ tile with album covers, a click on each of which will send you directly to the iTunes store. And do tell the truth, if you’re insistent on keeping the epileptic fit inducing, navigation bar eschewing flash-fests of old and have the resources you certainly can.

The new setup is by no means perfect, and it would be nice to see the little oddities worked out (videos are the only media you can share to email, and the only media you can’t share to digg…huh?) A wise tack for musicians to take, however would be to weigh the opportunities presented by the sharing extravaganza against the perceived loss of freedom. The aforementioned Johnstones (a colourful bunch to say the least) had a somewhat surprising view, especially considering their flashy (and flash intensive) previous page. “The custom spaces were getting out of hand,” opined singer Ryan Long, “cheesy, with too much flash. These are easier to work with.” Combine that with arguably the best one-stop sharing spot yet, and the love affair between musicians and Myspace may only get stronger.