Providing a promotional arena for musicians is perhaps the last credible use for MySpace, and it certainly seems to work in favor of the many musicians who take advantage of the ability to offer sample songs, post videos and collect so-called friends. But are bands who completely rely on MySpace, or even in combination with Facebook, selling themselves short?
I talked to a former student last week who, as a sideline, sets a number of musical acts up with MySpace presences, which he can turn over to them to administer. (He said things he learned in my class came in handy … yay!) In addition, singer/songwriter/social-media explorer Angela Ortiz generously, at my request, asked six teen performers over the weekend about their online marketing. The results: Only one had their own site and everyone else relied on MySpace as their Web presence.
And while MySpace is a visual trainwreck with navigation as smooth as last winter’s oatmeal, I can see how bands would find it much easier than having to purchase their own domain and start from scratch, or hire a vendor or administrator. Many musical acts also take advantage of Facebook’s Fans page option and its easy-to-use content-management system to create official presences in the dominant social-media platform — although none of the teens Angela spoke to has done so.
But are acts missing something by not having their own space as well? Singer/songwriter Gus Black, for example, has his own domain, but his entry page either lets you go to his MySpace page or an outdated site. While MySpace lets artists do the easy surface stuff, it only affords so much depth. Bands can’t easily set up separate pages for such helpful features as an online store, full-featured discography, press raves, publicity photos or special affiliate features. MySpace is more a one-size-fits-all jam-it-on-one-page offering that doesn’t provide the most organized presentation for artists.
Compare this to the functionality The Tragically Hip enjoys on their full-service Web site. My favorite band can offer a separate Shows page with links to venues, a detailed discography, a Listen page where fans can create custom playlists, plus video and photo galleries. You can subscribe to an RSS feed. You can join an online community of Hipheads. And, of course, you can buy swag. MySpace can’t accommodate all such features, and the ones it can provide tend to be all lumped onto the same eyesore page. The Hip, like so many acts, multiplies its reach by using MySpace and Facebook as gateways into their own sites.
The tradeoff for a separate Web page, for any artist, is resources. Doing something like The Hip requires a vendor, Webmaster or even a whole team. Musicians who prefer a DIY approach have to take time out of their schedule to do the updates and load content. But in terms of best serving fans — and, with its own online store, generating revenue — a separate Web site beats a social-media community owned by someone else. And if, say, MySpace went under tomorrow, or suddenly decided to charge a premium rate for high-bandwidth users, what would this do to musicians relying on its service? After all, sometimes when you’re using something that’s free, you get what you pay for.