should musicians have their space?

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Gus Black, for example, has his own domain, but his entry page either lets you go to his MySpace page or an outdated site.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.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “should musicians have their space?

  1. chrisandhisseagull

    Thats interesting. I see what you mean as far as the quality of the site and the blatant lack of obvious features on Myspace. The biggest problem of this is also the site’s biggest triumph, its popularity. Bands around here who have taken the time to set up their own domain have gotten little traffic until they post the URL on their Myspace page, but even then, the Myspace page is more accessible to most of their fan base.

  2. insidetimshead

    CHRIS: Indeed, my point is that bands should use MySpace — and other social media — as a gateway to their own sites, not rely on MySpace entirely. It’s the best of both worlds: They tap into communities where millions of people are and drive Web traffic to where fans can interact with them to a greater level.

  3. my friend, a singer-songwriter, uses ReverbNation and likes it a lot more than MySpace. Not sure if it’s any more effective, though. I agree, your own web presence is infinitely better, but it’s more than just resources—it’s know-how. A lot of people just don’t have the time or skills to handle that kind of thing, unless of course they hire a full-time webmaster.

  4. I like the fact that if I’m curious about any band, no matter how obscure or ubiquitious, I can find them on MySpace.
    How about social media that doesn’t jibe with music? Facebook has very little to offer in the way of music discovery and fan pages don’t give much useful and/or interesting information.
    Twitter is a big-time fail for bands and artists, I think. I have yet to see it put to good use.

  5. insidetimshead

    LAURA: ReverbNation looks like a site that compiles a lot of usable features for singer/songwriters. As such, it looks a step up from MySpace but an intermediary short of a full-function presence. Which is to say, a smart third-party vendor that could build out functionality and have a good referring tool (‘if you like Modest Mouse, you may enjoy Minus The Bear,’ etc.) could do very well all around.

    LIEBS: Facebook’s limited offerings is a drawback, for sure, but it’s really more about crisp clean presentations. Twitter is good for short throws — I think folks like former CNYer Pete Yorn who use it to preview music and promote shows are on target — but it’s just an introducer. As with anything on the Web, it’s about finding the right tool, and the full functionality of one’s own Web site still seems supreme.

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