myAWOL: A Music Label For The Digital Age

The big music labels have made it patently obvious that they don’t know how to deal with the internet. Revenues are down, the market is fragmented, and indie artists that manage to gain a following find that they have little need for the labels in the first place – they can sell their music online through sites like AmieStreet and iTunes.

myAWOL (My Artists Without Labels) is looking to show the big four how it’s done. The site is taking a multi-pronged approach to tackle the music industry with the web: first, it will roll out a professional database to help establish itself as an authority in the space. Then, this Fall, it will introduce a consumer site that will function as a mix between a music community, online television channel, and independent music label.

Lofty goals to be sure, but the people associated with myAWOL may have the backing and experience to pull it off. The site is the brainchild of Andrew Bentley, an entrepreneur with a head-turning resume that includes stints as the CFO of Virgin Media, the CFO of EMI, and the CEO of EMI Music/Asia Pacific (before they went on a lawsuit spree). And you can be sure that during his time as a music executive, he’s made some friends.

Within the next month, the site will be rolling out a professional-facing music database (an “imdb for music”). The goal of the site is to become an authoritative resource for everyone in the music industry, from studio musicians and equipment managers to studio execs. Bentley says that while this portion of the site may not have much appeal to consumers, it will help the site gain credibility while offering a much-needed service to the industry.

myAWOL’s consumer-facing site is where the real excitement will lie, and while it won’t be launching until early September, it may well be worth the wait. Unlike many music sites that effectively serve as storefronts for artists (leaving little reason for users to come back), myAWOL is focusing on content creation. The site will produce daily content for what amounts to an online television channel, where it will feature concerts, interviews, and TRL-like daily programming that will be distributed both online and through podcasts. Footage will come from submitted tapes, studio filming, and concerts put on by the site (there’s a myAWOL concert at The Roxy later this month).

The purpose of the internet TV channel is to help myAWOL’s fledging artists gain exposure, with the ultimate goal of getting the best ones signed to myAWOL’s music label (artists are under no obligation to do so – there is no exclusivity contract associated with appearing on the site). Each music artist will have their own profile page (similar to MySpace Music), from which they can stream their songs for free or sell tracks in a 70/30 rev-share agreement. Featured artists will be hand picked by myAWOL’s judges, who will be constantly searching through artist profiles for the next big hit.

With myAWOL’s consumer launch still a few months away, it’s far too early to hail it as the second coming of online music. The music space is very crowded, and myAWOL’s expensive ventures in content production could wind up going totally unnoticed, especially alongside offerings from MySpace, which has a huge following in the music space. That said, with Bentley’s experience and funding from a number of rock legends, myAWOL will be one to watch.