Editor’s Note: Brenden Mulligan created Onesheet, a tool that enables musicians to create beautiful web presences in two minutes. Before that he founded and sold ArtistData and spent years working in the traditional music industry. Follow him on Twitter at @mulligan.
MySpace. Or is it Myspace. Or is it My______. I’m not sure. Truth is, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that MySpace has made increasingly bad decisions for too many years to every hope that they’ll become relevant again. Their latest bad decision shows how detached they are from the little value they still offer the entertainment industry.
When MySpace launched its Justin Timberlake-heavy redesign, there was a critical aspect missing from every artist page. An asset that bands, record labels, and interns spent countless hours building: their fan base. MySpace decided that they would erase the audience that the bands had built and ask them to start over.
To put it simply, THEY DELETED THE F*CKING FANS.
It was upon realizing this that my brain exploded.
But before we get to that, relax in your favorite armchair as I tell the tale of what MySpace meant to the music industry.
A site called MySpace launched in 2003 and immediately got the attention of the music industry because it was the easiest way for a musician to set up a web presence with songs, blog posts, tour dates, etc. I was working at a record label at the time, and MySpace was truly revolutionary. It was a gift to all of us who spent way too much time worrying about artist web presences.
It also came with the amazing concept of “friends.” OMG CARTWHEELS. We could quantify a fan base, and even better, by encouraging fans to share (and using spammy friend-adder tools), we could actually grow a fan base. Suddenly “friend count” was one of the most important metrics in the industry. When trying to get a band hired to play a concert, the number of MySpace friends became a big big selling point.
Over time (mostly because the MySpace code was such a nightmare and unsecure) people learned how to hack their MySpace pages to look however they wanted. This was another huge win for musicians, because a branded web presence is a really important thing. We wanted the pages to represent the artist, not MySpace. And while this was amazing for musicians, it also greatly benefitted MySpace, because the industry started telling fans about the social network instead of the artist’s website. We even re-directed the artist’s domain name to their MySpace page (which actually was a missed opportunity for MySpace, but that’s an entirely different post).
MySpace was then acquired in 2005 by News Corp for $580 million, but honestly, the industry didn’t care. MySpace still worked just like we wanted. The bigger problem that emerged around that time was Facebook started taking off, and there were fewer consumers coming to MySpace. But that’s okay, because MySpace’s Google ranking was still phenomenal. Most times when searching a band name, their MySpace profile was the first link. So regardless of Facebook’s popularity, the MySpace presence was still very very important. So for years, we kept updating it religiously.
It was around 2007 when it became clear that MySpace had a looming problem. Because their code allowed musicians to be totally flexible with their pages, MySpace couldn’t really innovate. If they re-designed their site, it would break all the customizations that its core, and only remaining valuable, users had invested time and money into.
Facebook was winning because of its clean streamlined design and more engaged users. MySpace couldn’t really do anything to beat them as a social network. But what MySpace could try was to own the entertainment vertical. But at the same time, they had to be very very careful about keeping that vertical happy, because at any moment the entertainment industry could say “screw it, we’re moving to Facebook.”
And the MySpace conundrum emerged. They could innovate and piss off their core users, or do nothing and continue to crumble. Not an enviable position.
MySpace sat stagnant for a long time. Bands remarkably kept updating it, but for the most part, there wasn’t a clear future for it. And eventually NewsCorp sold it for a fraction of what they bought it for.
When Specific Media bought the site, their plan sounded good on paper. Completely focus the site around the one thing people actually use it for, entertainment content. They had hundreds of millions of users and an enormous amount of traffic, and they could leverage those very valuable assets to revamp the site to be the premiere entertainment destination on the web. Plus, they recruited Mouseketeer turned dick-in-a-boxer Justin Timberlake to help breathe fresh new life into the archaic brand.
The Elephant In The Room
In fact, the brand was the site’s biggest liability. Although MySpace was an internationally recognized brand and very associated with music and entertainment, it was also seen as a poorly designed site that was past its prime. While the brand could be considered an asset, I always felt like it was more of a liability, and I thought that getting users to get excited about MySpace again was near impossible.
If I had been running Specific Media, at this moment I would have acquired a less well-known but more respected brand, such as Bandcamp, Reverbnation, or, yes, Onesheet. Then I would have found a way to leverage the assets of MySpace (traffic and users) under the new brand’s identity. I think this would have given Specific Media a better chance at a return on investment than reviving a brand with the negative connotations of MySpace.
But, they decided to forge on with MySpace and embark on a drastic redesign that they claimed would bring MySpace back.
The Teaser Video
In 2012, MySpace released a teaser video that gave a glimpse into what they would be releasing. The New MySpace depicted in the video was beautifully designed and a really interesting concept. I personally thought the user interaction looked too confusing, but at least it showed that MySpace had brought together a team that could build a compelling and visually well-designed product. It actually got me excited to give it a try.
The New Site
When MySpace finally started letting people in to experience the new site, we all realized the same thing. While it’s neat, it’s not easy to use and doesn’t feel like it’s worth rebuilding a social graph again.
As I played with the new site, I noticed I wasn’t connected to any bands or friends. I realized that my old account was under a different email address, so I signed out and tried to sign in with my old address. That didn’t work, but then I saw the option to use my old MySpace account. I used my old email and password and then it became clear that while I was using my old credentials, it wasn’t really porting over my account. It was just letting me use the old login info.
When it asked me to connect with my friends, it emphasized Facebook and Twitter over MySpace. This makes sense because those social graphs are probably more updated. Then I saw the column on the right that prompted me to connect to certain artists. That was confusing to me. I’d been connected to them on MySpace before. Shouldn’t I still be connected to them?
And then it hit me. MySpace had shit the bed. Again.
The OMG WTF DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN Moment
Immediately, I started looking around the site in complete disbelief.
Getting musicians to care at all about MySpace again is a hard enough challenge. Getting them to care enough to try to rebuild a fan base on the platform is out of the question. And that’s what they’re expecting. Every musician starts out in the new MySpace with zero fans. They need to start from scratch. To tell their audience “Go back to MySpace and connect with us!”
An example: Britney Spears has about 1.5 million friends on the old MySpace. She has fewer than 7,000 connections on the new MySpace. Hell, even ever-present well-dressed JT has about 1.5 million friends on the old and 50,000 on the new.
I know that the data from the old system isn’t optimal. I know that most of us have moved on and there’s very little chance we’d actually engage with MySpace again. But the fact that MySpace didn’t automatically port our accounts and the friend graph over from its old system is lost on me. I don’t get it. IT’S ONE OF THE LAST ASSETS THEY HAD.
Musicians take advantage of every audience they have. They still used MySpace because regardless of activity, they still have a set of fans on there. Now, musicians have a choice: Ignore MySpace and keep building their fan bases on platforms people actually use, or try to drive their fans from Facebook and Twitter back to an ancient social network that’s confusing.
Musicians and entertainment professionals were the only real users MySpace had left. And the only reason they came was because they already had built an audience in MySpace’s heyday.
Now, they have no reason to return.
The Rise And Fall Of Empires
John Boyd Orr wrote “in the last five or six thousand years, empires one after another have arisen, waxed powerful by wars of conquest, and fallen by internal revolution or attack from without.”
For MySpace, regardless of the external attacks from Facebook, the “internal revolution” was its own misunderstanding of what its users found valuable, squandering the one thing the site had left to offer to musicians and entertainers: the audience they worked so hard to build.