There was a point in the mid-to-late 2000s where, if you told someone to contact you on MySpace, you were met with a polite smile and a ton of judgment (kind of like whipping out a BlackBerry at a cocktail party). By then, Facebook had besieged the other social network, and those still MySpacing were haplessly out of touch. The one exception? MySpace Music.
Even as MySpace descended into the social media abyss, its music profile feature has been a stalwart of the emerging artists scene. Now the company is doubling down on that street cred with a highly anticipated redesign that emphasizes its music leanings. And it’s being fronted, no less, by MySpace part owner Justin Timberlake.
With MySpace’s earnest attempt at a comeback, it’s worth asking: What kind of home can musical artists have on the Internet?
Just today, the music network VH1 launched a new artists’ profile page, Artists.VH1. It’s a good-looking site with lots of familiar faces from the musical world, like Alicia Keys and Adele. In each artist’s profile, there is content like videos, downloadable tracks, tour dates and tweets.
Not only famous musicians can join the network; any artist can create a page alongside the musical heavyweights. (Though, not surprisingly, the celebrities get the most prominent display on the homepage.) Most intriguing is the fact that VH1 says the site serves as a sort of thermometer for artists to be showcased on the network. Significant traffic on an artist’s page can lead to his video being played on any VH1 or MTV network — since the two are sister brands — any digital app, or having his song featured as background music on any of the networks’ television shows, says Mark Mezrich, senior director of product development for the Viacom music group, VH1’s parent company. Think about it. Snooki could be taking shots to your record.
(Bonus points to Mezrich for not being deterred by my wholeheartedly non-snarky question: But when does VH1 or MTV play music videos?)
The VH1 artist profile network that the company launched today is actually the second iteration of the company’s musician pages. Artists.MTV launched in March, and MTV pointed to the artist Blackbear as one success story of an artist who’s gotten coverage from the network. “Previously, to get your video on, you used to need to know someone,” said a VH1 publicist. The company claims over 10,000 artists have pages.
In the coming months, artists will be able to sell merchandise through the page via a partnership with Topspin, says Mezrich. This is no doubt a bigger leg up for the struggling three-piece garage band on the site than it is for someone like Green Day. “Obviously, these are challenging times for artists and we want to be in a place where we can help,” said Mezrich.
It seems unlikely that being a part of a digital network like this would yield any sustainable lifestyle on its own, but it it’s a start. Perhaps YouTube has been more effective in jumpstarting musicians’ careers. But maintaining a profile is more like depositing paychecks into a bank account than waiting to hit the jackpot. The question of where artists belong on the Internet is the same one we began asking in 1999 when Napster blew the doors wide open. Since then — aside from iTunes and the subscription music services — sites like Bandcamp, BandPage, MySpace and SoundCloud have come along to nurture wannabe rock stars. The Internet and the music industry haven’t yet fully called a truce, but they’re no longer mortal enemies. Frenemies maybe.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]