Is MySpace Still Relevant?

LLet’s cast our minds back around four years and several generations in networld. It was a time of new beginnings, an explosion of lateral thought and badly-coded social network implementation. We were all on email by now, some of us had Friendster / Faceparty accounts to whack up pics and thoughts and blogs; everyone was au fait with the concept of social networking, albeit that it was merely a distractive adjunct to the daily surf.

Then MySpace came along and blew the net apart. It had been around a few years with a modicum of success, but it wasn’t til 2005-06 that it really started to earn its corn. What was different? Well, it had a music player, for a start. That meant that bands could sign up, whack a few demos or samples up there and urls were basic and easily-searchable. The simple page also featured gig dates, release news, contact information, blogs, pictures, video and crucially the ability to add the band as one of your “friends”. Befriending a band meant nailing your colours to the mast; you were not just a fan but a mate, and you could even email the group directly. That removed the record company/webmaster/management barrier in a swathe.

MySpace Music

MySpace Music

It reached its peak in 2006, when playcounts were still a reasonably reliable indication of how popular a band was, and before spider programs were set loose to spam as many potential friends as possible. Everyone spent hours on MySpace, adding friends, listening to music, participating. MySpace is a facilitator to bring like-minded people together and people feel incredibly passionate about their favourite acts. You had stories of bands breaking just through MySpace (all untrue, Arctic Monkeys toured their arses off before getting to the top). It was a huge story and it was essentially the first time the music industry as a whole took the internet seriously as a marketing – and sales – tool.

Now, MySpace is clunky, slow, old-fashioned, and usurped by the new kids on the block. And as everyone’s on MySpace (they still are), it’s nigh-impossible to find anything interesting without an hour-on-hour slog. Facebook’s modular customizable functionality was attractive to a net-and-tech-savvy generation, Twitter’s strangely compelling basic 140-character format is used for minute-by-minute updates by everyone from Lady Gaga to Stephen Fry. It is an instant insight into the sharp-sudden thoughts of those who create our music, and as such is somehow more valuable. When Gaga talks of a favourite designer and adds a link, she’s acting as Google for us, as a gatekeeper, an arbiter of taste. We like her style and her music so we trust her judgment.

Whose Space Is This Anyway?

Whose Space Is It Anyway?

Ultimately, this is what it boils down to: our bands are now performing the same role that once was the highly-guarded one only of A&R and record companies. What this has shown more than anything is that the net is impossible to navigate successfully without trusted guidance. It’s not only musicians getting in on the act, either: things with peer/self-recommending routines like Last.fm and Amazon.com are so useful because, based on our own previous preferences, they make recommendations to us that we’re free to turn down. And as our own preferences develop, so the recommendations are refined, a bit like checking friends of a particular MySpace act to see what else they were listening to.

The exciting and somewhat scary feature about the internet is that it is developing purely based on the requirements of its users, not the other way around. The implications for music are enormous: embrace it, or lose it. Technology is only useful if it is necessary for a human experience, and MySpace was the pioneer of a much wider discussion of which the ripples are still being felt.

Joe Shooman’s “Whose Space Is It Anyway?: An Unofficial Guide to the Sites That Changed the World” is available through Independent Music Press (US Amazon).

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