Oct 24 2008

Is MySpace finally dead in the water?

Thought I’d draw you into the conversation with that provocatively titled post…!

I made the decision last last to finally upload one of my solo bass tracks (the most recent post on my Solo Bass Podcast, Calling Out) to my MySpace page. Until now, I’ve used MySpace purely as a promotional tool for my work as a session player, ie; the bulk of the work I do playing for other people. My music player therefore featured tracks by various artists I’ve recorded with over the last few years, including Clare Teal, The Divine Comedy, A Girl Called Eddy, Chris Difford and Ian Shaw. I thought it was time to introduce more elements from my solo project. I’m getting closer to wanting to start work on the actual finished album, and once I have a product to sell I’m going to need as many people to know about it as possible.

Which brings me to my first dilemma. I have quite a few ‘friends’ on MySpace (3,452 is todays count). My current music profile has been active for almost two years now. Most days I get a few friend requests from various bands and solo artists who seemingly have no relation to what I do and more than likely have never heard me play. Very occasionally they attach a message introducing themselves, or saying how/why they found me which is always appreciated. I make a point of sending these folk a little thankyou message/comment, as I believe these are the people I’m really aiming to engage with online.
I’m guessing that most of the MySpace ‘promotion’ tools that other bands use to contact their friends are via the blogs and bulletins. I stopped using my MySpace blog a few months ago in favour of this Blogger site, which is both far more interactive and has myriad sharing/subscribing possibilities thanks to Feedburner. I found that virtually nobody would read the blogs on my MySpace profile; but the minute I posted the same blog on Blogger, various people would start subscribing and leaving comments. Which is the whole point of blogging; engaging in a conversation. I seriously doubt whether the majority of people that visit my MySpace page actually hang around long enough to read the blog, let alone listen to all the music.
The bulletin system is fundamentally flawed as a promotional tool. Once a user has more than 1,000 ‘friends’, they no longer receive bulletins. Which is entirely sensible. Before I got to that stage, my MySpace home page was something akin to my junk mail inbox, littered with a variety of messages inviting me to “Come listen to my new song” or “Check out my new video”. Frankly, I don’t have the time and if I was that interested in your band, then I would have made the effort to check your page under my own steam. I do make a point of visiting several key MySpace profiles regularly to see what new projects are on the go. In fact, the ability to receive updates from selected users only (starting with your top friends as default) has been incredibly welcome navigationally. Thus, if I was to send out a bulletin on MySpace informing my friends of a solo show or a new release, chances are that 90% of them would never see it.
This is my main issue with MySpace. It’s complete lack of interactivity and flexibility. My Reverb Nation page has become the hub for all my various social media dabblings. My blog is imported straight into Reverb Nation, as are my status updates via Twitter, which means that the page is kept alive and vibrant without me even having to log in every day. The music player behaves exactly as it should, making sharing my music clear and simple. Unlike the MySpace music player…
Last night’s uploading was a fiasco, let me tell you… My good friend Eddy was on the phone to me last week in a panicked state over the demise of her music player on MySpace. It had disappeared entirely. A little investigation concluded that her page was not the only one to suffer this glitch. As I uploaded Calling Out, I had the distinct feeling I was in for trouble. although the track uploaded properly, the associated artwork didn’t (and it seems still hasn’t, despite two subsequent attempts). And the fact that I designated the track a free download has been totally ignored. Nearly 15 hours later, the track still cannot be downloaded and plays with no artwork. Rubbish.
The plodding user interface is a nightmare to navigate and frankly I’ve had enough. My most recent gripe with the site (and judging by the plethora of similar exclamations on Twitter) is it’s insistence on plaguing users with drop-down banners which completely obscure the page you’re viewing. And more worryingly in the last few weeks it seems that several of the links you click on to navigate around the site suddenly transport you into another page entirely, loading up some promo clip. Now, this is really not something I would have expected from a ‘social networking’ site. Over the last few months MySpace has been almost entirely overrun by corporate nonsense and it is undeniably getting worse every day. I give it another couple of months before all those bloody awful ‘Adult Friend Finder’ type ads start encroaching on MySpace. Seriouly, it wouldn’t surprise me. We’re 3/4 of the way there already.
A few days ago I sent a MySpace friend request to a band called Nohno, a fantastic industrial-electro/ambient duo from Newcastle. I don’t remember how I came across their music (although I suspect they cropped up on Last.fm), but I really liked the sounds they were creating and wanted to know more. I received a message back from them yesterday asking me to let them know how I found them and basically to confirm I was not some kind of MySpace friend-gathering machine. So I replied and the conversation began. This is a rare occurrence on MySpace and I took the opportunity to point Dean in the general direction of Reverb Nation.
I don’t think it’ll be long before more musicians become as disillusioned with MySpace as I am, and will start to investigate other avenues to engage with their audience. And I think Reverb Nation will provide the most effective template.
Anyway, enough of this ranting. As Stephen Fry says in his last excellent Podgram, an angry article writes itself. And I shall duly leave it there.
So how have the changes in MySpace over the last few months effected your perception of the site? Have you, like me, been forced to migrate elsewhere? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
Until next time.
Simon x

Jul 15 2008

Spreading The Word: My Social Networking Dabblings

As regular readers will know I recently started up a Solo Bass Podcast. With a view to producing an album of solo bass material later on this year, I wanted an outlet to post new ideas and hopefully gain some feedback. The second and possibly more important reason behind starting the podcast was to begin to build some semblance of a fanbase to whom I could promote the album on it’s eventual release.
I am a session musician by definition. ie: I make a living playing other people’s music in other people’s bands. As a musician in my own right, very few people know who I am or what I do. As a result, making myself known to a few people has become quite important. I’ve trawled the internet to find the most appropriate spots for me to have some kind of presence, and have started up profiles on a few key sites. As you will all know, my MySpace page has been up and running for several years now, but I’m finding the lack of interactivity and endless friend requests from obscure housewives-turned-jazz singers quite frustrating.
My first port of call was Last.fm, a fantastic music streaming service that I have been using over the last few months as a listener. For those of you unfamiliar with the site, Last.fm begins by collecting data from your digital music library (in my case iTunes) and can then recommend music based on this information. The ability to use the software to discover ‘similar artists’ has been the most fruitful for me. Each artist registered on Last.fm has an associated wiki page where users can contribute biographical information, pictures and videos. Artists also have charts showing their most popular tracks and shout boxes in their page for listeners to post their comments. I really liked the interactive nature of the site and wanted to get more involved with the conversational nature of the profile pages. So I signed myself up, created a profile page and uploaded all the podcast tracks. Of course, this may well drive some of the traffic away from the Podcast site itself, but the fact that I can see exactly who is listening to my music on Last.fm should eventually prove far more valuable when I actually have a product to sell. The other slightly embarrassing drawback is that (of course) I am my own top listener. I suppose we are all our harshest critics and my repeated listening to check what I’m posting all counts towards the total scrobbles. O well….
My second little project was to start up a Facebook Music page. This, to be perfectly frank, turned into a bloody nightmare. For some reason the whole process seemed frought with problems. The uploading of music/pictures etc was fairly straightforward, but there is almost no easy way to add functionality to the page. Maybe I’m just used to the MySpace system, which is initially incredibly complicated once you start editing HTML but once you’re used to it becomes almost second nature. I’ve lost count of the various applications and add-ons I’ve added an then instantly removed from the page. The features that really drew me to the site were the ability for listeners to share your music on their own pages and the availability of daily statistics for page views etc. Creating a buzz online is essential in trying to build a fanbase and it is only with the help of listeners/fans sharing your music and recommending you to their friends that the snowball effect can begin. This aspect is one of the things missing for me with MySpace, which has become so inundated with sub-standard music that finding something truly inspiring has become more than a rarity.
At this juncture I should probably mention that I also started up an iLike page, mainly as an add-on for Facebook. This has proved wholly disastrous and a complete waste of time thus far. I am apparently the only person who ‘likes’ my music and the page seems to have disappeared into the ether where nobody can find it. My advice if you are thinking about dabbling with iLike: don’t bother.
Which brings me to the latest addition to my online marketing adventure. Reverb Nation is proving the most valuable addition to the buzz-generating arsenal. Reverb Nation takes all the best qualities of the various social networking sites and presents them with an incredibly clean and user-friendly interface. Uploading the songs, pictures and biography couldn’t have been simpler. I loved the fact that you can import data from other sites to be viewed directly on your profile page. I was able to import my Blogger blog directly… In fact you may well be reading this very post on my Reverb Nation page! Ingenious thinking. I really have neither the time nor the inclination to post my blogs separately on all the various sites that I maintain and the ability to import the blog from Blogger and have this automatically update is a true blessing. The same applies to being able to import status updates directly from my Twitter account.
Reverb Nation has, for me, two additional benefits over the other social networking sites. Firstly, you have the option of making your tracks available for streaming or download, and the further option of making these ‘fan exclusives’. This gives listeners incentive to sign up to your mailing list in order to be able to download specific songs. In fact, I’m soon going to post a couple of tracks which will indeed be exclusive to Reverb Nation (ie: not ripped from the Podcast), in a vague attempt to bolster the numbers on the mailing list. The second huge advantage with Reverb Nation is the ability to place widgets from the site on other social networking pages, to spread the word even further. In fact, your fans on the site can do the same which is a massive bonus. This is exactly the sort of interactivity I’ve been looking for and precisely how I envision the ‘buzz’ may well be created.
I only created the Reverb Nation page a few days ago, so it hasn’t had many hits thus far, but I’m sure this will improve in the near future. The fact that the widgets appear on some of my other pages is already driving some traffic to the Reverb Nation page, and presumably some of these people will be coming to the site for the first time. This should theoretically get more people to sign up to the site and in turn allow them to discover more exciting music from the recommendations I make on my profile page. I posted messages on Twitter as each of these pages were initialized and a few key supportive members (who have also been listening to my podcast) were always the first to sign up. Thanks guys.
I got significantly more hits after solo bass master and social media guru Steve Lawson recommended me on his Reverb Nation Page. Which proves how the best form of buzz comes from direct recommendations, especially from such highly regarded artists. Incidentally, Steve has been incredibly helpful and supportive since I started my podcast and I’d like to give him my thanks and tell you all to go and check out his music. Steve also has a fantastic blog which he updates far more regularly and eloquently than I; well worth subscribing.
The biggest influx of traffic to the podcast itself (second only to when Steve posted a message on Twitter saying that he was listening) was after I posted links on the Warwick Forum about a week ago. I literally doubled the number of hits. Which just serves to prove that targeting your audience directly is always the most effective solution.
But I do wonder how many of these listeners will go on to sign up to the mailing list on Reverb Nation, or become a fan on Facebook? So far I’d say none of them. The next phase of my online adventure will be an attempt to further tie together all the various pages and services in order to build up a more cohesive and measurable fanbase. I would say that is where the true secret to success lies….