Saturday, September 27, 2008

Surprise! MySpace Music is Every Bit as Lame as You Would Expect it to be

The much hyped, and often delayed, MySpace Music finally made its big debut to the public this week and the response has been tepid around the blogosphere. Now, I will admit that I don't particularly like MySpace very much. I find their interface very annoying (I'm a facebook user) and think too much of their core audience is obsessed with showcasing how beautiful they think they are instead of actually connecting with people in any way that isn't completely vapid. Still, I recognize the important role MySpace has played in music discovery over the past five years (honestly, remember how hard it was to sample new music for free before MySpace was around?) and was somewhat intrigued to see if MySpace Music could deliver on its promise to unseat iTunes as the premier destination to discover and purchase music. So far, I see little chance of that happening anytime soon.

For those of you who may not know, MySpace music is a joint venture between News Corp. (parent company of Fox Interactive, who owns MySpace) and the four major record labels who comprise the RIAA. See, the majors were upset digital downloads took off in popularity sooner than expected (thanks to the iPod and iTunes) and that their existing revenue-sharing contracts with Apple didn't give them a large enough share of download profits. Their answer was to create a music ecosystem that provided both revenue from music streaming (in the form of advertising) and download purchases. All the content would be controlled by them and the profit sharing would be setup more in their favor, thus finally creating a long term business model for digital music (in theory). The only problem is the people who designed MySpace music don't really understand how their target demographic prefers to consume this content.

I find it very ironic that MySpace Music launched the same week that Muxtape finally returned from its brief RIAA-mandated purgatory as a shell of its former self. MySpace Music includes much of the same features that Muxtape used to provide. You can create playlists and share them with friends (though only with other MySpace users, who must also be in the US, and only if you call embedding the playlist on your profile "sharing"), as well as purchase songs on your playlists from Amazon (though Muxtape actually allowed you to purchase from iTunes as well as Amazon, and it still did this part better than MySpace Music). Of course, the key difference between the two services was that Muxtape allowed users to upload whatever content they wanted to share, whereas MySpace users can only consume songs the RIAA allows artists to upload. Nevermind that the only way to download a track found on Muxtape to your computer was to buy it on Amazon or iTunes, the RIAA views all unsanctioned streaming as "stealing." Therefore, one of the most useful and simple music sharing services was killed and in its place the RIAA gives us this shit.

Obviously a major selling point of MySpace Music is the built-in user base of their flagship social network. But as News Corp., Google, Facebook, and advertisers across the Internet have learned, a large audience doesn't always translate to desirable consumers. Also, do you really want the same people who made Tila Tequila and Katy Perry household names shaping the future of the music industry? Me neither.

What's more, there are already many places where people can discover, share, and buy music (, iLike, imeem, and Mog are a few examples) that do it way better than MySpace Music does. In each and every one of those examples the RIAA had nothing to do with their creation, which means they served the interests of music fans above the interests of faceless corporations. Until the powers behind MySpace Music understand how to do that effectively, I don't imagine it will be as successful of a business model as they hoped.

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