A beta version of Band of Horses Artists.MTV page (Photo: MTV)
If MySpace isn't going to be the online destination for musicians, maybe MTV is up for the job.
MTV unveiled its long-awaited Artists.MTV platform on Wednesday, launching a public beta for artists, managers and labels to claim pages at MTV.com and populate content. Each page streams music and video, contains video and news and has the capability to sell music and merchandise (via MTV's partnership with Topspin Media). The platform will be open to all artists on September 6.
Individual artist pages are a clean, uncluttered mix of images and links to media. A row of official, live and other videos - called the music section - lies below the masthead (the masthead can be added once the page is claimed). MTV calls this the "music carousel" and says its content can be either audio or video (in either case, it's official, license content and not user-generated stuff). "Our audience just wants a play button," Shannon Connolly, VP of Digital Music Strategy, tells Billboard.biz.
Further down the page are rows of social media updates, updates from MTV News and other sources, and ecommerce powered by the artist's Topspin account. Nothing here will remind you of complicated, unattractive layout of MySpace. Some pages also have small badges that basically act as endorsements from music blogs (such as I Guess I'm Floating), record stores (Amoeba) music sites (Pitchfork) and radio stations (KCRW). MTV also adds other tags, such as the Buzzworthy badge seen at the Lady Gaga page.
MTV wants users to browse the site, discover new artists and delve into the music scenes of cities around the world. The site has what MTV calls "pivot points" such as hometown, genre and started (the year the artist or band started) at the top of each artist page. Clicking on that field will allow the user to browse according to those pivot points.
The devil will be in the details and execution. During last week's walk-through I told Connolly I found it annoying that a screen full of artist pictures - meant to encourage discovery - didn't include the artist names. The only way to see an artist's name is to hover over the image. But moving the cursor over dozens of images takes far more time - I'd estimate 10 or 20 times more - than simply reading text. As any of the hundreds of millions of Craigslist users will attest, the form should follow the function. Textless browsing remains Wednesday. It looks good, but it's not practical and efficient for th euser. As a result, some fine-tuning may be needed in the early weeks and months.
MTV wants to be the Internet's landing page for music. With the MySpace re-launch missing in action and Facebook's appeal to artists up in the air, MTV certainly has an opportunity to grab here. There are already some moving parts to work with: MTV already has artist pages that get millions of hits, and it already licenses a lot of video content from Vevo and Warner Music Group. It has the kinds of relationships that can get artists to remain active on their Artists.MTV pages. And, of course, there's the on-air and online real estate. Starting next month, MTV will merge on-air promotion and Artist.MTV pages.
Mobile, says Connolly, will get a big push. The Artists.MTV app will launch by the end of the year and the site will have a mobile-optimized experience. MySpace does not have a strong mobile presence (and it's been ten months since MySpace equity owner Justin Timberlake infused optimism in people at Advertising Week 2011). Facebook infamously has an incomplete mobile strategy. That spells even more opportunity for MTV.