If the MySpace of yore was about empowering users to make new friends and collect them in a Top 8 column, then the new MySpace under Specific Media and Justin Timberlake wants to make musicians those users and fans those friends in the Top 8.
Speaking at a press event unveiling the new Myspace's private beta to media Thursday in Los Angeles, Timberlake, along with Specific's Tim and Chris Vanderhook, shed additional insight into the next phase of the music-centric Myspace, which will remain in invite-only beta through early 2013. For starters, the site is starting from scratch in design and user data, asking users to create an all-new profile via MySpace, Facebook Connect, Twitter Connect or classic MySpace.
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"This was about a completely new platform," Timberlake said. "The name was acquired, that was a good thing, but the important thing up until this point as far as all the artists Tim and Chris and I were talking to was to have a community that feels like it really has an identity."
The new design has a horizontal scroll where users can find updates on friends and artists' latest song-listening and playlist activity from MySpace's album-length library of over 42 million songs (a la Spotify), a music player at the bottom of the screen that plays music continuously as you surf to other pages (a la Pitchfork) and artist pages that rank the act's most-played songs and music videos as well as most active fans. It's the latter aspect that's most compelling to artists like Timberlake, who said, "When I have something I wanna say, how can I get a direct feed straight to who cares about it?"
To Tim Vanderhook, some of the aggregate fan data that already exists in places like Twitter and YouTube hasn't been extrapolated in a useful way to artists. "If you think about today how everyone is obsessed with YouTube play counts, there's no depth behind that. Is it big in L.A., is it big in Detroit, is it big in another country? What type of people are consuming the music?" he said.
And though music-hosting sites like SoundCloud and BandCamp have gained in popularity during Myspace's post-News Corp. decline, the Vanderhooks are still exploring ways that artists can sell their music through Myspace in addition to streaming it. One priority instead is to encourage new ways for artists to work together through the platform.
"One thing the old Myspace did was it had the ability for one artist to message another and collaborate on creating something new one," Tim said. "That's a feature that got lost never got replaced by anything. When we can facilitate that, we'll be successful."
Centralizing artists' online profiles across the web is another priority. "One thing we keep hearing is, 'How do you make this my space -- literally?'" said Chris. '"I have six or seven different social platforms. In order for me to make it in today's business I have to be a tech wizard when all I wanna do is record. I need someone to make it easier for me.' That hit home for us -- how do we develop a place to actually make it their own and house all these different areas they do on all these other platforms and make it simple for the artist?"
Though traffic to Myspace.com was halved in the period from 54.3 million unique users in November 2010 to 24.9 million unique users in November 2011, according to Comscore, that drop-off appears to have stabilized and even seen a little rebound, with 26 million users in September 2012 -- enough for Myspace to still rank as one of Comscore's top 50 sites on the web during the month. If its days as a social-networking hub are long gone, the market for a music-discovery hub is still wide open, particularly for the 5 million unsigned artists who've uploaded 27 million songs to Myspace over the years.
"We have a very disparate music landscape digitally right now," one major-label marketing exec told Billboard in September when demo invitations were first shared with the industry. "I don't think anyone's really been that voice of the fans for a really long time. The Hype Machines and Pitchforks all have a place, but that's very far away from the mainstream. As much as I love and respect what those sites do for our artists, I feel like that spot somewhere between the hipster and the mainstream is a very empty place right now."
And although the MySpace demo is ad-free, the eventual relaunch is expected to feature a revamped ad model, taking a more integrated approach to building original content for advertising partners. Macy's has already committed to a program around developing artists, Billboard has learned, while talks with marketers in key categories like soft drinks, electronics and telecommunications are ongoing. Fast food may be a part of the new look and feel, too -- earlier this year, MySpace has teamed up with Taco Bell for an original web series called "Let's Big Happy."
"Advertising will very much be a part of the ecosystem," Tim Vanderhook told Billboard in September. "It's something we've very much put a lot of thought into to make sure it's organic."