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Music and Marketing

MySpace's Music-Centered Relaunch Turned Up Volume, But Is Anybody Listening?

One of Internet's Biggest Boom-and-Bust Stories Refuses to Fade Into a Memory of All That Is Wrong With Ad-Supported Social Media

By Published on . 2

Logged onto Myspace lately?

Ask your friends that question and there's a decent chance they'll respond with a guffaw. Today is the age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine but one of the internet's biggest boom-and-bust stories refuses to fade into a memory of all that is wrong with ad-supported social media.

Specific Media -- and pop star Justin Timberlake -- bought Myspace for $35 million in 2011. 

Since you probably haven't visited in recent times, I can tell you: Myspace these days actually looks pretty darn good. Under another name, the social music site that ad network Specific Media restaged in June might be garnering praise for its slick design and ability to weave in elements borrowed from Pandora, Spotify, Vevo and music-news site Pitchfork.

But Specific Media -- and pop star Justin Timberlake -- bought Myspace for $35 million in 2011 largely because of its name recognition. Before acquiring Myspace, Specific Media ran a study that measured Myspace's global brand awareness at 72%, compared with Facebook's at 74%. That was enough to convince the company that the name, even though it feels old school to many, should stay.

That negative image "is something you have to contend with, but our thesis was always: If we can create a great product, then we should be able to turn that opinion," said Chris Vanderhook, COO of Myspace and parent company Specific Media, which he co-founded with his brother Tim.

Old Name, New Look

Post-acquisition, Specific Media and its in-house creative team scrapped the existing site and built a new one from scratch. The home page is the only part of the site that evokes its original incarnation, albeit repackaged in a more modern, magazine-inspired design. It streams content like photos, articles or songs shared by other users someone follows, or is "connected to," in Myspace parlance.

That's in line with the traditional Myspace experience, but the music player framing the bottom of the page isn't. The player persists across every page on the site as if to say, "You're on Myspace for the music." That message is reinforced elsewhere: the songs users can append to their profile pages, the playlists that can be created from bands' pages, the artist-curated radio stations, the music videos, the articles created by Myspace's in-house editorial team overseen by former Vice producer Joseph Patel. Even Myspace's 404 error page is a mosaic with tiles of songs four minutes and four seconds long that can be played when clicked.

Great product? Check. Opinion turned? Not quite.

Users Plummet

ComScore measured only 6.5 million U.S. desktop unique visitors to Myspace in August, a staggering 81% drop since June 2011, the month Specific Media acquired the site. The big caveat here is the comScore numbers don't include mobile. According to Myspace's internal figures, the site pulls 36 million monthly active users in the U.S., 40% from mobile. That's up from 31 million two weeks before the redesign.

Myspace's internal numbers mark it a dozen million users bigger than Spotify and half of Pandora's audience, compared with numbers they've disclosed. But despite those stats, the site is hardly a blip on most marketers' radars.

"No question there's going to be an uphill battle based on preconceived notions," said Gian LaVecchia, managing partner and digital lead at MEC. "I would love for them to succeed, but they're really not part of the active consideration set."

He admits Myspace has his attention for what he described as its "very brand-friendly design."
"We're keeping the ad load low right now," said Specific Media and Myspace CEO Tim Vanderhook. That could be symptomatic of meager demand, though the Vanderhooks say they're taking a "product before profits" approach.

The company does have a head of marketing, former Martin Agency exec April Thrun. And still, there are ads on Myspace. Not the boxes and banners that littered the old site, but pre-rolls playing before watching one of the site's more than 2 million music videos, audio ads airing while listening to Myspace radio's library of roughly 52 million songs and even so-called "native" deals like the "Artist of the Day" write-ups sponsored by Levi's this month.

Bud Light livestreamed its "50/50/1" concert series on Myspace and maintains a branded radio station and profile page. "The knowledge and tools Myspace has to connect with music fans was the impetus," said Bud Light VP-marketing Rob McCarthy.

Myspace the musicphile is a departure from its positioning under News Corp.'s ownership, which tried to go head-to-head with Facebook. "They were trying to reenergize the social platform and be comfortable with being Facebook's step-cousin. Music wasn't going to be the prominent feature when we were talking to them," said Andrew O'Dell, CEO of Pereira & O'Dell, which was hired to spearhead Myspace's 2010 relaunch.

The Vanderhooks sing a different tune. "Facebook is not a music-focused audience. YouTube is not a music-focused audience. We want a music-focused audience," Chris Vanderhook said.

Now, to get people to listen.

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