Back in the day -- which in this technology-driven era means about two years ago -- bands relied on tried-and-true methods of promotion to get their name out. Flyers, mailing lists and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth comprised the primary tools of the propaganda trade. Some enterprising acts used websites to post news, MP3s and press clippings, but, let's face it -- a homepage is only effective if people know about it. And until recently, the Internet presented a Catch-22: How do you go about promoting a promotional device?
Enter MySpace.com, an Internet site that has gone from a simple social network to the premier networking tool for musicians, both amateur and professional. Created in 2003 by neo-slackers Tom Anderson, 29, and Chris DeWolfe, 39, MySpace recently surpassed Google.com in individual hits per month. Out of 27 million members, there are currently 550 Vermont bands or musicians with individual profiles on the service.
MySpace bears many similarities to Friendster.com, which was established in 2002. A bellwether for an increasingly nomadic generation, Friendster gained instant popularity among college-age people looking for ways to stay connected with multiple peer groups. The concept was simple: Sign up, gawk at fellow users' brag sheets and start building a roster of virtual pals. By clicking the "Add Friend" tab, members could amass countless computer colleagues without ever leaving the house. It didn't matter if users had never met each other in real life; in fact, this was part of the allure. While it still suffices as free, voyeuristic fun, Friendster ultimately doesn't amount to much more than digital narcissism.
MySpace improves upon Friendster's design right out of the gate. After a free and relatively painless set up, users are prompted to enter basic information, including interests, affiliations, schools and companies. Most members upload pictures, many of which are more than a little provocative. MySpace also boasts a blog section and the ability to instant-message other users -- features Friendster didn't offer until this year. A handy icon indicates which members are currently online, and a bulletin board lets those in your friend list know about every last detail of your nonelectronic existence. And unlike the sterile-looking Friendster, MySpace allows for plenty of design customization.
What makes MySpace truly different, though, is its usefulness to bands. In fact, there's a separate sign-up process for musical artists. This allows acts to list influences and upcoming shows, and communicate directly with fans. A built-in MP3 player lets groups post their latest creations for the world to hear. It also lets users see how many times a song has been played, both in total listens and just that day. Members can leave feedback about each tune, or even have it play on their own page.
Profiles are searchable by genres and sub-genres, location and even by band members. The best part? You no longer need a background in web design to build an Internet presence -- even a computer neophyte can assemble a profile relatively quickly. This user-friendly design, coupled with the site's ubiquity, is probably the reason so many local musicians are signing up.
"People all over the world have left me comments, and I even had a band from L.A. ask me to join their group," says Burlington bass phenom Aram Bedrosian. "You never know where it can lead. I had one friend come to a show recently because he read about it on MySpace. He never would've known about it otherwise."
"MySpace has definitely increased our visibility beyond Vermont," says John Verryt of Theory of Revolution. "It allows bands the ability to reach people on a national and worldwide level. You can see where you have clusters of fans and define your target market."
Will Read of The Casual Fiasco echoes Verryt's sentiment. "Now we have friends and fans all over the world," he says. "Most recently we've had adds from Hawaii, Japan and even Estonia." While his group probably won't be rocking Eastern Europe anytime soon, they do rely on MySpace to promote regional gigs. "The 'event invite' is a great feature," Verryt explains. "It allows us to locate all of our friends within a 100-mile radius of where we're playing and send them all invites to the show."
Bedrosian is a recent MySpace convert, but he already sees advantages over traditional websites. "Band sites usually require more of a focused search," he explains. "Since MySpace is a networking site, you can get friends of friends, or people who read a comment you left on someone else's page. You can also reach people who weren't necessarily looking for you who found your page and liked your music."
For musicians, one of the most appealing features about MySpace is the built-in audio player, which can be configured to play up to five songs in any order. "The music player is really well set up," says Dan Schwartz of The Dakota -- an ex-Burlington band currently based in Philadelphia. "It's all very immediate, and bands need that because this industry is all about making a move and hoping for a response."
Local songwriter Colin Clary likes the jukebox as well. "You don't even have to download stuff to play it," he enthuses. "And it's really useful when you're setting up a show with a group you don't know -- it makes it easier to see if you'd be compatible on the same bill. Also, if you're thinking of going to a show, you can give a little listen and see what you're in for!"
Although MySpace allows local bands to make instant contact with potential fans across the globe, there's a downside to unchecked electronic mingling. Occasionally, members receive puzzling comments and odd messages from other users. "A kid once asked me if anyone ever told me I looked like [comedian] Andy Dick," offers Burette Douglass of The Cush. His response? "I deleted it."
The Jazz Guys' Herb van der Poll is likewise puzzled by some of the feedback. "To me the weirdest letters are from the people who invite you to parties at their house or ask you to go to shows with them," he says. "People you don't know. Maybe it's not that weird, but I find it a little odd."
Theory of Revolution recently received a particularly unusual message. "It said 'I fuck skulls in the middle of the night as a way of saying thanks to all,'" Verryt relates. "We weren't quite sure how to respond to that one."
The comments and messages, while often random, aren't always creepy. Actually, they can be downright encouraging. "One of our friends claimed that they danced around to my band the Magogs in their pajamas," Clary says. "And another kid told me I was his hero."
With so many users worldwide, it seems like it might be difficult for any band to stand out. Musicians don't just differ on what it takes to make an impression; some wonder whether this is even the point. "I don't use MySpace to get noticed," explains Clary. "For me, it's more of an organizational tool and a friends gallery. I think it's more about impact than visibility -- there are a million bands." Herb van der Poll doesn't take any aspect of the network terribly seriously. "It's all just fun bullshit," he says.
Bedrosian believes the key to success on MySpace is making it personal. "I try to leave comments on all of my friends' pages and write back whenever I get a message," he says. "It can be time-consuming." The Dakota's Schwartz concurs. "Writing personalized letters to everyone is important," he suggests. "The whole band gets involved in this -- it's the only way to be remembered. You should also read your friends' pages and find out a little bit about them. Take a little bit of interest in them, since they're doing that for you."