MySpace Plots Makeover

Sometimes it seems as if time moves faster than light on the ‘Net. Yesterday’s fad is today’s veteran and, chances are, tomorrow’s history.

Today’s most popular site might seem like a dinosaur in a couple of days, and might not even be a memory come next week.

The speed at which users discover, adapt and sometimes discard Web sites is not lost on the folks at MySpace. Launched in 2003, the social-networking site grew quickly as millions of users created their own little homesteads on the Net, leading Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to scoop it up for $580 million in 2005.

MySpace’s dominance didn’t last long. In terms of the number of users, Facebook passed MySpace in 2008. What’s more, comScore numbers indicate MySpace’s monthly visitors dropped 7 percent in January from a year ago to 120 million worldwide. During that same period, Facebook doubled its visitor count to 471 million while Twitter grew to 74 million.

But MySpace is plotting a comeback that includes paying more attention to the 14 million musicians who use the site to promote their music as it intensifies its efforts to better serve the 13-34 age group making up its core user base.

MySpace also made some changes behind the scenes. Gone is CEO Owen Van Natta, who left in February. Running the show these days are two people who serve as “co-presidents” – Jason Hirschhorn and Mike Jones.

While not commenting on Van Natta’s departure – except to say it was a decision made by the now-former CEO and Jonathan Miller, News Corp.’s chief digital officer – Hirschhorn described how the co-president arrangement came about.

“Jon came to us and said, ‘Would you like to be co-presidents?’ We said, ‘Hell yeah.’ We didn’t have to move our desks,” Hirschhorn said. “We were very much operating the company from a day-to-day basis and believed in the strategy that we laid out with Owen, frankly.”

What’s in store for MySpace? Some changes include a better stream that lets users see what their MySpace comrades are doing in a central location, à la Facebook’s news feed. The company is also debuting a “Super Post” toolbar giving users the ability to post content to their Facebook and Twitter accounts from their MySpace home.

Perhaps a more symbolic change is how MySpace now greets its new users. Ever since the social networking site launched, new users immediately had an instant “friend” – company founder Tom Anderson.

However, Tom’s smiling face no longer befriends new users. He’s been replaced by a feature called “Today On MySpace,” abbreviated as T.O.M. and featuring new content such as music and videos that begin feeding into new users’ streams immediately. According to co-president Jones, the addition of T.O.M. gives new users a better idea of what MySpace is about, rather than just giving them a photo of somebody they don’t know.

“We were just like, ‘We’re not going to tell you what to do here, we’re not going to guide you,’” Jones said “Now we’re saying, ‘OK we’re going to give you some guidance.’”

Reasons For Labels

When you consider social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, video services like YouTube and companies like TuneCore, which distributes music to online stores such as iTunes and Amazon MP3, who needs a record label?

Evidently almost all music artists do, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). The organization recently issued a report reminding everyone why the world needs record labels.

Titled “Investing In Music,” the IFPI report points out that labels are the world’s biggest investors in music, spending about 30 percent of sales revenues – approximately $5 billion worldwide – on discovering and developing new artists and distributing their music.

The report also takes to task one of the most common praises of the Internet in relation to music – that it allows new artists to be heard. By pointing out that millions of artists already travel this route, the IFPI maintains that labels perform a valuable service when it comes to bringing music to the masses by filtering through the clutter and delivering the meat to music lovers.

But that’s only a broad description of labels. Recording companies also spend a considerable amount of cash performing services that aren’t usually apparent to music fans, such as video production, online promotion and generally laying the groundwork for success.

“One of the biggest myths about the music industry in the digital age is that artists no longer need record labels,” IFPI chairman and chief exec John Kennedy said.

“It is simply wrong. The investment, partnership and support that help build artist careers have never been more important than they are today. This report aims to explain why. Investing in music is about how the music business works. It explains the value that music companies add, helping artists to realize a talent that would typically go unrecognized and get to an audience they would otherwise not reach.”

Six Strings For Gamers

With the popularity of video games like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” it was only a matter of time until someone came up with a way to work an actual guitar into the mix. Turns out that someone is Seven45 Studios.

The game publisher and developer has come up with “Power Gig: Rise Of The Six String,” a video game that comes equipped with a real guitar. Instead of pressing color-coded buttons, players will need to hit specific strings in order to win.

But Seven45 isn’t talking about a guitar game controller that only captures the look and feel of the instrument but instead is bundling an actual guitar with the game – one you can plug into a real amp and play real music on.

“The leap to [playing] guitar will be seamless,” Seven45 VP of marketing Jeff Walker said of the game.

Seven45 may have an extra advantage when it comes to combining guitars with video games. The company shares owners with instrument maker First Act, which is aiding the game maker in developing “Power Gig.”

“Power Gig” will be released this fall for PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles. The game’s guitar will also be compatible with existing “Rock Band” and “Guitar Hero” games.

But one of the draws for the current line of music video games is each game’s song inventory. So far, Seven45 hasn’t mentioned which songs might be included on “Power Gig.”

Nor has Seven45 revealed how much “Power Gig” will cost, saying only that its price tag will be comparable to established music games. But with the inclusion of an actual guitar, it’s a good bet the price will be a bit more than what it costs to become a “Guitar Hero.”