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But if Michael Stipe isn't using MySpace Music to its full potential, many unsigned acts and smaller-label artists certainly are. Mike Peaslee, singer for Oakland, California, indie rockers Stalking Tom, says that in the five months since his band signed up, he makes updating its profile and responding to messages a high priority, and subsequently has earned a ton of new fans who've bought ST's self-produced CD and, more important, shown up at concerts.
"People don't go out as much anymore, and when they do, they're going to have a clear destination," he says. "Some stranger shoving a piece of paper in their face isn't going to change those plans. Even if you're not just being the typical flier zombie -- blankly passing out stubs of paper to anybody who will make eye contact -- you're not going to effectively bring people to shows. If they can see you, hear you, and interact with you on their terms first, they're more likely going to take the chance and come to your next show. It's that personal and casual appeal that makes MySpace far more valuable than any music-centric site."
"If you approach it respectfully, as you would with a community of 'real' people, then it can be a really powerful tool that's also sincere and genuine," says Matt Sherwood, guitarist for melodic hardcore band Strike Anywhere, from Richmond, Virginia. A self-professed "Internet nerd," he created an individual profile when the site was still in its beta testing phase last year, and when MySpace Music officially blossomed, he got his band involved. "At first I sought out people who had us listed in their profile as a band they enjoy, and just wrote to them to thank them for admitting publicly that they like our band. I mean, I'm 32, I play in a band, and I make a thousand bucks a month. So the main thing I get out of doing what I do is personal relationships and meaningful friendships, and I've totally gotten that out of MySpace."
Much of MySpace Music's success can be attributed to the fact that its founders aren't just suits far removed from the day-to-day operations of the site. Anderson isn't just the president: He's also a client.
"I started writing to Butch Walker because a friend on MySpace told me about him," he says. "When Butch came to L.A. for an acoustic show, I went to see him, less because I was dying to hear him and more because we'd e-mailed each other about liking the Paul Stanley solo album. But when I saw and heard him perform, I was blown away. Butch is hands-down the best performer I've ever witnessed. So that's an example where Butch made a friend on MySpace who became a big fan. I think that happens all the time."
Independent record labels are also getting into the act, and many are doing so while following the same ethical guidelines that have long distinguished them from their major-label counterparts. "I can put an exclusive song up there and see how many plays it gets, and what people's direct feedback is," says Jade Tree publicist David Lewis, who uses the label's profile to promote his entire roster, including Strike Anywhere, Pedro the Lion, and These Arms Are Snakes. "As a publicist, I think I know who likes Jade Tree bands, but now I can really see what kind of people are into it. But at the same time, we don't do any unsolicited barrages of messages -- I let people come to us if they want to. That's a definite moral choice that we're making, because we're not comfortable being so invasive. That's what you see a lot of the major labels doing on MySpace, and kids are savvy enough to know when they're being schemed. A lot of people are afraid of MySpace turning into that."
Will mainstream meddling and commercial pressures ultimately doom this phenomenon, like so many other once-trendy sites? MySpace currently generates its revenue from advertising, and while Anderson says that he's thinking about offering premium services in the future, he adamantly stresses that all the existing features will remain absolutely free.
Good. "As long as it's a place where you can discover something new and meaningful, then that will keep it a part of people's everyday life, and it'll probably be around a long time," Sherwood says. "It's an awesome site now, and it's got so much potential, but if it gets bogged down in trying to make a huge profit off people, or if people get assailed with too much advertising and the same old bullshit, they'll leave it behind."