Live and in concert: Why MySpace music has a chance against iTunes

myspace musicAt the Family Force 5 concert tonight, the lead singer of the warm-up band The Maine said to the thousands of kids in attendance, “This next song is ‘Count em one two three’, and it’s out on MySpace.”

The significance of John O’Callaghan’s statement is astonishing, especially in light of the official announcement today of the formation of MySpace Music. MySpace, the social networking site that boasts 30 million registered users, has formed a joint venture with Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, and Warner Music Group to make their entire digital music catalogs available for downloading and listening at a new site, which will be introduced later this year. (WSJ, NYT)

EMI, the fourth major label, is not taking part in MySpace Music yet but is expected to at some point. (Previous last100 post.)

MySpace Music will offer paid-for, DRM-free MP3 downloads (no details on pricing or quality), ad-supported music and video streaming, ringtones for cell phones, concert ticket sales, and merchandise. When it’s up and running, MySpace Music will be a direct competitor to iTunes, now the No. 1 music retailer in the U.S., as well as other online music stores such as AmazonMP3.

Analysts are noting that MySpace Music is a step in the right direction for music companies, but that “Apple will not be affected for the first few years because Apple’s iTunes store lives on the strength of Apple devices,” Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey told Reuters.

That may be true. For now. But do not underestimate the influence of MySpace on bands and their fans.

the maine fans

Throughout the Family Force 5 and The Maine show, fans of the two bands were constantly taking pictures with cell phones and digital cameras. Heck, band members were taking pictures of the crowd in between songs.

After the show, the bands headed over to separate tables selling their T-shirts, CDs, and other merchandise. Fans crowded around the singers, guitarists, bass players, and drummers for personal pictures and autographs. Just like they did during the days of the Beatles, teen girls were overheard saying, “He hugged me! I can’t take a shower tonight.”

And where do all these pictures, stories, and interactions end up? On MySpace.

“Email me your pictures so I can put them on my MySpace page,” one girl told another as they were leaving.

An hour after the show, (lesli) posted on The Maine’s MySpace page, “AHHH!! yall we’re freaking amazing tonight at the hob (House of Blues). =D I’m totally in love with you guyz.”

For now, iTunes has the awareness and brand for legal digital music downloads, but what happens when word spreads throughout the MySpace community that you can buy the music of the band you just saw in concert at MySpace Music — or directly from the band’s MySpace page?

That music, by the way, plays on any digital device, including the popular iPod and cell phones. And streaming audio and video playlists can be shared with your MySpace friends.

family force 5

What happens when bands start recording their shows and making a cut or two available for purchase or streaming at MySpace Music or from their MySpace band page?

What happens when the line between bands and fans blur so much that a record label’s involvement is nearly invisible? Or that it really doesn’t matter where you buy your music — MySpace, iTunes, AmazonMP3?

What happens if MySpace gets it right and steals a page or two from iTunes and creates a pleasant shopping experience, with all the niceties of iTunes like easy search, organization, ratings and recommendations, celebrity playlists, Essentials and Originals, and gift cards so kids don’t need a credit card to buy music?

What then?

“It (MySpace) goes from being a promotional vehicle to being a commercial vehicle,” MySpace Chief Operating Officer Amit Kapur said on a conference call announcing the joint venture.

Judging by the design of MySpace band and individual pages, which are horrid by most standards, a better shopping experience than iTunes seems incredibly unlikely, but kids are notoriously hard to read, brand fickle, and have been known to change their minds when something else comes along. It’s up to MySpace and the record companies to make MySpace Music a compelling product.

Apple, more than most companies, knows this. As kids left the venue tonight, many were given a $30 free downloads card from iTunes. Just in our party, the kid and her friends received $150 in free music — a sign that Apple and iTunes isn’t going to take MySpace Music lightly.

last100 is edited by Steve O'Hear. Aside from founding last100, Steve is co-founder and CEO of Beepl and a freelance journalist who has written for numerous publications, including TechCrunch, The Guardian, ZDNet, ReadWriteWeb and Macworld, and also wrote and directed the Silicon Valley documentary, In Search of the Valley. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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