A conversation with MySpace Music President Courtney Holt

MySpace Music has long been THE place on the web for established and emerging artists. For many musicians, MySpace has become their primary website, as it offers a free platform for publishing music and connecting with fans.

There are more than five million artists with MySpace music pages, and each year about 250 of those are exposed. MySpace Music President Courtney Holt describes it as "obscurity chasing opportunity to be noticed." Numerous top artists have emerged from platforms like MySpace into record deals, such as Sean Kingston, Taylor Swift, Drake and Lily Allen. Arguably, even the Jonas Brothers got their start on MySpace. And even more importantly, they come back. Katy Perry used the site to release unsigned music before she won her EMI deal. And now she's using MySpace with her second record launch to reignite her fanbase.

We spoke with Holt at the New Music Seminar to learn more about how MySpace is helping to bridge the gap between new media and the old music industry. Holt, throughout his career in the music industry, has been instrumental in embracing technology and innovating new ways for labels to promote artists. So it was only natural he ended up taking the reigns at MySpace Music, to build new tools, launch new artists, and analyze data to help the suffering music industry find some solutions to their woes. Helping the music industry understand how new media is the key to unlocking the future of the biz is a big job, and Holt is just the man to do it. Read on to learn his game plan.

Q: What has been the perfect success story on MySpace?

A: Lily Allen used MySpace as a bridge between two albums to maintain a fanbase. Her personal life kind of played itself out on the celebrity blogs, and her music life played itself out on MySpace. So she was talking about making a record and writing songs, and the business of being the artist that is Lily Allen. We were really proud to be a part of the next record. That was a good example of people using our platform well.

There are lots of up-and-coming and unsigned artists that are using our platform correctly. I like bands that just say we're going to be smart about what we publish and how we publish it.

Q: How does someone get on your radar to be promoted on MySpace?

A: I'm most interested in aggregate growth over a period of time. And I'm looking at key markets, because I want to see if somebody's blowing up in more than one market. As weird as it sounds, the old record business could never afford to market nationally. So they focused on regional marketing. And you look at those bands like Dave Matthews and Hootie and the Blowfish, that broke out of the MidAtlantic, how it was started there. I worked at Interscope when the Toadies broke out of Texas. And, wow, you watch them break out and go into other markets.

I'm looking at those concentric circles, and where they start to grow. That's the key. Success in a digital age is not clearly defined. But the only way we're going to define it is if we look at trending data over a period of time that tells us how to become more successful. At the end of the day, there's some truth in somebody just decides to take a chance on an artist.

Working for guys like Jimmy Iovine and Doug Morris taught me how to think about business from the my gut. So I can't say it's 100% about data. And the industry is made on that too. You've got to be willing to make bets. An educated bet, coupled with data, is the perfect formula for people like us to make decisions to take artists to the next level.

Q: Do you plan on sharing data to help find a solution to the problems facing the music industry?

A: Oh yeah. I have to be informative. The different constituents that I have to be informative to are the artists, ultimately the users, and the licensers of music. It's important that I inform them as to what's working and what's not. And I'm also very pragmatic. I'm never going to sell it like 'Everything's awesome!' But I will say this is what I'm seeing, this is what's working, and this is how you can work with us better.

Q: You spoke of how influential MySpace DJs are becoming. Could these guys eventually replace radio DJs?

A: Social Djs, the leaders of that landscape, will come out, you're going to find. When I talk to a DJ, the great thing about a platform like MySpace, is you don't have to publish every day at 4 o'clock. They can publish and leave it in the archive. They can publish once a day. They can publish texts today, a video tomorrow. It's a great tool for those who want to expose and create taste and influence. And I think influencers are going to play a big role for us in the next evolution of programming.

I can promote, but I always say that no one in this room is cooler than the people who are using our product. So let's let them have a voice, and it should be equal than or louder than anyone in this room. Because it's great that we're all in the industry, but there's some kid in Wilkes-Barre who is picking the next great Hip-Hop records. And if he becomes as influential one day as the Scoop or Flex, or one of those guys, then we just did our job. We just made something happen, and the truth is that's the aspirational side of the industry that we can enable differently from the artist side. But the tools are the same.

Q: How can artists make the most of MySpace?

A: We want to serve the needs of all artists, but they may get different things out of our platform. For an established artist that's already known, it's awareness. For the next level artist down, it's reinforcing or maintaining a relationship between albums. The Beatles released 11 albums in nine years. The band the All American Rejects have released two in six. And you start to think; how do I maintain that fanbase?

I had the pleasure of working with Nine Inch Nails really closely, and I remember when they came back from Downward Spiral, and they were putting out The Fragile, there had been a five-year difference, and then their next record came in five, six years. And if I was 16 and fell in love with Nine Inch Nails, now I'm 21. That's a big difference between someone who's 16 and someone who's 21, and someone at 21 and 27, you're in different lifestyles. To capitalize on all of them, we need to think about all of them differently.

Q: Can anyone get a deal with MySpace to monetize their songs?

A: Anybody can publish with us. Getting your music on MySpace is easy and anybody can buy it. We have an integrated solution with Amazon. So as long as the music is in Amazon, it's fully integrated. We always say it's the 3 P's: play, playlist and purchase. Those are the three things that we allow at any point in time if we publish it.

Artists are publishing content as well. You have control over that page. There are artists that use that to market to iTunes. There are artists who market to TopSpin. The audience is there, and we can help them. And we're going to get better at saying here's how we can handhold you through the process, with a series of FAQs, success stories, testimonials. It's accessible for everybody, which is not the case with the traditional means of exposure.

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