We were interested to read the news earlier this week that WordPress.com is launching a bespoke platform for bands and musicians. It’s a crowded but fragmented marketplace for bands these days — the void MySpace left with its decline into irrelevance has never really been filled, and these days bands find themselves juggling Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and possibly their own custom-built website. It seems to be the last of these gaps that WordPress is trying to fill, and this got us thinking as to what a band website should offer in 2012, and how a new platform might help achieve this. We also asked several industry friends — including members of Azar Swan, Leda, and our own Silent Drape Runners — for their perspective as to what both bands and fans want out of a band website in 2012, and what sort of features a new player on the scene could offer to distinguish itself from the pack. It’s an interesting discussion, and we’d love to get some other perspectives, so let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Part of MySpace’s appeal in its mid-’00s glory days was that it was the one and only place you needed to go to find music. Since then, of course, the internet landscape has changed dramatically, and pretty much everyone agrees on the fact that the time for a music-centric social network has passed — an attempt to launch (or relaunch) such a network these days would simply be adding yet another layer of complexity. Azar Swan’s Josh Strawn says, “I think the MySpace moment has passed culturally the way AIM chatrooms have.” He suggests that “the way people use social media has become more insular,” and that “most social sharing comes from dark social… email and IMs, not from brazenly Social with a capital S sites.” Neither fans nor bands need an offering that reinvents the wheel — they need something that consolidates the various options that already exist.
This leads us onto our next point: both bands and fans can probably agree on the fact that it’d be lovely to have a single site that brings together the functions of the various platforms that they’re using. As Leda’s Heidi Vanderlee told us, “Most bands have a Facebook AND a Twitter AND a Bandcamp etc, because all of them serve different purposes. It’s kind of a pain to have to update all of them, even if you have them linked… I think it would be great to have something that brings all of the functions of various social media together and is user-friendly. Of course we could have a traditional website, but I’m no web designer and we have no money. I imagine that many other bands can relate!”
As a consumer of music, MySpace’s chief appeal was the ability to go down the friends-of-friends-of-friends rabbit hole, discovering bands you’d otherwise probably never have heard of. It’s this ability that’s perhaps most lacking in all today’s options — sure, you can follow people on Bandcamp etc, but we can’t imagine anyone really discovers music this way. Services like Spotify have also started to fill this gap, but require client software and subscriptions. We’ve always been amazed that no one ever really tried to meet this need — it’s presumably what Apple was trying to do with its ill-starred Ping idea (above) — and we’d like to see the existing services that bands use to share their music integrate more social/discoverability features. So would bands, it appears — Silent Drape Runners singer and Flavorpill Social Media Manager Sophie Weiner points out that “Bandcamp is pretty close to an ideal platform — but it’d be better if there was more of a social aspect, and a way for non-musicians to engage with it in a more meaningful way.”
On a similar note, this is another aspect of MySpace that’s never really been replicated. As our Social Media Director and Silent Drape Runner Russ Marshalek notes, band platforms often lack “community… conversation… a way for artists to interact with fans and vice versa. There’s no perfect platform, and that’s annoying. Everything is so cold and removed, other than Facebook, but Facebook is such a mess to port music, tour dates, etc.”
This isn’t something any of our band friends raised, but it makes sense to us — some sort of easy-to-use platform for bands to sell merch directly through their website seems to us like a pretty sensible way to get some sort of income coming in through that site. Josh Strawn points out, “No website can reinstate the idea that music costs money,” but that isn’t to say that sites can’t make money. Bandcamp is a decent option for albums and T-shirts, but we’d also like to see integrated plug-ins for ticket sales, for instance.
As fans, we find Bandcamp’s other big failing to be the relative paucity of information it provides about bands. This is clearly a rather trivial feature to implement, but it makes a world of difference for both bands and their fans.
Email list management
As far as we’re aware, this is a feature that no platforms offer at present, and it’d be invaluable for bands to manage subscriptions and interact with their fanbase. At present, bands rely on third-party options. Leda’s Heidi Vanderlee explains: “Right now we collect emails from our Bandcamp, mostly, and have to import them to Fanbridge manually. We do get a couple signups via Fanbridge now and then, but we don’t actually use it as much as we use Bandcamp or Facebook. I just feel like right now I run from site to site to do everything and it’s a little tedious.”
And finally, this is something that both bands and fans are crying out for — bands want a back-end that’s easy to use and doesn’t waste their time, while fans want easy access to information and music. This is one respect in which WordPress’s offering looks good — the design is clean and WordPress’s UI has always been reasonably straightforward — and it could be this alone that makes it a viable offering. As Sophie Weiner suggests, “I think sites that do something actually useful will probably continue to prosper — look at the continued success of last.fm. Ultimately, people will always want to connect via music.”