When Spotify launched four years ago in Sweden, it launched not as a direct competitor to massive musical monoliths like iTunes, but as a cheap, all-you-can-eat alternative to piracy. People who were previously cut off from music by the Man were re-introduced to their favourite songs on the cheap. Spotify found a way to compete with free by ingeniously appealing to music lover's morals. Now, someone else is using their killer feature, and giving it away for free. Meet the new MySpace.
MySpace has lived on quietly in the background of the internet for some time now as an indie music network. It was overhauled with the help an Aussie design firm recently and now it's gearing up for its official launch.
I have had a peek behind MySpace's red curtain, and it's possibly the most beautiful and simple way to stream music I have ever seen. It's fluid, smooth and inherently social. Playlists can be built for certain events so that photos taken at that event can later be attached and browsed by friends. You can connect with artists and songs right out of the gate and it's all web-based from the outset as opposed to Spotify's downloadable client.
Chris and Tim Vanderhook — MySpace's re-founders — recently told ABC's Download This Show that MySpace would be offered for free to users, and both indie and mainstream artists will be paid by the revenue garnered from visual, on-site advertising. Spotify, meanwhile, has a freemium model where you're subjected to audio ads before you pony up the $12 per month to subscribe.
Spotify is copping flak at the moment about how much it pays artists, which is thought to be as little as $US0.009 per stream. On top of that, it's about to lose the moral high-ground of internet streaming to MySpace. You can't compete with something that's free and legal. MySpace is prettier, faster, more intuitive, more social, cheaper and ultimately nicer to use from my preliminary hands-on.
So what happens when a more beautiful, more usable platform emerges that usurps Spotify's moral high-ground as the musical alternative to piracy? Revolution.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Now, Spotify has become "the Man". It feels less like a music lover's tool, and more of a business these days. It took the appearance of Something For Kate's Paul Dempsey at a Spotify event this morning to show just how different Spotify is from its artists. Paul, like all great artists, entertains on the fly. Spotify at its heart is now an empire, with bills to pay and bad PR to manage. The original goal of entertaining now feels secondary.
Spotify is about rescuing people from piracy on a proprietary platform built to a budget. MySpace is a beautiful platform built by music lovers, for music lovers, with indie artists, social sharing and good discovery at its core. We don't know how MySpace is funding its artists other than via visual advertising, but then again, can it be much worse than Spotify's 0.009 cents per stream?
People are inspired by music, and there's no greater buzzkill for someone who loves supporting indie artists than knowing you're getting music from the Man. Spotify is well on the way to becoming the new Man, and it still can't compete with free, especially when the new free is legal.
We'll have to wait and see if MySpace can wrest control of the space from Spotify when it finally launches out of beta.