With companies from Apple to Spotify jostling for control of the online music marketplace, there'd seem to be little room for the site most known for being crushed by Facebook. But MySpace may have a new trick up its sleeve. The revamped network, which launched publicly last month, includes a section devoted to music discovery, featuring not just news and reviews but also striking photography and even live-streamed performances.
To head its editorial operations, MySpace tapped Joseph Patel, previously a producer at Vice, as its vice president of content and creative. He has brought in a staff of longtime editors, including Benjamin Meadows-Ingram, formerly of Billboard, and Monica Herrera, previously at RollingStone. We spoke with Patel about how the company's editorial approach gives it a competitive edge.
How does MySpace's editorial content fit in with the service's streaming and discovery functions?
Basically, that's the same thing I asked when I got approached to head up content: How do you see this fitting in with the platform? What the draw was for me—they wanted to do something that not anyone else in the space was doing—creating original content, covering interesting things: projects, releases, people. We hope it's a draw for people we cover to stay on the platform. No one really has been doing that.
In MySpace's first iteration, when it was really successful, there was an element of discovery to the platform. If I was friends with Daft Punk, and they were friends with Justice, I was able to check them out, and suddenly I'm a fan of Justice. By doing original content, we can put people up on things.
What's MySpace's editorial approach? What sorts of things are you looking to cover?
The sort of North Star that we're pointing to internally is that we're a platform for creatives. We've started with music content first, but we're slowly going to be expanding to photography, design, filmmaking, fashion, style. When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with music, and that's really how I got into the creative world. I learned about photography by looking at the album covers of my favorite bands. I learned about filmmaking from music videos done by those bands.
We're trying to mimic that with the content we create. There's a lot more than just the music. There's the person who directed the video, the person who created the packaging, who styled the artist, who created the set design at a festival. We want to look at all of those creative pursuits.
Tumblr and Facebook have both experimented with editorial content but ultimately abandoned those efforts. How is MySpace's approach different?
I think both experimented, but that's just it—they experimented. I don't think they went all in, like you have to do to get some traction on an idea of that magnitude. Again, I think the motivation for what we're doing is ultimately to be a place for creatives. If we have content that other creatives want to engage with, content that creatives actually use to discover new ideas, concepts, collaborators, then I think we will be achieving our goal.
How does MySpace's editorial content fit into the company's business model?
One of the things we do is branded content. Audiences are willing to engage with branded content, one, if it's good, and two, if it's honest and you're not trying to put one over on them. We're creating interesting content that we'd want to do anyway. With Bud Light, we did branded content as part of their Music First 50/50/1 program. Chevy sponsored some of our South by Southwest content over three nights. They helped us present what we wanted to present. That's the philosophy we're taking with it.
Do you see MySpace's editorial content as primarily an entry point for people to explore more of the platform, or is it content that lives independent of the platform?
I ultimately see it playing two roles. I want it to be on MySpace to draw people in, but I also want as many eyeballs looking at it as possible. I want stuff passed around, linked back to. We want to be recognized as a brand, as a music source, whether that happens on the platform or off. It's a challenge with the current perception of the brand. Joe Budden posted a link to a story we'd done comparing Kanye to Drake. And people said, MySpace? He said: Yeah, MySpace. So what? It's good. That was great to see. We're gradually changing the perception.
How do you balance promoting MySpace's own catalog with exposing visitors to artists who may not be on the platform?
We're not just writing about music, and certainly not just the music you'd buy on MySpace. We could never be a true platform for discovery that way. When I pitched Tim and Chris [Vanderhook, the co-owners] on my vision, they were describing what streaming music they have in the catalog. I said that doesn't get you to the place where people trust you as the place to come to learn about new things. Even if things aren't on MySpace, we can link to other sources, just like any other site would. That ultimately serves our mission better, rather than just internal marketing from our catalog.
Has MySpace's editorial approach influenced other aspects of the site? How do you see the overall platform evolving as MySpace broadens its editorial scope?
I think the editorial team is influencing the site, and vice versa. For example, during our beta phase, we needed to redesign the Discover section to serve the needs of the content we are producing. That redesign looked so good, we're beginning to implement it elsewhere on the site. Likewise, the site introduced new functionality through our mobile app, a GIF creator. So now, one of the things we're going to be doing is aggregating GIFs commissioned from name photographers or filmmakers and presenting that as editorial.
Might MySpace at some point partner with other companies and organizations that also aim to attract creatives?
That's part of our content strategy. We just started doing some collaborations with Afropunk. I've followed what Matthew [Morgan] and James [Spooner] from Afropunk have been doing for a long time, so I'm a big supporter. When I got here, I said, "We should work on something together." We streamed an exclusive live performance: Danny Brown performed at Afropunk, and we shot it and put it on MySpace. We also ran a video interview with the artist Le1f.
We have ideas in development with Milk Studios, The Fader, and Karmaloop. Federal Prism, a label by Dave Sitek of TV on the Radio—there are certain things he wants to do, and we're putting them exclusively on MySpace. The more consistent and interesting the content is, the better it is for us. It doesn't have to be exclusive with us, but partners like that are good for us.