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You Space, My Space, We All Space for MySpace!
By Carmen Borgia

There are two challenges to making art: creating it and getting it to the people. While commercial success may not define the greatness of a work, I suspect that if a film screens in the forest and nobody is there to see it that it may not have screened at all. What follows concerns some of the journey in getting my work out there, particularly on the Web.

In 2003 I produced a CD of my music, North. I wrote, recorded and mastered the songs on a small budget and pressed a lot of copies. With an army-of-one marketing department Ė me -- I planned to give some away and sell the rest at gigs and other events. Over the next two years I handed out about five hundred discs. I submitted the CD for review on various Web sites and magazines, receiving uniformly positive notices. I placed it on Amazon and also CD Baby; through CD Baby I got on to iTunes and a half-dozen other digital download sites. I figured giving away a bunch and being easily findable on the web was a reasonable marketing tactic, sheer word of mouth and easy availability would at least sell a few CDís.

But it didnít happen that way. I did all of the things my budget allowed but the results were not inspiring. I could usually count on selling some CDís at gigs, but there was not much movement on the Web. At one point I took out an ad in a national music magazine with a circulation of around 100,000. I stuck a piece of monitor software on my Web site to keep track of visitors and my traffic did not rise in any noticeable way while the pricey ad was running. I was not so much frustrated as baffled. How could so much shameless self-promotion yield such small results? A guy who had gone to business school told me that for every subscriber a major national magazine acquires the publisher spends upwards of twenty dollars in advertising. I started to perceive that getting it to the people was harder than I had thought.

About a year ago a publicist named Lanie Zipoy urged me to get on MySpace. She told me that was where new musicians were getting famous. I went there, I got an account and uploaded a few songs. I didnít like some things about it Ė it was trendy, pre-formatted and cluttered with aggressive advertising. The feature that bugged me most was the whole friend thing. It seemed indulgent to ask my friends to sign up so their pictures could hang on my page like trophies. I also couldnít figure out how people were supposed to learn about myÖ space. I checked out some of the other MySpace pages and saw that thousands of people were hitting bands I had never heard of. I waited awhile for everyone else at MySpace to find me, and when they didnít I stopped checking the site.

A few months ago Robert, a smart, geeky guy down the hall in my building suggested a book on networks called Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. I read it and was fascinated. The book is a great read about the shape and properties of networks, be they social, physical, biological or digital. It explains how the World Wide Web is constructed of links, nodes and hubs and provides anecdotal and graphic illustrations of how it all works. It made me wonder about my web page, my CD and MySpace. I suspected that I was being distracted by the surface of MySpace and not keyed in to the function of it.
I thought of an experiment. I had put a bunch of 8mm home movies from my familyís archive onto a holiday DVD. I took a 2-minute clip of me playing with an organ grinderís monkey when I was two and recorded some circus music to accompany it. I plumped up the MySpace page, updating the songs on the jukebox, adding a bunch of photos and putting up some short blog entries. MySpace has a selection of web content buckets into which one may dump media that can be digitized Ė photos, video, sound and text. The various areas on a MySpace page can accommodate HTML, so you can program the sections like a regular Web page. There are various free MySpace editors available on the Web that will assist the neophyte MySpacer in this process. I spent a couple of evenings loading up the page with content in each of the buckets. Then I uploaded my monkey movie, having cut it together in Final Cut Pro and exported it as a compressed Quicktime movie. MySpace provided simple instructions for video format and the upload. As a final touch, I found a couple of other interesting videos on MySpace and added them to my favorites list. Instant triple feature!

I e-mailed out a notice to everyone on my list that might give it a click. Iíll confess to some anxiety while getting the list together. There I was, a grown man, sending out a mass e-mail promoting me and some monkey I didnít even know in an attempt to get a little attention from the viewing public. I murmured an affirmation, hit the send button and then I, and my computer, went to sleep.

When I checked in the following day I had gotten a number of visits. One of the most useful features of MySpace is that it keeps score. Every visit ticks up the counter; there is a count kept of the number of plays that each song and video gets for each viewing of a photo and each peek at the blog. This means that I can track the activity on the site simply by checking in, and so can everybody else. I saw that visits rose rapidly in the 24 hours after sending the e-mail notice. The visits continued over the weekend (I sent the e-mail on a Friday) and then rose again on Monday. I got decent traffic over the week, and by the following Monday things settled down to a steady trickle, by then I had gotten about 250 visits - much better than the ad in the magazine. The site encourages interaction; all of the places for content allow for viewer comments. Some of the feedback can be edited, or can at least be made private, and you may block users you donít like from posting. You may also let a thousand flowers bloom and allow the public say any crazy thing they want about you.

The ďfriendsĒ aspect of MySpace that had bugged me at first started to make more sense. Only friends can leave comments, and to become a friend one must submit a request to the holder of the MySpace page (you) and then be approved. My friends list is not so large, but one of my new visitors had a highly prestigious friends list. I learned that many of the prominent MySpacers grant friend status to anyone who makes a request. Iím not saying I know Tom Waits or Jim Jarmusch personally (at least I think itís him), but they both approved my friend request, which is truly special to me. Once someone is on your friends list, that list is easily clickable by a visitor, which allows one to easily explore interests and affinities. MySpace and other social networking sites such as YouTube encourage this networking. It makes for rabid cross-referencing, useful if you are trying to get something you made out into the world.

While I choose to use my own name for my page, many people use a pseudonym for a handle. This has its uses; the most common being that your name is already in use by another member. Some young people I know go anonymous for safety reasons. Wearing this sort of mask can also be useful artistically or for purposes of reportage. There are quite a few pages belonging to the deceased, and for the most part Iím happy to find the likes of Mozart and Moog there in the system with me as they seem to be maintained by loving fans or family. Iím still not sure of my own feelings regarding anonymous mass publication from an ethical standpoint, though as a practical matter I believe that if someone seriously wishes to find the real owner of a page, he will.
There are some things that may be viewed as negatives. MySpace is democratically, flagrantly commercial. Flashing ads and tacky animations populate about a third of the screen most of the time and you donít get to see the good parts until the ads have loaded. I suspect that objectification of women sells product, because plenty of the ads specialize in that. Upon sending my e-mail notice, teenage nieces and nephews almost immediately contacted me and I feared for their moral well being when I saw the promiscuous number of friends they displayed on their own MySpace pages, or maybe I was just jealous. This is also a medium for the well off and literally connected; although the service itself is free, itís just no fun without a current computer and a fast hook up. It has a bit of a bad reputation as a time-waster and a bandwidth pig and is easy for businesses to block; several of my friends who do their fast Internet cruising at work were unable to access MySpace, although YouTube (where I also posted the clip) seemed to be less of a problem. Naturally Iím outraged that they couldnít watch me and my monkey on company time.

Yes, itís trendy, yes itís commercial, yes your content is probably logged into a central database for some as yet unimagined exploitation, and no, you donít have control of whether or not your host will abruptly kick you off the site or limit your speech in some way. The way I see it, they own the hard drive, so itís best to not get too attached. And regarding the thing I was bellyaching about at the beginning of this article, about not selling many CDs on the web? MySpace has not upped my sales so far, but itís given me some new ideas to try.

As a place to expose your stuff to gain a few more eyeballs, it appears to be useful. Iíve had my own HTML / Flash Web site for some years and that is definitely a lot more effort to grow and maintain than either MySpace or YouTube. Iíll be keeping my regular Web page but itís much simpler to get interactive things going with these new tools. MySpace establishes a common, navigable framework for displaying your audio, text and video content. Its two ideas are to encourage links between its members and to make everyone a member. I think it and things like it may even be a watershed moment in the evolution of communication - perhaps it is to marketing what that first release of Final Cut Pro was to video -- it brings a previously complex undertaking (in this case networking) to the masses. Itís free, itís pretty easy to use, and all of those running tallies of how many people have seen your page might just make you think a little more like a marketer when youíre not busy making your next project.
Thatís my experience so far. If you want to check out the page, go to www.MySpace.com/carmenborgiamusic. Heck, link out and wander around the whole area. Donít forget to be my friend, and if you ask nicely Iíll be your friend too.

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Carmen Borgia is the head of audio services for DuArt Film & Video in New York City. He oversees a post production sound department that provides mixing, sound design, restoration, transfer and printmastering. His department caters to independent projects in all formats from mono optical up to digital 5.1. Visit Carmen's personal Web site at: www.carmenborgia.com

Editorís note: If anyone has any questions or comments, please submit them to cborgia@duart.com.
 

 

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