As the end of the decade approaches, we're taking a look back at the changes the "aughts" have wrought on music and culture. For our next installment, let's set the wayback machine to 2003 — the year that MySpace launched.
In the beginning, MySpace was an open social network — meaning you could add friends who were total strangers and customize your page. This was new at the time. Soon enough, MySpace had millions of users.
Fast-forward and today, sites like Facebook fill that role. But somehow, MySpace is still around — and it's still one of the most popular sites for musicians and bands to promote themselves.
In 2007, members of The Ting Tings were just starting out as an electro-pop duo in England.
"We put two songs on MySpace," the band's Katie White told NPR last year. Then they played a few small house parties. "And then the third one was being advertised on big radio stations going, 'The Ting Tings are having a big house party,' and it was like, 'What!?' "
With just those few songs on MySpace, The Ting Tings got signed to a label. Practically overnight, it was everywhere: on the radio, on MTV, in an iPod commercial. And the band's story isn't uncommon.
A Page For Every Band
Almost every band has a MySpace page, which is a free and easy way to let people hear your music. But it's not necessarily a way to get discovered — there are more than 5 million artists registered on MySpace.
So how did what started as a social networking site become the online home for musicians?
" 'Accidental' is the keyword for all of MySpace's history," says Julia Angwin, a technology editor at The Wall Street Journal and author of the book Stealing MySpace. "There's no reason why these guys should have succeeded — they had terrible technology; their ideas weren't so unique; they were executed poorly; their site is still a mess. And yet a lot of their success was because, in the early days, they listened to their customers and gave them what they wanted."
A huge number of those customers were musicians eager to share their songs with the public.
"Musicians love the MySpace platform," says Angwin, "because not only is it a place to upload your music — there are other places to do that online — but it's a place to build a fan base."
Here's how Daniel Hunter did it six years ago, when he started posting music as playradioplay.
"I just started out recording songs in my garage freshman year of high school," Hunter says. "Eventually, I started posting stuff online, not looking for a fan base, but just as a place to put it. So when I was 15, I would just look for people and add them. So it was kind of just mass personal spam — just talking to a lot of people — and through that, I developed a fan base, a small one, and it just started taking care of itself because people spread the word for me."
The Downside Of MySpace's Success
Hunter's Internet popularity had already peaked when he signed to Island Records as a senior in high school. His online fans were not happy; they figured he'd sold out. And he discovered that he didn't have the same amount of freedom as he did during his MySpace days.
"I wasn't allowed to release new music whenever I wanted," Hunter says. "In the early days, because MySpace was there, I would record a song from 12 to 6 a.m., post it online at 7 a.m., and I'd wake up and have a few thousand hits on it. So kids felt that it was an honest thing. And it was."
So Hunter left the label. Now 20, he's back on MySpace, posting music as Analog Rebellion.
Angwin says that today, no one uses MySpace for social networking.
"Now, it's a music-discovery tool — that's all it is," she says. "And if they can hold on to that, then they'll be lucky. Because the truth is that there are plenty of people competing for that role, and they're going to have to defend that turf."
And it may take more than happy accidents to do that.