October 28, 2008

Facebook Music: Are the Rumors True?

Last week I compiled a list of music technology websites and blogs in the post "On the Web: Music Technology Resources" as a resource for my readers. This week, I will return my focus to the evolution of online marketing pertaining to the music industry. In earlier posts, I outlined how both Apple and Myspace have consolidated basic web promotion tools into larger, more mainstream platforms to provide artists with the help they need to market, promote and “break” themselves. Similar trends are certainly continuing with a number of websites and new media platforms. For instance, online rumors have been circulating that Facebook, the most visited social networking site in the world, has been developing Facebook Music to claim a share of the online music market and to open up new revenue streams. However, the details surrounding the social networking behemoth’s plans to innovate with such an undertaking are little more than predictions at best. Interestingly, Facebook did attempt to launch a definitive music section in 2007 that never quite caught on, from which the graphic above is leftover. Around this time, an all-encompassing "Audio" application was removed from Facebook because of licensing issues. Given that the effective music applications and widgets featured within Facebook are already a staple in many users’ daily online activities, the results of the new Facebook Music seem promising. Although Myspace Music is up and running, and slowly but surely integrating the independent community back into their new business plan, Facebook has a better chance at pulling ahead in all aspects of online marketing if it does in fact surface soon.

Facebook currently has a solid foundation of music marketing resources that fit seamlessly with its well designed and easy to use interface. A number of independent and mainstream artists already utilize features like fan pages and the wide range of music programs to promote themselves on Facebook. The inclusion of specialized widgets in user profiles could give Facebook the upper hand over other networking sites because it would allow bands to warp and change the functionality of their profile to fit different online marketing plans. Most of the popular applications on Facebook are from other related websites such as Last.fm, iLike, and imeem that anybody can include in their Facebook profile. The article “Facebook Music is Getting Its Act Together” from the New York Times technology section raises an important point, “Facebook does not want to have to deal with licensing streaming music directly from record labels.” Therefore, instead of seeking out licensing deals from major labels, and building their own widgets like Myspace Music did, Facebook is turning its focus instead to other established websites, hoping they will lend their marketing content to Facebook for a symbiotic partnership. Some of these websites, like imeem and iLike, already have licensing agreements in place. If Facebook were to develop a music-specific profile based on the inclusion of these existing third-party applications by striking a deal with one or all of the websites that currently host applications on Facebook, they could continue to build upon what has already been an effective way for bands to promote and market themselves and keep legal negotiations over licensing content to a minimum. This would put them ahead of Myspace Music because they would have more time to concentrate on functionality and site usability instead of putting all their energy into obtaining licensing deals.

Given these factors, Facebook must now decide which website it will partner with to make Facebook Music a reality. iLike seems to be the clear choice. Their programs were introduced before music pages had surfaced and one is even designated a "Great App," causing any iLike activity on Facebook to show up more frequently in a user's news feed. Although iLike applications have been tested and function well, the media company does not have its own licensing for streaming content and instead covers digital material through Rhapsody's deals. For Facebook to take advantage of built in licensing, which is essential as described above, they would have to make a deal with Rhapsody directly because dealing with iLike as a middle man may become difficult. Imeem seems like a stronger candidate in this regard. They already have licensing for streaming content and their agreement also allows the content to be posted on external websites. However, if Facebook is looking to compete with Myspace Music they will have to provide more than just the ability to stream audio. Currently imeem only features a playlist generator and lacks effective search data or a solidified database of songs. This limits artists' options at a time when other marketing hubs are opening all promotional avenues in inventive ways. iLike, who's logo is pictured above, is much more developed in this area. With easily searchable artist databases, statistics and genre information it seems that Last.fm is the most overlooked of the other websites in the Facebook Music partnership debate. With the most comprehensive artist and song search criteria, a huge independent artist presence and their own licensing deals they seem to be the premier choice, even over iLike. As of now, the struggle between Myspace and Facebook for control of the internet continues. When Facebook Music matures, we will see whether it stands up to the competition.

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