Outgrowing Tom?

Musicians look beyond MySpace

Candee D*Vine wants to be your friend! She's 19, bisexual, and "up for anything." If you approve her request, she'll invite you to peek at her naughty Webcams, remind you about drink specials 2,000 miles from your house, or "pimp out" your profile. The one thing she won't do, however, is buy your records or check out your shows.

Candee is among the perils of MySpace. Although many artists use the site effectively to grow their fan base, it has become a hassle for some aspiring bands, DJs, and producers. Their list of complaints is long — the user interface is ugly and hard to navigate, the site is littered with intrusive ads, there aren't enough customization options, and maintaining a high-quality presence on the site means constantly filtering out junk comments and scammers. And as more artists set up profiles, MySpace's music community is beginning to look like a massive bazaar with thousands of sellers but no buyers.

Like Friendster, Tribe.net, and dozens of sites before it, MySpace is losing its place at the center of the social networking universe. Some are departing for the cleaner, more feature-rich Facebook, while others are opting for more specialized sites such as the business-oriented LinkedIn. And musicians are increasingly turning to Virb.com, which offers a more artist-friendly way to share songs and connect with fans and collaborators.

Beyond the standard menu of social networking features, Virb.com allows artists to post unlimited amounts of music — for now, at least — and organize it by release, with cover art and liner notes. This alone is a significant draw for musicians frustrated by MySpace's four-song limit. Others are attracted to the site's uncluttered user interface. It's easy to browse, with a folksy-minimal Web 2.0 feel. And Virb's novelty and simplicity have so far kept at bay social networking designers and marketers, meaning fewer ads, better-looking profiles, less spam, and higher-quality connections.

Steve Schieberl, a Seattle producer who makes electronic music as Let's Go Outside, recently abandoned his MySpace profile — and his 1,300 "friends" — and moved all his music over to Virb. "MySpace's gross amount of ad space and lack of aesthetics, reliability, and functionality have ruined its potential," he says. "A few alternatives have sprung up here and there, but none were worth making the switch until Virb came along. It's a less cluttered network, with far superior streaming media players and an elegant look."

London-based DJ Tom Baker is also a recent Virb convert. "It looks much better, you can upload lots of content, and there are no amateur porn stars and rednecks constantly "dropping by to show some love,'" he says. He hasn't yet given up on MySpace, however. "It's just so well established now."

Other artists continue to swear by MySpace as a marketing tool. Bob Hansen, of the Seattle house act Jacob London, reports that he still gets plenty of remix offers and international bookings through the site, and San Francisco-based producer Dmitri C.O.A. does a healthy business there, producing beats for aspiring rappers and getting graphic design jobs through his MySpace connections. And the sheer size of MySpace means that any reasonably established artist needs to have a presence, since so many of their fans' social lives revolve around the site.

But the growing appeal of sites like Virb suggests a broader trend in the social networking world: While the first wave of successful sites tried to be all things to all people, users are increasingly turning to more specialized communities. Facebook is rapidly displacing MySpace as the place to maintain social connections, while more adults are putting LinkedIn at the center of their professional lives.

Sites like Virb fit in a different niche. It's both an outlet for amateur and semi-professional creative types and hosts a smaller, more exclusive-feeling community of like-minded hipsters. It seems that the only remaining appeal of generalized sites like MySpace is the convenience of maintaining a single presence for one's diverse interests. Or, as Bob Hansen puts it, "I'd like to have just one place where I can meet artsy types, make business connections, and skeez on 16-year-old girls, but it's just not happening."

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