EMI goes after MySpace with new site, has iTunes in sights


Oct 15, 2008
source ars

The music label biz can be lonely. Sure, a label gets to meet a bunch of musicians, but then it sends all its work to retailers and concert venues, and never get to meet its actual customers—the fans. EMI wants to get to know you and help you find interesting new artists, so it has launched EMI.com with some ambitious plans for the future.

Launched as a beta (heavy on the "b"), EMI.com is primarily a music discovery tool for now. A Flash player features a selection of popular full tracks and clips (but mostly clips), behind-the-scenes content for artists like Lily Allen, and other music videos offer a decent set of initial content. One of the site's most appealing features is aimed at chronic music fans, as a "Discover" section allows users to type in the name of any band to receive recommendations of similar EMI artists. Playing tracks in the Flash player also continuously updates a "More like what's playing" section with more recommendations.

What EMI is doing here certainly isn't anything new to users of Last.fm, Pandora, or any of the wide variety of other music discovery tools and communities that have thrived over the last few years. Plus, other labels, like Universal, have rich interactive sites where users can watch artist videos and even remix them with web-based tools for fun, contests, and sharing with friends. What is interesting about EMI.com is that, besides coming directly from the smallest of the four major labels, EMI isn't stopping at this basic set of tools (remember, it's a beta). It eventually plans to introduce everything from embeddable widgets so users can easily share content from their favorite artists on blogs and website, and even the ability to purchase music directly from the site.
Traditionally, most consumers have never been that familiar with any particular label. They buy music from Best Buy, Walmart, or iTunes—now the number one music retailer in the US—regardless of which label has a tiny logo somewhere in the liner notes. But this is the primary motivation behind EMI's new website, a label spokesperson told Ars. EMI wants to learn more about its artists' fans directly from the fans themselves, and eventually wants to do more to foster relationships between the two. "Our primary objective is to create a 'learning lab,' an area where we can test ways to connect our artists with fans and better understand what consumers want, and now they want to experience music," EMI's spokesperson told Ars.

Down the road, EMI is considering more tools for artists, such as blogs and more media content. The idea is to offer a permanent home base for all the content produced by and for artists, including promotional material, behind-the-scenes album documentaries, and many of the nomadic content that shines briefly in the marketing spotlight, then disappears into the hard-to-find recesses of the Internet. Artists are already doing a lot of this relationship building and content publishing at other sites, and especially social networks like MySpace, so this was again emphasized by EMI's spokesperson as an area of experimentation and learning for the label.

Once EMI flips the switch on its own digital music store, however, things could get a bit more interesting. EMI's spokesperson didn't want to talk about the label's relationship with retailers on the record, but there's no way around it: EMI would effectively bypass middlemen like iTunes and Walmart with its own store, which could change a lot about the music retail dynamic. EMI could be in a position to undercut retailer pricing or, what is more likely, pocket a larger portion of each track and album sale at standard prices. Customers may also find less of a reason to walk into Walmart or shop at iTunes, though, which could have repercussions ranging from evolved competition to souring relationships.

These events may only play out, however, if EMI's "testbed" website actually gains traction with music fans. We can't remember the last time we saw links or embedded videos from Universal's site, and with other companies like MySpace already owning the market for interaction between artists and their fans, EMI will have to fight a serious battle for eyeballs if it gets serious with EMI.com and removes the beta badge.