How MySpace Inadvertently Launched Billie Eilish

Lately I’ve noticed a fair amount of nostalgia for MySpace.  The nostalgia seems less focused on the platform itself, but more focused on "Tom" — the co-founder who greeted everyone as their first connection when they signed up.  

It was a quaint idea for the founder of a tech company to be your first “friend.” Imagine if other tech companies had followed suit?  It could have been interesting to have Zuckerberg be my first friend on Facebook, or Sergey to be my first friend on the recently-shut-down Google Plus.  How would you have felt if, when you first signed up for Office365, Bill Gates sent you a welcome document in Word?

What MySpace was doing was groundbreaking. First and foremost, it was setting the stage not only for the future of social media, but also for the democratization of music on the internet.  Napster certainly broke down the doors of the corporate music establishment, but MySpace made it easy for anyone to put music online and for everyone else to find it.  



I worked at eMusic by way of IUMA — the Internet Underground Music Archive — and we were doing something similar.  That company was filled with incredibly smart people and we made a great dent in the music industry.  

Nowadays you have industry heavyweights like Spotify and Pandora attacking the industry from different angles of the user experience and Apple right in the middle, trying its best to leverage these new approaches while acting like an old-school label.   Even YouTube is trying to get into the game with YouTube Music.  

Those of us over the age of 40 tend to gravitate to these platforms because this is where the music we like resides, but what about “the kids”?  They are all about Soundcloud.

SoundCloud and a few platforms much like them are the true heirs of MySpace and eMusic.  This is where anyone can post anything and find a following.  SoundCloud has been the launching pad for a ton of artists the last few years (most of whom seem to have the name “Lil” something or other).  

Even industry darling Billie Eilish came from SoundCloud (if that name means nothing to you, ask your teenage kids — they’ll know who that is).  SoundCloud is easy to access, has a pretty simple UI, and is inherently viral because the way you discover music is by seeing what others are listening to.  You can search and stream or peruse and stream.  It’s simple.

The Internet has always been a self-publishing medium.  It has made it easy for anyone to put out their point of view or their art and find like-minded people who can share, support and build on a common idea.  The Internet has made it easy for people to be sociable without being social, and music taps into that situation very cleanly, because too often musical tastes are considered strange, or even too personal to share with others.  Music tastes can create a community and that community can allow you to find people whom you relate to.  Music is able to tap into the zeitgeist and create affinity that doesn’t otherwise get tapped.  

So that brings me back to Tom.  MySpace has gone through a couple of iterations, and I believe it recently shut down for good.  I am sure Tom is long gone, many years back.  He probably made his money and became a venture capitalist like the rest of the dot-com illuminati.  I hope he did.  He probably deserves it.  

If he was smart, he put some money into SoundCloud and maybe even personally backed Billie Eilish, since she is the sole heir of the musical fortunes of MySpace at this point.  In the meantime, I wonder who will be next tastemaker to emerge from SoundCloud or whatever music platform the kids are listening to today?

Stay tuned.  It won’t take too long.

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