LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Here we are at the end of the decade taking a look back at the changes in music and culture. Today, let's revisit the year that MySpace launched. That would be 2003, and MySpace was still just an open social network - meaning you could add friends who were total strangers and customize your page. This was new at the time. And before long, MySpace had millions of users.
Today, Facebook may generate more buzz, but MySpace is still one of the most popular sites for musicians and bands trying to promote themselves. Claire O'Neill reports.
(Soundbite of music)
CLAIRE O'NEILL: In 2007, the Ting Tings were just starting out as an electropop duo in England.
Ms. KATIE WHITE (Band Member, The Ting Tings): We had three songs and we put two of them on MySpace.
O'NEILL: Katie White of the Ting Tings told NPR last year. Then, they played a few small house parties.
Ms. WHITE: And then the third one was being advertised on, like, big radio stations going, the Ting Tings are having a house party, and it was like, what?
O'NEILL: With just those few songs on MySpace, they were signed to a label. And almost overnight, they were everywhere.
(Soundbite of song, "Shut Up & Let Me Go")
THE TING TINGS (Band): (Singing) �holding me. I'm not containable. This love now, it's not sustainable.
O'NEILL: On the radio, on MTV, in an iPod commercial. And the story's not uncommon. Almost every band has a MySpace page. It's a free and easy way to let people hear your music. Although not necessarily a way to get discovered, there are over 5 million artists registered on MySpace.
So how did what started as a social networking site become the online home for musicians? Julia Angwin, a technology editor at the Wall Street Journal and author of the book "Stealing MySpace," has a few ideas.
Ms. JULIA ANGWIN (Author, "Stealing MySpace): Accidental is the keyword for all of MySpace's history. There's really no reason that these guys should've succeeded. They had terrible technology. Their ideas weren't so unique. They executed poorly. Their site still looks like a mess. And yet a lot of their success was because, in the early days, they really listened to their customers and gave them what they wanted.
O'NEILL: And a huge number of those customers were musicians eager to share their songs with the public.
Ms. ANGWIN: Musicians love the MySpace platform, because not only is it a place to upload your music, because there are other places you can do that online, but it's a place to build a fan base.
O'NEILL: Here's how Daniel Hunter did it six years ago, when he started posting music as PlayRadioPlay.
Mr. DANIEL HUNTER (Musician): I just started out recording songs, you know, in my garage in freshman year of high school. And eventually, I just decided to start posting stuff online, not really looking for a fan base, but just as a place to put it. And when I was, like, 15, I would just sit there and I would look for profiles of people who had similar music tastes and I would just add them. So it was kind of just mass personal spam. Through that, I kind of developed a fan base. And after I kind of built up a small one, it kind of started taking care of itself just because people spread the word for me.
O'NEILL: His 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 he didn't have the same amount of freedom as he did during his MySpace days.
Mr. HUNTER: Pretty much, I wasn't really allowed to just release new music whenever I wanted. Like, you know, in the early days, since MySpace was there, I would record a song from midnight to 6 a.m. or something, and then right before I went to bed at 7 or 8 a.m. in the morning I would just post it online and then go to sleep. And then I'd wake up and, you know, I'd have a few thousand hits on it. So I think kids felt that was a very, very honest thing. And it was.
O'NEILL: So Hunter left the label. Now 20 years old, he's back on MySpace, posting music as Analog Rebellion.
(Soundbite of song "Brain = Heart (I Need To Know)")
Mr. HUNTER: Talk, talk with your mouth, but nothing comes out.
The Wall Street Journal's Julie Angwin says today, no one uses MySpace for social networking.
Ms. ANGWIN: Now, it's a music discovery tool - that's all it is. And if they can hang on to that, they will be lucky. Because the truth is that there are plenty of people competing for that role, and they are going to have to defend that turf.
O'NEILL: And it may take more than accidents to do that.
Claire O'Neill, NPR News, Washington.
MONTAGNE: And how do you find music today? We ask a host of music writers, industry executives and musicians. You can read their answers and give us yours at NPRMusic.org.