Myspace’s Joseph Patel Bringing Fans Back “one person at a time”

Posted March 25

When the newly relaunched Myspace threw open its doors in January, it presented the world with a new look and tons of new functionalities, as well a singular challenge: That people allow the once mighty service back into their lives as the de facto social network for music.

It’s a hefty plea — given that the word “Myspace” has, in many respects, become synonymous with “passe” in recent years — but one that Myspace’s new Vice President of Content and Creative, Joseph Patel, thinks entirely reasonable. The O Music Blog spoke with Patel down at SXSW — as Myspace relaunched its popular Secret Show series with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Kid Cudi — about the future of the website, content creation and winning back users, one person at a time.

Back in 2011 — when Myspace sold to advertising network Specific Media for a measly sum — Internet pundits were prepared to read the once-behemoth social network its last rights. However, the site was soon put on life support with a little help from Justin Timberlake, who took a stake in the company that summer and vowed to “bring sexy back” (Sorry, I had to) to Myspace. And after a pretty impressive teaser video for the site hit the scene in September 2012, it seemed that Timberlake and Co. had successfully breathed new life into the service, an impression that became all the more clear when the new Myspace rolled out to everyone this past January.

The new Myspace is sleek and easy to use and — best of all — hosts 52 million tracks. It also boasts a new editorial direction, adding content into the mix for the first time ever via its new “Discover” section, which is managed by Patel. Although still in its infancy, the “Discover” section speaks to the future of the revivicated service: its ability to help both bands and fans find new tunes.

Check out our Q&A with Patel below for more on the new Myspace:

So how did you end up working for Myspace?

I was working for Vice — I had been there for about three years — and then [musician] Kenna, who is part of the creative team, had been after me for about eight months to join this team and Myspace. The first time he asked me to take a meeting I took the meeting out of courtesy. And every time I kept meeting with him over those eight months I wanted to poke holes in what I was seeing — he showed me the new design and functionality — and I couldn’t poke holes in it.

It was too tempting an opportunity to turn down, because one, I think — for me personally — I don’t think anyone had filled the void of what Myspace used to be in the public consciousness. The way musicians could be connected with other musicians. The way musicians could control one place to have all their stuff and the way fans could discover new music. If I was friends with Daft Punk and they were friends with Phoenix, I could check out Phoenix. Then I could go to Phoenix’s page and they were friends with this other guy — that was just how the discovery of new music happened. It was very easy. I don’t think anyone since Myspace went away filled that void.

The other part that was interesting to me was that they wanted to turn it into a media platform. Nobody does that. No social network, no music service has their own media platform. Building one from scratch was a really interesting opportunity for me. I couldn’t say ‘no.’

I think A-Trak had written a column for Huffington Post where he said he missed Myspace around the same time I was deciding whether I should do this or not. That really solidified it for me. I call him the ‘whistle-blower.’ We joke around and he calls himself the ‘whistle-blower’ now. So that’s sort of how I got roped in and wanted to do it.

So what’s your plan for editorial content? I know you have some featured artists now. How does that work?

So all the original content will live on the section of the site called ‘Discover’ and the strategy includes two real pieces. One is we don’t want to just cover bands — the site is aimed at all creatives. When I was a teenager and I was first obsessed with music, that’s how I got into photography — by studying my favorite bands’ album covers. And my interest in filmmaking came from the directors of my favorite music videos. Music was the gateway to my interest in photography and filmmaking and fashion and style and design — and I want the content that we do to reflect something like that. It’s a very similar experience for a lot of people who are music obsessives. Music becomes their lens into a lot of different things.

We’re going to cover the creative world at large, but through the lens of music. We’re going to do written editorial, we’re going to do original video content. I spent six years at MTV and four years at Vice doing that.

The other thing that I think we have a real advantage in is our community. We also want to turn the lens onto our community. So we’ll do, ‘Here’s seven music video directors you need to work with right now. Here are the five best art directors that you don’t know.’ Really highlight the people in our community that are doing interesting things.

What is your team like?

So the team is slowly coming together. It’s a mix of writers, editors, producers — just young, creative people. I hired Benjamin Meadows-Ingram, who came from Billboard and before that was at Vibe. He also, on the side, does a magazine called Brooklyn Bound that I’m a fan of. We hired a couple of writers and a couple of content producers.

We’re starting from scratch. I’m working with production companies like Foundation out of LA. We’re working with a crew called Motion Family, another called High Five Collective.

I just really want to tap into young, creative energy. Technology is so cheap right now and there’s so many people doing so many interesting things. Ultimately our site is about empowering artists to do the things they want to do and turning fans on to new things. Discovery, I guess, is what you’d call it.

And you guys are bringing back the Myspace secret shows, too?

Yeah. One of the things that Myspace is known for and did really well were the secret shows. To me that’s an idea that needed revitalizing. In general, we’re trying to keep a heads-down, humble approach. We just wanted to do three shows with a good lineup at SXSW. I think collectively the 10 artists that we have are not playing any other shows at SXSW so this is the one time to see them. I’m nervous, but I think it will be good.

So are you guys bringing them back in New York and LA as well?

The idea is to bring back the shows as a program throughout the year nationwide. I think it will be in New York and LA and other cities throughout the country.

So what do you think of the response that the new Myspace has gotten so far? People seem pretty eager to poke holes.

It’s funny, the initial response we had with the video that we released in the fall was really positive. I think people liked the design element of it — it looks different. It doesn’t look like the old Myspace. There’s a lot of skeptics that we have to win over, understandably, myself included. I think I’m maybe the harshest critic on our team.

Again, I think there’s a need for it. I think people are curious. We just have to keep working to adhere to our principles. All the artists I’ve talked to, when I show them the site and what it’s going to be in the next few weeks — we’re adding new features every week — they really like it. There’s analytics on the site that we’re giving to artists that they really don’t find anywhere else and that they really can see the power of. It encourages me and it encourages us to work harder. But it’s a challenge and I think we all acknowledge that. I don’t think we’re coming out of the gate saying, ‘Look at us! We’re back!’

Ultimately, as long as the product is good and the experience is good and people like using it, then we’ll draw people back. I think a lot of industry people maybe have their own opinions, but really it’s up to the people that use the site.

Last night, for example, there was someone who saw the sign announcing tonight’s show and the girl was like, ‘How do I get into the show?’ and I said, ‘Well, you should go to the new Myspace and sign up.’ And her friend was like, ‘Myspace? Who uses Myspace?’ And I was like, ‘All right, if you don’t want to go to the show that’s fine.’ And she says, ‘No, no, I really want to go.’ And I told her, I said, ‘Look, here’s my email address, you go to the new site and you sign up. If you still hate it, if you still think it’s corny, then fair. But if you don’t, then I would like to know.’ And she emailed me this morning and was like, ‘Oh, not what I thought. Actually, this is kind of cool.’ That to me was like, ‘OK, one person at a time.’

Image courtesy of Flickr, Photos by Mavis