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SXSW 2012: MTV's new plan to dominate online music

March 15, 2012 |  4:05 pm

Artists.MTV: Click for full SXSW coverage

It’s been 31 years since MTV ushered in a new means of artist promotion by popularizing the music video. As the network expanded its programming beyond songs and the Web became the go-to place for artist discovery, sites such as YouTube soon supplanted MTV as the destination for music clips. Today at the South by Southwest festival and conference in Austin, Texas, MTV outlined an ambitious new plan to increase its online presence.

This spring the Viacom-owned company will launch the multiplatform Artists.MTV, giving independent and major label acts a new space to promote their works while dangling the carrot of promotion across its stable of television networks -- MTV, MTV2, VH1, Palladia and CMT, among them. Van Toffler, president of Viacom Music Group, offered a preview to SXSW attendees Thursday afternoon, and earlier in an interview with Pop & Hiss acknowledged that MTV has its work cut out for it.

Artists.MTV, after all, will be entering a crowded space, and call upon acts to manage their content. The ultimate goal, Toffler said, is for artists to “get heard, get promoted and get paid.” MTV, he said, isn’t attempting to control the digital retail space, and will instead allow acts to use Artists.MTV as a portal to their retailer of choice. “We’ll allow a band to sell their music from the dingy basements or iTunes or wherever they want,” he said.  

PHOTOS: South by Southwest

Toffler described the current “online music experience” as thus: “You may discover music on Spotify, Pandora or even MTV Hive,” Hoffler said. “Then you look them up on Wikipedia. Then you go to your Facebook page and tell your friends. Then you go to Songkick and see if they’re touring. Then if the artist is lucky, you go to iTunes.”

“It feels like there’s an infinite environment to discover music -- buy it, listen to it or pirate it,” he continued. “But there doesn’t seem to be an uniformed galvanized place where artists could get information to their fans.”

In addition to the basics of providing space for video and news, Artists.MTV is partnering with marketing and retail software firm Topspin, which will enable acts to immediately use Artists.MTV to sell music and merch to fans. Toffler promised additional partnerships to be announced in the coming weeks, as Artists.MTV aims to be a one-stop shop in which acts can sell concert tickets and even receive direct payments from fans via a “tip jar.”

FULL COVERAGE: South by Southwest

Artists.MTV opens to artists in May, and fans will be able to view the site in a private beta later in the spring. A full-blown launch is slated for the summer. While artists, managers and labels are already maintaining an act’s presence on sites such as YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Tumblr, in addition to an act’s own Web page, Toffler isn’t worried about acts embracing Artists.MTV. He points to the networks ability to promote on television, and promises Artists.MTV will utilize a sophisticated recommendation system, connecting, say, a fan of Ryan Adams to the Head and the Heart.

“You go from living alone on an island to living on the mainland,” Toffler said.

Yet the largest selling point of Artists.MTV may be its promise to connect acts with each of MTV’s three main television networks. Soon after launch, Artists.MTV will offer a program it’s dubbing “Full Frontal.” One artist per month will be selected for a promotional campaign on MTV, VH1 and CMT.  The chosen band, Toffler said, will be picked by fans and a committee of artists, managers and producers. About 10 acts will be voted upon each month by fans, with MTV’s panel taking over from there, Toffler said.

Acts can have a presence on Artists.MTV but opt out of the Full Frontal program. Those who opt in, Toffler said, stand the chance of being discovered by MTV’s music supervisors. Uploaded music then will be cleared for air and ready to be promoted.

“We’re definitely going to have informational tutorials toward rights,” Toffler said. “Artists can opt out. Once you opt in, you’re granting the right to be included. Some artists may not want that.”

Chris Graham, director of digital marketing at Wind-Up Records, told artists to spend time optimizing their own sites rather than jumping on every new platform. “Most people follow these bands on Twitter and don’t need an app to see what these artists are saying,” he said during a discussion on mobile marketing.

Toffler said he’s prepared for any skepticism. “I’ve learned from MySpace, iTunes, Rhapsody and Spotify. They’re all great and they’re all right, but as a fan, is there one place I can hang out and spend hours? That’s what we’re trying to do and not be too heavy-handed.”

“It’s an ecosystem no one else in the world has,” Toffler continued. “Besides the Internet platform where you can control your image and connect with your fans, you can also fall into a system that could provide additional exposure that no one else could.”

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-- Todd Martens from Austin, Texas

Image: Artists.MTV art. Credit: Courtesy of MTV

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