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MySpace Music: It's all about the data

Courtney Holt, president of the News Corp.-owned social site's music division, talked about the bright future for digital music number-crunching at an event on Tuesday.

NEW YORK--"The music business discovered data only to show how bad it was getting," MySpace Music President Courtney Holt said in a talk on Tuesday morning. "The first time I was asked to get data when I was working at Universal (Music Group) was, 'How many songs are being stolen?'"

Holt was speaking at an event called the New Music Seminar, a day-long conference geared toward the artist side of the record business. The angle of the event was dealing with a paradox that has emerged in the past decade: the Internet has launched so many new channels for independent artists to emerge, but it's also become flooded with so many of them that it's not much easier for a band to make it big. And though Holt, who was the keynote speaker at the conference, talked more about his experiences as a music industry veteran than he did about his relatively new gig at MySpace, he did drop a few tidbits.

Most specifically, he talked about his faith in the unprecedented levels of data and statistics that the digital age can bring to the music industry.

"It's more interesting to me when an artist is being 'playlisted' than played," he said, adding that a very popular MySpace Music user can have as much reach and influence as a terrestrial radio station, and that MySpace wants to track exactly who those key influencers are. "The sharing of the music is, to me, a better way to understand virality and interest than just a passive play."

MySpace Music, a free streaming audio service, was launched by the News Corp.-owned social network just under a year ago, and Holt was installed as its chief early this year. News Corp. reportedly plans to convert MySpace into an "entertainment portal," now that Facebook has solidly eclipsed it in the social-networking game. MySpace has other issues, too: a recent management shuffle that installed former Facebook exec Owen Van Natta as CEO, significant layoffs, and reports that the music labels were dissatisfied with the performance of MySpace Music.

Interestingly, Holt was quick to characterize MySpace Music as an independent entity. "MySpace Music is a joint venture that was formed last year. We are an independent company that is still owned in part by MySpace, but we have our own staff," Holt explained at the New Music Seminar event. "Defining who we're really going to be as a business is helpful, and I think there's been a lot of confusion."