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MySpace takes one small step in the right direction

The new Artist Dashboard helps return MySpace to its original mission: helping small, independent artists reach fans.

Once the world's largest social-networking service and an essential tool for musicians, MySpace has fallen upon hard times, but I'm encouraged by one of the new services the company announced Wednesday.

The MySpace Artist Dashboard is a new free tool for any artist with a music profile page on the site. For artists, it offers demographic information about the people who are visiting your site, and a breakdown of what they're doing there. The geographic data could be particularly useful for small touring bands to help plan their routes. I was also encouraged by the statement from MySpace Music President Courtney Holt, who's been running the company's music initiatives for a couple years now: "Whether you're a small-town garage band, an emerging indie, or a well-established act, our ultimate goal is to provide the right mix of tools and real-time data to help you gain a deep understanding of who your fans are and how best to reach them." That's exactly what MySpace should be focusing on.

An example version of the new MySpace Artist Dashboard. The Black Eyed Peas probably don't need this feature--they have teams of marketers working for them--but your band might.

Unfortunately, the other new piece, a music video service, will languish in obscurity as part of the misguided MySpace Music site. I've always argued that creating a special MySpace Music site for major label acts, and shutting out the unsigned and indie artists that made MySpace in the first place, was a tragic mistake. Now MySpace is perpetuating the exact same mistake with MySpace Music Videos.

Here's an example. The Curious Mystery--a great Seattle band that recently signed with indie label K Records--has a new video out for their song "Black Sand." It's available on their MySpace page. But if you run a search for "The Curious Mystery" or "Black Sand" on the Music Videos hub, this video doesn't show up. That's a failure. (Overall, MySpace still needs a lot of help with music search.)

So MySpace Music Videos is trying to focus on the big numbers--big bands, lots of hits, big advertising bucks. But fans already know where to watch videos from famous artists--it's called YouTube--and therefore have no particular reason to check out the MySpace Music Video hub. The fun of MySpace used to be that your roommate's band could appear right alongside names like Radiohead, and you could surf easily between content from all types of acts. Until MySpace Music stops distinguishing between big and small artists, it will remain irrelevant.

And in case you're wondering, yes, you can find The Curious Mystery's new video by searching YouTube.