After years of leading the pioneering alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins and then Zwan, Billy Corgan has struck out on his own. The singer, songwriter, and guitar player is touring to support the June 21 release of TheFutureEmbrace, his first solo effort. Corgan is an active member of MySpace, where his homepage, www.myspace.com/billycorgan, has an extended network of more than 36,000 people. He spends as much as an hour a day on the site exchanging messages with his fans.
BusinessWeek Online Senior Writer Steve Rosenbush interviewed Corgan on May 27. Corgan, who spoke on a cell phone from a street corner in Chicago, had just finished playing in the Windy City, his hometown, and was about to leave for a series of shows in Europe. Corgan shared his thoughts on MySpace and how he believes it points toward the evolution of a new business model for the music industry. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow:
Q: You've had a Web site of your own, www.billycorgan.com, for some time. Why did you become so involved with MySpace?
A: I think what makes MySpace really interesting is that it allows people to turn it into whatever they want. For me, it was a way to connect with my fans on a one-on-one basis in a way that I wasn't able to do before. It's much closer to the feedback that I would get from someone on the street. It doesn't feel like I'm towering above them. Even with my own Web site, it was hard to achieve that.
Up until MySpace, my interactions with the Internet were negative. The anonymity can bring out the negative in people who use message boards. People argue, and I'm not the kind of person who's going to argue it out. But MySpace encourages a personal connection. It makes everyone kind of equal. I don't have a message board on my own site anymore. I felt like I was creating a forum for people to be negative.
There's a personal touch to MySpace. It creates a positive environment. There's a quality that's really endearing, I think. A 32-year-old mom with two kids who leaves a message on my page saying "I really like your music" isn't trying to get attention. She's trying to find people of a like mind.
Q: Do you think MySpace will turn out to be a sustainable business or a passing trend?
A: The Internet is the classic open-air marketplace. If someone comes up with a better idea, people will run over there. Ultimately, MySpace will have to figure out ways to stay ahead of the curve. Right now, to me, it's cutting-edge in terms of what it can offer.
Can they take MySpace to another place? I don't know. But I do know from my interaction with them that they have their heart in the right place. [Their offices] don't have the feeling of a corporate place. They let any musician post up to four [original] songs for free. That is such forward thinking.
Q: How much time to you spend on MySpace?
A: I'm on every day, sometimes as much as an hour. I spent a lot of time putting up my autobiography and responding to e-mails.
Q: How is MySpace changing the music business?
A: It's creating a new paradigm. Right now, music labels are concerned about their ability to stay in business. MTV has moved into entertainment, but it has kept other people from trying to go into the music business. It has slowed down the progress of the video music industry and the music industry. And that's fine. They have their own self-interests. And God bless them, that's what they're there for.
But MySpace throws a wrench into all that. Now that MySpace is here, bands don't necessarily need a label to be heard. So maybe music will be available for free online. But artists will make money by attracting more people to their concerts. Or they'll make money from personal appearances or commercial endorsements.
MySpace is hinting at the idea that there are other ways to generate energy. And the world is all about energy. If you can generate energy, it will eventually translate into business. MySpace is on the forefront of shifting the idea of what is worth money. It's just the beginning. It's just starting to work itself out.
The No. 1-viewed artist on MySpace is Tila Tequila. She's a personality star. She's a beautiful woman, and people just like looking at all these crazy pictures of her. She doesn't need a label to give her a stamp of approval. She's creating her own business model just being herself on MySpace.