When MySpace first launched, one of its main draws was the music offered by independent artists on the site, something which generated a strong following among new musicians and their friends. These young artists were using the platform as a way to get their name out there, share their tunes, and attract a fan base.

As MySpace's popularity grew, other big-name talents flocked to the network, setting up profiles and adding all their fans as friends. Using MySpace became a standard way artists would complement their own web site, often a static creation produced by their label. On MySpace, artists could communicate with their fans, share info on upcoming concerts, and gain interest for their new releases by promoting them as free downloads or by letting fans add the tracks to their MySpace profiles.

As other social networks came onto the scene, some artists ventured out, creating profiles on sites like Facebook, Bebo, and the like. But MySpace remained the number one spot for music, musicians, and music fandom when it came to social networking.

Now, MySpace's function as the central place for fans to gather is starting to change.

Today, a growing number of artists are using their social networking profiles to funnel their fans out of those large, public networks and into their own private social networks.

Take for example, social network Thisis50.com, a fan site for rapper 50 Cent. The network is less of a traditional online fan club and more of a place for 50 Cent to showcase new tunes as well as interact with his fans by releasing news and commenting on fans' profile pages.

Thisis50.com

Why Artists Want Their Own Networks

On the surface, it may not seem like there's anything too different about this private social network and a typical MySpace profile page, but behind the scenes, it's a whole new ball game: the difference is the control.

Says Chris "Broadway" Romero, director for new media at G-Unit Records, which handles Thisis50, "The thing that separates Thisis50 from MySpace is we control the e-mail database. We can email members if we want to."

Not only that, but artists can also sell ads on the site, offer downloads, and sell merchandise. But most importantly, they own the content and data, something MySpace can't offer.

These artists aren't worried about data portability and how to make it easy for fans to jump from a main social network like MySpace to their private network. They know their fans will just follow them there.

So, now, the big social networks are just becoming a means to advertise to fans about the "real" social network - the one the artists control. These private social network's do double-duty, functioning as the artists' main homepage as well. No longer boring, label-produced marketing tools, these private social networks are a personalized way for artists to reach their community while also promoting their products - music and merchandise.

Building Private Social Networks

To build these private social networks, services like Ning and Social Project's Flux are providing the tools.

Flux's fShare product, for example, provides a way for anyone to share content like videos, blogs, or photos across the social web, be it on MySpace, Facebook, LJ, or Blogger, as well as one any Flux-powered community. An artist who puts the fShare widget code on their site provides their fans an easy send that content across the web: by email, embedded code, or directly to social networking sites.

When an artist upgrades to Flux's largest package, Flux Custom, the possibilities are even greater: member profile, community pages, easy integration of photos and videos, discussion boards, pre-built templates and customizable layouts, content moderation and flagging tools, and more.

Fans benefit, too, from using a centralized service like Flux. They can create one Flux profile and then join the networks of any artist using the platform without having to re-register on each site.

Meanwhile, as the fans participate on these networks, the artists get detailed information about their users - what the watched, what the clicked on, and what they shared - analytics MySpace couldn't provide.

The cost for artists to get started is relatively low, too - only $34 per month at Ning and at Flux, it's a percentage of the revenue earned. The artists might hire someone to run the site, but once fans get involved, they're often the ones posting content, so the staff doesn't have to work nearly as hard to keep the site fresh.

So far, the model is working. Fans are not only participating, but are also happy to buy directly from the site, be it music, ringtones, or merchandise, again making artists question their supposed need for a label.

Today, several well-known artists have launched their own networks built on the Flux platform, including The Cure, Sheryl Crow, Ashlee Simpson, Pussycat Dolls, Nicole Scherzinger, Esmee Denters, Halfway to Hazard, Souljaboy, Lil John, Mims, Pitbull, Snoop Dogg, Kevin Michael, J Holiday, and, of course, 50 cent.

Concerns

However, some questions comes to mind: for one, if the real musician-to-fan interaction is moving off of MySpace and similar networks, will this hurt them? MySpace especially draws strength from its music offerings and has plans to launch a music service in the future.

While well-known artists might be relocating their biggest fans to interact with them on their own private networks, MySpace shouldn't be too impacted by the loss just yet, although they may miss out on some potential revenue streams once their music store goes live.

However, MySpace will still remain a launchpad for new artists for some time. Once these artists make it big, they may launch their own site. But behind them, plenty of upcoming artists will be available to fill the void.

Another concern some have voiced is that these disparate offerings will lead to "a vast disarray of networks in our midst," which isn't "good news for the social web in general."

Maybe, but maybe not.

As some have guessed, social networking is becoming "a feature, not a destination," so we're only going to see more social networks in the future...but this doesn't have to be a bad thing.

If Flux and Ning joined up with the Data Portability movement, for example, moving in and out of these various networks wouldn't be a big deal.

And then we could enjoy social web, the music, the fandom, and whatever else comes along next, the way that it is meant to be.