By Ray Waddell
NASHVILLE (Billboard) - The secret's out: MySpace Music Secret Shows are a hit. Social networking pioneer MySpace has created its most successful music program with the intimate Secret Shows series, whose 150th installment will feature Gnarls Barkley on June 8 at Irving Plaza in New York.
MySpace Music launched the Secret Shows franchise in January 2006 and has since hosted such acts as Rilo Kiley, Moby, Maroon 5, the Killers, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Tenacious D, Lily Allen, Ice Cube, James Blunt and Neil Diamond in cities around the world.
The concept is the brainchild of MySpace Music editor Isac Walter, who wanted to attract fans to a MySpace profile where they could find out about promotional shows, with an urgent call to action.
"We have such a large social network we can pull from that we literally can go into any city and announce a show 48 hours in advance and fill an entire venue," Walter says. Admission to the shows is free.
If fans sign up as a "friend" of the Secret Show profile, "you'll get a bulletin that says, 'Tomorrow night, the Kooks in Portland (Oregon) at Backspace, first come, first served,'" Walter says. "If you really want to see the show, you can go down and get in line."
Secret Shows is MySpace's most successful and longstanding music program to date, and the program with the most user interaction, Walter says. "Almost half a million kids have signed up for the Secret Shows profile, and those kids are keeping the profile active, going in and requesting bands to play."
To enlist a band for a Secret Show, Walter will typically approach a label when a particular act is already on tour or has a timely album release."Preferably we'll do it with a band that is already playing a much larger venue (in the market), perhaps 1,000 or 2,000 capacity, and then try and get them to do a really small, intimate show where core fans will be able to come out and enjoy it," he says. "Kids will go and wait in line for hours on end, and the reward basically is the longer you're willing to wait, the more chance you have of getting in to see one of your favorite bands perform."
Bands play gratis in exchange for promotion on MySpace Music, and any costs are absorbed by the label as a marketing and promotion expense. "Clubs are really happy to get involved because obviously they get the bar (revenue), but they also get to say, 'Slayer played at my club,'" Walter adds.
MySpace has staged Secret Shows in 30 states and has launched the program in several other countries, including Australia, Germany, England, France, Spain, Italy, Canada and Japan.
The shows are not typically webcast on MySpace because of technological challenges. "If (the technology) does become available so that we can just set up a box and webcast the show for everybody to watch, I think it's pretty likely that we will, and I don't think the technology is too far off," Walter says.