EMI today launched its consumer facing EMI.com website, firmly in Beta mode. The ‘Beta’ label is important as in the mid-term this is essentially going to be a live lab for experimenting with new tactics, strategies and technologies. Currently the site focuses on rich artist information including music, videos, photos, biographies and discographies, though videos and song streaming are only available to US and UK .
This is specifically not a challenger to iTunes (though I’d expect to see some store functionality rolled out in the future) but is aimed squarely at the social music discovery sites. Indeed, from the screenshot below you can see that it bears more than a passing resemblance to Last.FM, much of who’s functionality it also mirrors.
EMI of course have the key challenge of how to pull consumers to a record label branded site. Most music fans are label agnostic. Their relationships are with artists not with labels, certainly not major labels. So EMI will have to learn how it can develop a distinct identity, which is inherently problematic for a major label due to their need to have a broad artist portfolio.
There are quite a few key unanswered questions at this stage, like how they intend to drive traffic to their site. Links from artist pages would be a logical but politically sensitive tactic. EMI.com could be seen as being competitive to artist sites and EMI will need to find a unique and complementary role for the site. Repeats of recent run-ins with artist management will want to be avoided and EMI will have to be careful to ensure this doesn’t ruffle more feathers.
One thing I’d expect to see here is EMI to experiment with its brands strategy. This would be the perfect environment for testing just how far which types of bands can be pushed with which artists and quantitatively measure audience reaction.
Reservations aside, I think this is a cool initiative. It reflects EMI’s willingness, even strategic imperative, to experiment and to learn. EMI used to have the mantle of being among the most adventurous and innovative of the majors. Though that role has been assumed by Universal, this initiative is indicative of EMI’s intention to at least start running on the same lap as its biggest competitor.