MySpace has become the most widely used networking site for musicians. Bookings and publicity have been remarkably streamlined because the website enables musicians to showcase music, photos, and even videos. Today, a musician can simply direct a client to a MySpace page with a quick email, and a gig can often be confirmed within minutes, without waiting for a demo package to arrive in the mail.
Despite these many advantages, however, MySpace has not achieved all it set out to achieve. There’s often nothing that friendly about a MySpace “friend.” Instead of a social network, MySpace has become more like a mass publicity engine, making electronic connections that produce no real personal connection. Unfortunately, a mass publicity engine available to everyone is a contradiction in terms. As Gilbert and Sullivan once said, “When everybody’s somebody, then no one’s anybody.” If each musician sees himself as “the star” and the other person as a member of “the audience,” neither party gets what they want from the connections. In situations like this, when someone posts a comment on your site, it’s usually something like, “Thanks for the Add. Now go to my page and see how cool I am.” But what good is it be “connected” to another musician, if neither of you have carefully listened to each other’s music, or even visited each other’s sites?
To some degree, this problem is a byproduct of MySpace’s success. With millions of people online—many of whom are trying to uncritically gather as many friends as possible—it’s not easy to create a genuine spam-free community. I tried to deal with this by rejecting all friend requests that didn’t have some kind of connection to Indian music. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help thinking that what I really wanted was a social site that would connect me with other Indian musicians, without making me wade through all these people I wasn’t interested in. And what about people who are interested in Indian music but don’t play music themselves? How can I tell them from the compulsive “friend” collectors who have no real interest in my music at all?
When there’s too much information, less is more, if you’ve got the right stuff. Vinay Mahadik and Bharath Madhusudan, two security research engineers who work for McAfee software, have created Uhooroo.com, which presents an ingenious solution to this problem.
Mahadik is an amateur singer of Indian music who had auditioned for a local Indian pop band and been turned down. He wanted to know why and to find out how he could improve. Although not a musician himself, Madhusudan came from a lineage of Karnatik maestros (his great-grandfather was a court musician in the Mysore palace), and he wanted to use his computer skills in the service of music. Together they decided to create a social site which was not only completely devoted to Indian musicians and fans, but also would remain genuinely social. The first goal was relatively easy to aachieve. If you make it clear that a site is devoted to Indian music, no one else has any real incentive to intrude. But Mahadik and Madhusudan used some ingenious software formats to encourage people to “meet” new musical friends and give feedback.
Every time you visit the Uhooroo.com homepage, even if you just click the “refresh” button, there are links which change their connections to different pages on the site. These include links to featured artists, featured tracks, and the tracks most recently uploaded. This means that each user has several opportunities to be encountered first and thus the center of attention. There are also several links to specific genres, such as classical instrumentals, devotional vocals, etc.
Every song has its own page, which has several ways of being rated. Each visitor can click on a series of one to five stars near the top of the page, and the total ratings received are listed in a graph. There are also places where visitors can write comments. There is even an automatic rating system, which measures how long each visitor listens to each track and how often they listen for more than a certain number of seconds.
Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that there is no way you can go directly to a particular track and rate it. The first track you visit is always governed to some degree by random chance. From there, you have to scroll through a virtual “cardfile” of photos linked to other artists in the genre you’ve selected. This means that one is likely to be diverted from one’s original choice by these new opportunities, which means more discoveries for the web surfer, and more exposure for the musicians.
“A lot of musicians try to game the rating systems on other sites, by sending their friends directly to their page, or even rating themselves over and over again,” says Madhusudan. “We’ve used our knowledge of security software to make that very difficult. Once a computer has been used to rate a particular track, that computer can never rate that track again, even with a different web browser.”
Of course, if I’m really going to give you a feeling for what Uhooroo.com is like, I should say less about the architecture of the website and more about the content. But I’m not going to do that, because I’ve already discovered enough musicians on Uhooroo.com for several completely different articles. For now, I will only mention the 15-year-old boy who perfectly captures the microtonal ornaments of Karnatik music with the pitch wheel of a synthesizer, and the Indian-German band Punkh that artfully combines hip-hop, bhangra, heavy metal, and funk, and finally the Tamil Christian Rapper from Norway. If these descriptions intrigue you, why not go to the site yourself, and perhaps even upload music of your own?
|Teed Rockwell has studied Indian classical music with Ali Akbar Khan and other great Indian musicians. He is the first person to play Hindustani music on the Touchstyle Fretboard.|