Mixi's Music Features
With over 10 million registered members and 1 million communities, Mixi has dominated Japan's SNS scene since shortly after its launch in 2004. The service is invitation-only, and keeps a record of visitor 'footprints' (page views), allowing members to see who else has viewed their own pages or journal entries. Like MySpace in the west, Mixi has proven to be an effective medium for music and live event promotion, and is now used regularly as a marketing tool by Japanese musicians, record labels and promoters.
Most music promotion is done through communities on Mixi devoted to particular artists, genres or even record labels. Although Mixi is fairly strict about prohibiting direct promotion within communities, several enterprising members have found ways to circumvent the restrictions. One independent promoter I spoke with says the site has been especially useful for drawing people's attention to lesser-known foreign artists.
This person frequently invites independent musicians from the US to play a series of shows in Japan. After setting up a community on Mixi for the artist, the promoter will post a message on the pages of larger communities devoted to more famous artists who share some similarities with the indie musician. This results in a heavy increase in traffic, and also - because of the footprint feature - allows the promoter to see the usernames of all members who visited directly after the post.
Recently, the major labels in Japan have also been getting in on the act. On February 20, Sony Music Japan International released a 16-song compilation CD of 80's music called 'MAX Mixi Selection', for which Mixi users contributed their ideas and opinions regarding song selection, jacket art and liner notes. Sony kicked off the project by setting up a Mixi community called 'Let's all make a CD!', and managed to attract 1,476 members who contributed ideas for the compilation.
Mixi has also set up its own music service called Mixi Music, which encourages members to share their playlists and title/ artist info for their recently played songs. Users download a free application called 'Mixi Station' that is used to upload the metadata for songs that the users playes in Windows Media Player or iTunes. The collected data appears on the user's profile page, and is also used to compile 'Top 10' charts for various genres.
The music service has come a long way since it was first introduced in June of 2006. Many users figured out early on that they could manipulate the rankings by changing the metadata for a short file and playing it repeatedly throughout the week. Using this technique, one group was able to get a thousand year-old Buddhist chant up to #3 on the pop/rock rankings. These types of problems were quickly fixed, though, and the current charts appear much more indicative of what members are actually playing on their PCs.
Mixi has continued to bolster its music service through tie-ups with a strong set of partners to provide song lyrics, sample listening and music information. The current offering is an interesting combination of music recommendation and artist information features. Competitors MySpace Japan and, more recently, Nifty Corp. (through its new 'Human Music Community' SNS) appear to be concentrating more on artist promotion, providing incentives for independent artists to register. However, the bigger challenge for these rival music SNS services will be to attract and retain a Japanese member base that is as large and loyal as that of Mixi.