Popdust, the pop-music news site that debuted earlier this year, is—like a post-haircut Justin Bieber—on the verge of coming of age. Over the last 30 days, the site has garnered 350,000 unique visitors, and has formed new partnerships with AOL, MTV, CNN, Gawker, Vibe, Grammy.com, and others. A recent video of Britney Spears's dance styles over the years went extremely viral, ending up on Huffington Post, Jezebel, and even Business Insider.
The Internet is fairly glutted with pop-music sites, and sites for celebrity news, so a site like Popdust might at first glance seem superfluous. But to hear its founders tell it, there's a need for an authoritative voice where those two realms intersect—a Pitchfork for pop music, if you will. As David Wade, the entrepreneur behind the site, told TheNextWeb, even places you might traditionally trust to cover music are abdicating their responsibility. "MTV cares more about TV than M," he said.
"We didn't feel like anyone was addressing pop music from a music-centered view," Wade tells Fast Company.
Investors, at least, see promise here, having sunk $1 million into the venture. The business model, for the time being, is ad-supported; it runs ads from the MOG Music Network, according to TNW. It has plans for a forthcoming feature, "Friends with Benefits," which will incentivize people to engage with the site and spread the word about it through the dangling of various carrots—products from ad partners, for instance, and even possibly facetime with stars.
The NYC-based Gramercy Labs is behind Popdust; it has launched other sites like the "invitation-only wine private sale company" Lot18 and Fameball, a site that combines "entertainment content and social gaming." An aura of exclusivity, celebrity, luxury, and frivolity seem to be the hallmarks of the Gramercy Lab style. It describes Popdust this way:
"In a sea of copycat celebrity gossip, Popdust trains an expert music-centric lens on the artists creating and performing the biggest songs in the country. Popdust is the first and last word on breaking music stories; with compelling original video features and direct access to the most interesting and influential acts in Pop, R&B, Hip-Hop and Country."
Wade tells Fast Company that for the foreseeable future, ad support and branded content are definitely the way to go. Even as music magazines that may be considered competitors struggle with profitability, the web provides expanded opportunities for ad integration. Brands might soon worm their way in to those Magic Box videos, for instance. "We could see brands doing heavy integration" there, Wade says. Pointing to the example of Lot18, though, he adds that "commerce is in the DNA" of Gramercy Labs. In the future, there might be opportunities to latch on to the "short tail of pop artists." For instance, the site may sell clothes or accessories pegged to a recent artist's appearance, Wade explains. "Those purple glasses Justin Bieber wears? Here they are," Wade says.
The secret weapon in Popdust's arsenal is Craig Marks, the site's editor, formerly of Billboard, Spin, and Blender. It's a great match for the site, for more than one reason. Marks's view of music journalism certainly squares with Wade's: Marks is co-writing a book with Rob Tannenbaum about MTV. "We'll be retracing the network's rise from a 1981 launch to its 1992 rejection of music programming in favor of reality TV, and it'll be published in time for MTV's 30th anniversary," Tannenbaum told The New York Post last year. The nostalgia-laden book will be called I Want My MTV: Stories From the Golden Age of Music Videos, 1981-1992.
More importantly, Marks's status in the industry gives the site access to top celebs. Hence his site's ability to get rock stars to sit for an embarrassing, off-the-wall interview feature called the "Magic Box." Here's a particularly not-safe-for-work offering with Aubrey O'Day, in which she talks about having sex with Eminem in her dreams, having sex with her college boyfriend, and having sex at Disneyland.
Whether this is music journalism of a stronger sort than what MTV and others have to offer, users of the site will have to decide.
[Image: Flickr user nonaloveskaulitz]