Correction: This post misstated Andy Schuon's former title. He was CEO of Universal Music Group's International Music Feed.
MySpace employees are busy putting the finishing touches on the social network's upcoming music service, expected to launch later this month. One important chore, however, remains conspicuously incomplete.
MySpace Music is officially rudderless. A six-month search for a CEO has been unsuccessful and now, the service is expected to debut without a chief in place, say three music industry sources. MySpace CEO Chris DeWolfe is in charge on an interim basis.
If the service is successful, meaning it offers lots of good, cheap (read: free) music, the public is unlikely to care that MySpace Music was missing a CEO. But if the site stumbles, look for critics to jeer the company for a lack of leadership. Whoever is hired, it's doubtful the service can generate much interest unless it trots out someone poached from iTunes, or maybe Amazon.
Those are the only companies that can claim success at selling music online on a large scale. If MySpace could lure away one of Apple's guys, then at least it could point to a proven winner.
MySpace has to get this music service right. While Facebook has already elbowed past it as the world's largest social-networking site, one area where MySpace continues to dominate is music. The site has become the online equivalent of Soul Train or American Bandstand, a digital stage where musicians flock to showcase their talents.
Music has helped MySpace stay relevant with younger audiences at a time when Facebook holds an edge in the cool factor.
Meanwhile, Facebook hasn't shown a lot of interest in challenging MySpace in music. Other competitors have. Sites, such as iMeem, have attracted users by offering free streaming music for more than a year.
So who is MySpace Music supposed to turn to for help?
The company has already interviewed a slew of execs from both the digital side as well as music industry old timers. Andy Schuon, the former CEO of Universal Music Group's International Music Feed and past president of CBS Radio (CBS is parent company of CNET News.com), is being considered for the job along with a long list of others, said two music industry sources.
Schuon could not be reached Wednesday.
Hiring an old-school music suit to run a digital shop hasn't met with much success. But is MySpace supposed to hire some Silicon Valley guy with maybe a couple of so-so music start-ups under his belt? Who among that crowd has a winning record?
The Deal reported last month that several execs with Internet experience were offered the job and turned it down, including former AOL executive Jim Bankoff, BigChampagne chief executive Eric Garland, and Benchmark Capital entrepreneur-in-residence Dave Goldberg, who also helped guide Yahoo Music.
The delay in finding a chief executive also raised the question about whether running MySpace's music service is all that attractive.
When it's fully operational, MySpace Music is expected to offer free streaming music, unprotected MP3 downloads, ringtones, and e-commerce offerings such as merchandise and ticket sales. The site is well heeled with backers that include Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and the three largest recording companies. The new chief won't have to oversee a new download service as Amazon is expected to supply the infrastructure for that.
But all that firepower may be part of the problem.
Will the CEO be expected to answer to Universal Music Group, as well as to Murdoch? All of the stakeholders will hold a seat on the board, which met for the first time recently.
Said one person who was interviewed for the job and turned it down; "It's a case where there might be too many masters."
Perhaps, the least attractive part of the job is that whoever gets it will be charged with dethroning Apple CEO Steve Jobs as the grand poo-bah of digital music.
Note to future MySpace Music CEO: Don't be frightened. Forget that MySpace has almost no experience in music retail or must compete against Apple's iPod without possessing any significant hardware partnership (that's a trick statement as there isn't any significant hardware in music besides the iPod).
If you lose, the bright side is MySpace Music will join other marquee heads on Apple's trophy wall--right alongside Microsoft, MTV, Sony, Yahoo, RealNetworks, and Wal-Mart.