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Music is arguably one of the most popular things in the world (who doesn't listen to music), but it isn't exactly easy being a musician. That's particularly true for indie artists who don't have huge audiences and major record label backing.

The pains of the music industry, coupled with its overall sexiness as a business, have made the music space one of the most popular for startups.

One of the latest entrants hoping to be a panacea for indie musicians: Monkeybars. Targeting music, as well as films, books and art, Monkeybars thinks it has found the magic formula for using social networks to sell content.

Its concept: give indie artists the ability to sell their wares directly, and reward their fans when they recommend that content to friends. As Monkeybars' CEO Tom Thimot sees it, "Right now, friends are constantly recommending content through social networks, but they are not getting anything for it, while the artists—from the popular to the undiscovered—continue to hand over large percentages of their worth to third parties in order to have their voices heard."

Monkeybars biggest differentiator is that its reward is cash, not points that can later be used to redeem a physical or digital reward. Monkeybars calls those types of rewards "antiquated and meaningless."

The big question, of course, is could something like this work? To be sure, although Monkeybars is billing itself as "the first e- and m-commerce platform that enables artists to monetize and distribute content directly while rewarding their fans for sharing and recommending it" the general concept isn't exactly new.

There are numerous challenges. A big one: getting consumers to pony up for content. It isn't always easy, and someone who has just discovered your music may not become a fan or customer immediately. There's also the challenge of making sure that recommendations don't lose their appeal because they're effectively paid for. After all, there's a huge difference between introducing a friend to a great musician and introducing a friend to a great musician through what amounts to an affiliate link.

From this perspective, it's worth considering that new models for content distribution are warranted in the age of social networking, and there may be room for an affiliate-like model, but there will be a lot of artists and fans to whom the model doesn't appeal.

Patricio Robles

Published 18 January, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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