May 11, 2011 at 11:00 am

Counterpoint: What Does The New Hype Machine App Really Mean for Music?

The Hype Machine's effect on music consideredIt seems like a winning proposition: The long-awaited Hype Machine iPhone app weaves the disparate strands of today’s web music experience into one central hub. From a plethora of sources for hearing music on the web including thousands of bloggers out there, The Hype Machine offers a way to sort and prioritize the music we want from that which we want to ignore.

Useful and fun though the site may be, nagging questions remain about the effect the Hype Machine has on our collective connection to music and how we learn about it.

The site’s profile among music enthusiasts and mainstream press alike has been rising for some time now, and after this week’s release of a critically-acclaimed-so-far iPhone app, it will surely gain even more converts. Overall, there are lots of very powerful features in the app, which suggest it will be a big success. Not only does it let you stream music from any part of one of a database of blogs hand-selected by the company, but you can very easily play them through your airport connected home music system.

With a single touch, you can also mine the blog post from which any song was pulled to learn about any particular band, courtesy of the music expert who posted it. Your Likes on the app version of the site link to social media so you can easily spread the word about new music you like among friends and followers. There are even multiple ways to approach the music, such as searching by popularity, genre, blog source, etc. It’s clearly a very music fan’s music app, and it could have a major impact on our listening habits.

There is a “but” though. Big questions arise when you think about the model The Hype Machine is fostering. The app and site comply with DMCA regulations by limiting the number of songs you can skip through from any one site (just as Pandora does), only allowing streaming of music rather than download, and offering links to buy tracks after listening to them. Still, to critics, the Hype Machine might seem like another means to quite literally devalue songs by pulling such a massive possible playlist of free music together in one easily digestible stream.

When does promotion of bands for new listeners become thoughtless use of their music without supporting them, or even getting to know them? Its a timeworn and perhaps tedious question these days, but The Hype Machine’s engine seems to make it all the more pointed an issue for listeners, precisely because it makes listening to all sorts of music so effortless.

Another big question The Hype Machine App prompts is about the direction in which web users approach new music. Before The Hype Machine, MP3 blogs led users to artists before (or, at least, right along with) they heard the music itself. The Hype Machine inverts that dynamic, streaming music first and letting users opt to delve further into the details of that band later.

Of course this model has its precursor in radio, which let you to listen first and read-up on it later, as opposed to the traditional music press, which worked the other way round. It might seem like a small detail to raise then. After all, what we all want is to hear great new music without turning the discovery of said music into a full-time job, and The Hype Machine does a great job in that regard. But in addition to its effect on artists, it’s worth considering the value of the MP3 bloggers who discover, sort, reflect on and present music to us, and whether it should be processed in this way, with the central element of any post (the track) stripped out and offered to us in isolation.

The Hype Machine website and app are effective, and even addictive, but in the end, this contrarian wonders whether they are really the best way to move our joint conversation about new music forward.