As a former record store clerk turned cubicle drone, I'm all too aware of how out of touch I am with today's underground music scene. Really, my only tether to the music world beyond iTunes is a site called The Hype Machine, which aggregates the audio streams from hundreds of influential music blogs, and throws them into a big ol' jukebox.
Aside from working like a Cliff Notes for indie music hipsters, The Hype Machine has proven itself as a valuable tool for artists and music labels. Just like trending topics on sites such as Digg or Twitter, songs that spend time on Hype Machine's popularity chart tend to spin under their own momentum, getting retweeted, embedded, passed around Facebook, and maybe even purchased a few times.
But the path to getting your music listed on The Hype Machine isn't easy or reliable. Songs need to find their way from the site's preferred independent music blogs, who act as middlemen for encoding the song, adding the correct track information (hopefully), and hosting it on their blog. The resulting audio file is out of the control of the artist or label, and all the valuable stream data is lost to the content creator.
Fortunately, a new partnership with Web audio host SoundCloud should put some control back in the hands of artists and labels. By making the SoundCloud audio player detectable by The Hype Machine's music aggregator, artists and labels can now create and control the streaming audio player directly, leaving bloggers to just cut and paste the embed code.
If the symbiosis of SoundCloud and The Hype Machine takes root, bloggers can spend less time encoding and hosting files, and artists and labels will gain the stream analytics and control they were missing before. But for the system to work, musicians and labels will need to embrace SoundCloud and consistently release their legitimate streams before pirated material becomes available. Indie music label Domino Recordings has already committed to the arrangement, but it remains to be seen if other labels will follow suit.
The biggest roadblock to the venture's success is that content creators are required to hold a premium SoundCloud account. At minimum, a premium SoundCloud account runs 29 euros ($41) per year, however, active musicians and labels are encouraged to upgrade to a less restrictive "Solo" account, for 9 euros ($13) per month. Free accounts are available to all users, but only premium accounts are compatible with the new The Hype Machine partnership.