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Indie Rock Webware: Amie Street, Music Nation, The Hype Machine

And no Avril Lavigne.

As though timed to coincide with the much-anticipated release of indie rock powerhouse The Arcade Fire's album release this week (it's a must-listen, by the way), Monday night's monthly NY Tech Meetup at Cooper Union featured a trio of Gotham-based start-ups devoted to spreading the buzz about independent music. One's a marketplace; one's an ongoing competition; and one's a way to discover what the people who are discovering new music are discovering (in other words, an aggregator).

The first of the three is Amie Street, which we have previously written up on Webware. Amie Street's novelty is all in the business model: bands and labels who sell their music on this site know that initially, the songs will be distributed for free. After enough downloads, the price of the song gradually begins to rise until it reaches a cap of 98 cents--so, if you're paying full price for a song, you know it's popular. And if you recommend a free track that eventually makes it all the way to 98 cents, you get some small bits of cash from the company. Additionally, as with the larger indie retailer eMusic, there is no DRM. Or, as they like to say, "naked MP3s."

So, basically, you can consider it a social music store. And "social" anything continues to be big these days.

Next up is Music Nation which is less a piece of webware than a new-media marketing opportunity. The guys behind Music Nation conceived it as "YouTube meets American Idol," and that's pretty much what it is. For a $25 entry fee, unsigned artists can put their music videos into Music Nation's central contest. Users then vote on them--though there's also a panel of judges, presumably to prevent the almost-inevitable victory of an artist who's terrible but hilarious (see also: William Hung). Weekly winners are announced--in rock, pop, and "urban" categories--and ultimately, the overall winner will score a record contract thanks to a partnership with Epic Records.

It's unclear as to what Music Nation will do when it's exhausted its contest. Fortunately, the site has already built an infrastructure for unsigned bands to network with fans, publicize tour dates, and the like, so it already has begun to build up a site beyond the competition. But on the flip side, MySpace and PureVolume already have a strong hold on the unsigned-band-publicity market sector.

The third start-up at the NY Tech Meetup was probably the most-hyped, which is appropriate since it's called The Hype Machine. This fledgling start-up, which Meetup founder and Tech Meetup host Scott Heiferman seemed quite pumped about, is essentially a music blog content aggregator. The Hype Machine paws through a list of music-themed blogs and lets you know all kinds of cool stuff: which blogs are the most popular, which are updated most frequently, and which artists are mentioned. The token "awesome" feature is the streaming audio of MP3s that are currently being featured on music blogs. I subscribed to it as an iTunes podcast--hello, new office soundtrack! The only unfortunate part is that many of the music blogs feature MP3s that are a tad...experimental. You'll just have to deal with that.

An audience member at the Tech Meetup raised the question of what happens when music blogs write about bands that they don't like. I could relate to that--one of my favorite music blogs, Stereogum, recently posted the abhorrent new Avril Lavigne video, which I won't link you to because no one deserves to have to sit through it. But the thinking behind Hype Machine is that if a lousy band is so terrible that every music blog is writing about it, it's probably "so bad it's good." And I guess that makes sense.

And thankfully, I didn't come across any Avril Lavigne.