Part one in my music discovery series is the Hype Machine. I actually don’t know how I first discovered the Hype Machine, but it is the best place to discover music, artists, and even genres you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. Where services like last.fm and Pandora are about finding music that they already know you’ll like, the Hype Machine is just a bunch of music fans throwing stuff around– whether it’s catered to your tastes or not. But first, what is it?
What the Hype Machine is:
At it’s simplest, the Hype Machine is a music blog aggregator. As they put it:
“We handpick a set of kickass music blogs and then present what they discuss for easy analysis, consumption and discovery. This way, your odds of stumbling into awesome music or awesome blogs are high.”
Without getting into technical details (mostly because I don’t understand them), they have a large list of blogs they follow, scrape out the mp3s, and sort them into a playlist. When you visit the site, here’s what it looks like:
The default view gives you the most recently blogged-about music, with the newest track first. When I took this picture, the blog SUCKA PANTS had posted the song “I Don’t Wanna Go Out” by the band “X“. If you hit the large play button, that song starts playing. If that song ends, you hear “Cybernetics 9” by David Kanaga, then “Norway” by Beach House. It’s continuous play, which is great for background listening. You’re also being exposed to random blogs and artists, sort of like dipping into some sort of collective radio stream. You can see it action at http://hypem.com/#!/latest.
Tapping Into the Zeitgeist
This is all well and good, but it gets better if you make an account. It’s a painless sign-up, and once you do you can save songs you like by clicking the heart next to them. These “hearts” are then used to make up the Hype Machine’s popular songs chart, seen below. Artist charts are based on which musicians have the most bloggers writing about them, and the Twitter chart is whoever has the most people Tweeting about them (you can link your Twitter account). All good ways of tapping into the zeitgeist.
There has been criticism that the Hype Machine strips the music of its context by taking it out of the blog that posted it, and as such undermines the value of a music blogger. I disagree. I’m not reading random blogs to see what they’re about. But I do go through the “popular” or “latest” charts to find new music and if I come across something I like, I’ll go to the blog to find out more. You do this by clicking where it says “posted” (see picture below), which then opens up the entry about that song.
If you decide you want to see more stuff posted by a particular blog, you just click on its name. This takes you to a page that plays only songs from this blog. Here’s the Hype Machine page for a great Canadian blog called Herohill:
Here, you can browse through and listen to songs posted over the last few days. If you decide you really like the blog, and don’t want to miss anything it posts, you can subscribe to it within the Hype Machine. I’ve already subscribed to Herohill, as you can see on the right-hand side of the picture above– if you haven’t subscribed, there would be a “+” saying subsribe where I have the “-” and unsubscribe.
You can subscribe to artists, too. Just do a search for their name or click on it when you see it, and hit subscribe. Then, everytime someone posts a track by them, it will appear in your subscriptions to. Here’s the page for Shad:
Again, you can use the Hype Machine to sample an artist, and if you like them, subscribe. Once you’ve started susbcribing to artists and blogs, it becomes a more personal experience. You can subscribe to everything from professional music sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum to more independent experiences, and any artist you want. Then, when you go to the Hype Machine and log in the first thing you’ll be greeted with is a playlist from these artists and blogs (you can filter to just listen to the blogs, as I often do, or just the artists). You can “heart” songs you like, and then visit your loved tracks to listen to just things you’ve liked, either continuously or on random. Here’s my “loved tracks” page, shuffled.
The Social Experience
And, that, by the way, is the last piece of the puzzle: other users. If there’s someone whose music taste you like, you can start following them. I, for example, follow the music director at CFUR, and will regularly browse through the songs he’s been liking. His picks also appear in my subscriptions stream, alongside blogs and artists.
There’s lots of other ways to start discovering new music on the Hype Machine, too. If you read or hear about a new artist somewhere else, you can search for them on the Hype Machine to see what other people have liked or posted by them. You can spy on other users to see what people are listening to at that moment (you can filter by location, too). They have a radio show. The blog directory is a good place to discover people who write about specific types of music, and they recently started importing music tags from last.fm so you can browse music by genre (here’s dubstep).
True Music Discovery
At this point, I feel like the Hype Machine is the best music discovery tool out there. You can follow artists, other users, and taste-makers. You can filter lists in any number of ways, you can go for completely random discovery, and you can listen to everything that’s on there (no thirty-second previews). It’s a great starting point to learn more about an artist or a genre, and whenever I have a DJ tell me they are running into a roadblock in finding artists to play, I recommend they go there.
One thing that I feel is really important to this is the fact that all its content is provided by blogs. That means that somebody had to like and want to share every piece of music on there. Some are making money off of it, but many more are just enthusiasts. It’s like hanging out with a bunch of people going “You gotta here this!” It’s not based on some mathematical formula or your previous listening history: it’s true browsing, and it results in true serendipity.
Basically, if you can’t find something you like on the Hype Machine, you’re using it wrong.
Pretty Much Amazing: The Thinking Man’s Take on the Hype Machine
Alex Eichler in the Atlantic: The Joy of the Hype Machine: Music Ex Machina
Nick Hornby: the Thrill Of It All
Dailybeatz: Hype Maching Hunting
the Hype Machine: the Hype Machine blog
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