Why I like (but worry for) The Hype Machine

11Oct06

John Heilemann writes about The Hype Machine in the October issue of Business 2.0, following discussion of the service last summer by my ex-Live365 colleague Rags and Fred Wilson. I have to admit that while I’ve not been a big user of MP3 blogs in the past, it’s chiefly because of the very issue that THM addresses: the ability to browse popular or recent MP3 posts, or to search for MP3s on blogs that feature artists of interest.

Conceptually, THM is very compelling and similar to my long-held vision of an ideal music service. People share their music – both their contributed metadata (thoughts and feelings about the music) as well as the underlying bits themselves – with others, and do so through their personal webpage. This mirrors how most people discover music today but with “friends” on a global scale thanks to the internet. Very cool.

In my view, the two big advantages of this service vis-a-vis many other user-gen/C2C music discovery services past (Uplister) and present (MOG) are:

(1) you get to hear those digital bits and not just read the metadata (it’s an incomplete experience without the music itself)

(2) access is decentralized, leveraging any blog rather than requiring a proprietary template (this ability to “play well with others” is key to the future of social media, IMO)

However, these advantages highlight likely issues. Not only can I hear the music, but when I click on the Read Blog Post button on the Flash player, I can check out the MP3 posted on the original blog and typically right-click to download and own it. While some folks may view this version as a “promotional” copy and buy the original if they like it – similar to arguments made for P2P services back in the day – I don’t think many will do so, depriving the artist of a potential sale.

This type of access is also, of course, illegal unless the copyright owner authorizes the stream or download. Unfortunately, while the original music files are hosted on various servers (not centrally by THM), it would seem that THM’s design probably does take “affirmative steps to foster infringment” (the line from the Grokster ruling in 2005) since it provides the tools needed to tune in, and even an on-demand stream infringes. As Rags noted, as THM grows, it will likely gain the attention of the RIAA.

THM is on to something but I don’t think the model is quite right.

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