A Conversation With The Hype Machine’s Anthony Volodkin

GUEST POST: Australian based digital strategist Nick Crocker sat down for Hypebot with The Hype Machine's Anthony Volodkin.

Hype machine
For music lovers, Hype Machine is an essential filter. With increasing ad-revenue and affiliate sales, the site’s founder Anthony Volodkin has assembled a small team to manage the expanding Hype Machine community. Volodkin has been working on Hype Machine full-time since graduating from Hunter College in 2007.  He took time out to discuss Hype Machine’s growth, the sensitivity required to maintain an online community and his inspirations.

Let me just say how cool I think Hype Machine is.  To create something people feel necessary to visit every day is pretty special.

Yeah, that's what helps me wake up in the morning.  Makes everything more natural.

How big is Hype Machine's community?

We get 1.5 million visitors per month from all over the world and we have about 100,000 registered users.

You have a community of 100,000 of the savviest, smartest consumers out there.  If you can engage them enough that they spend $10 a year each – that's a million bucks for you. How do you mobilize/monetize that tribe? 

Anthony volodkin
We are still thinking of ways that the community could support us in that way.  Some of the premium models have been tough for us to implement, as we want all of them to have only features we've created.  And then there are some other challenges to mobilizing these guys in the sense that if you try too hard, they will leave.  We want to create something for the long term.

The community is a cool bunch of engaged, passionate music fans but they also know to leave if someone tries to over-market to them. This attention economy is a tricky thing.  If you pollute the channel, people leave.  Oh my, how many buzzwords are in that line?

Lots of people understand the need to keep those channels clean.  But not all.  It's why I am OK with using Last.fm to scrobble my music.  I trust them that they won't do something bad with the data.

Is Hype Machine providing you a salary?

Yeah.  It’s been full time since I finished University last summer.  The salary has only started recently.  Before that, we struggled to cover equipment costs and I was paying some of the guys I was working with.  We’ve gotten bigger now, which I am happy about.

Is all your revenue generated through selling ads and generating affiliate sales for iTunes?

Yeah, affiliates and ads.  More ads than affiliate but at this point if the affiliate revenue disappeared, I'd miss it.

Do you speak publicly about revenue?

Not really, but it's a modest amount, no jets for us.  We also don't have any investors, so we can’t buy jets with their money either.

I saw the 10 million dollar Viacom offer article on Valleywag – where did that originate from?

I’m not sure where that rumor came from.  What's funny is we were talking to some people at the time but not Viacom.  We ended up walking away from that deal though.

Why did you walk away?

The negotiations went well, but eventually it became clear that there was a problem with the joint project we'd work on together and that getting together to work on it with those guys wouldn't be the best thing for us to do.  They are smart people though, so no hard feelings.

Did you have advisers during that process?

Yeah, though next time we'll have them more involved.  Looking back, that would have been helpful.  Perhaps we would have seen the issues earlier on.

Who do you go to for advice?

There are a few guys I know here in New York.  One of them – Dan Porter – sold the first online ticketing company to Ticketmaster.  That one was called Ticketweb.  Now he's working with another start-up in NY.

One of the other guys I speak to is Thomas Ryan.  He used to be at EMI doing mobile/digital stuff and is now the CEO of Threadless. Threadless is probably one of the companies that are smartest in how they manage community in the very complex commercial relationship they have.  They manage to do it with lots of integrity and passion which, surprise, surprise, works.

It looks like that is the future – passionate, community minded, commercially savvy leaders.  But the commercial reality of running a business forces compromise and where you compromise is such a gray area.

Absolutely.  But the bottom line is, you have to make sure that you keep the community healthy.  It’s harder with some things than others of course.

I like that you’re taking the long view on this.

I want to always be working on things I am passionate about.  I want to bring people things of quality and find people that share my view.  It's really exciting when you run into people that share your outlook.

Nick Crocker is a digital strategist based in Australia.  You can follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/waycooljnr

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