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SF Music Hackday - Building the Future of Music

"Too much is never enough" was MTV’s famous tagline from the mid-80s. And you know what? They were right. We can’t get enough of music. It’s a staple of our lives. Radio airwaves are saturated with every style of music, from classical to metal. Digital cable TV networks deliver 40+ music channels to our living room. We have CDs, MP3s, Pandora, iTunes, YouTube, Rdio, Spotify, Mog, Rhapsody. When it comes to music, we seem to have it all, any time and anywhere we want it. So why are we still looking for new and better ways to experience, discover… to fall in love with music? Music Hackday in San Francisco is an event where the passion of consumers, developers and music platforms converge into a weekend-long hackathon to feed our insatiable craving for music.

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Building the Future of Music
Above I mentioned several technologies, products and services to demonstrate the variety of musical delivery channels at our disposal. Those just represent the tip of the iceberg. Music and video is readily available from development platform APIs in every form imaginable - from fully encoded song files, song sample files, instant playback streaming, radio streaming, to song/album/artist metadata (e.g. biographies, album covers, artist photos, etc.). Every imaginable fragment and building block has been made available to developers that are interested in building the future of music — and those resources were served up on a silver platter at SF Music Hackday.

The Platforms
There are several layers to sift through in the music platform ecosystem. Some of the most popular consumer-facing products/services on the market are also development platforms for partners and third-party developers. On another layer, there are purely backend platforms that do not interface directly with consumers. Here are a few notable platforms that were represented at the hackathon and the resources they offered:

  • Rdio - http://developer.rdio.com - consumer facing music streaming and social discovery network. Platform offers developers access to millions of streaming tracks, playback (iOS, Android, Javascript), playlists/collections/queue, music metadata (artist, album, track, label), listening trends, social resources (users), recommendations, etc. Apps built for Rdio can be used by subscribers after authorized with OAuth. Developers can earn perpetual affiliate revenue for any premium subscriptions driven by their app.

  • Rovi - http://developer.rovicorp.com - leader in entertainment metadata about music, TV, movies, games and more. If you use Rdio, Spotify, Pandora or Shazam (to name of few), you’ve experienced the value of Rovi. The fundamentals include artist bios, images, album art, discographies, etc. However, the complex resources they offer developers include recommendations, moods, styles, collaborations, themes and more. The power of Rovi is in their diverse data sets and their ability to search and associate across those resources. For example, developers can find a musical artists Twitter ID as well as when they will be appearing on television, pinpointed across any major cable television network.

  • JamBase - http://developer.jambase.com - consumer facing live music performance discovery platform. JamBase offers developers the ability to find live musical performances at venues all around the world. The same platform that powers the JamBase.com web site and mobile apps is available to third-party developers.

  • MediaNet MN Open API - http://www.mndigital.com/integration/openapi.html - backend service for content discovery, delivery and purchase. MediaNet powers services like Turntable.fm, Songza and MOG. MediaNet provides backend solutions for managing user accounts, content delivery, commerce and reporting.

  • The Echo Nest - http://developer.echonest.com - pure backend API with similar music metadata resources to Rovi. Some of the most interesting data that The Echo Nest offers include the ability to search and fetch: tempo (min/max), danceability, energy, artist “hotttnesss”, song type (live/studio/Christmas), loudness (min/max), key (e.g. c, c-sharp, d, e-flat, etc.).

Other notable platforms that were on site included: Gracenote, Rhapsody, SoundCloud, 7digital, LyricFind, musiXmatch.

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The Hacks
Over 200 developers came together to build 66 music apps from scratch in just 48 hours. This hackathon was held the weekend before SF MusicTech Summit, helping to draw a diverse crowd of musicians, enthusiasts, producers, promoters and developers from the Bay Area and beyond. Below are a few notable hacks that caught our fancy:

  • MoForte Guitar + Leap Motion by Nick Porcaro (video) - mashing up a virtual iPad guitar with the Leap 3D motion sensor.

  • DJ Wizard by Brian Ferrell and Jonathon Klobucar (video) - a magical playlist generator to get the party started. Tell the DJ Wizard the name of an artist or song, and he will instantly conjure up a fully stocked playlist that based on The Echo Nest recommendation APIs, inject them into an Rdio playlist, and play directly from the HTML5/JS application, using the Rdio APIs.

  • Gordie Howe Hat Trick by Johnny Megahan (video) - a song selection engine based on NHL player statistics and biographical information supplied by the ESPN Sports APIs. GHHT maps key stats, such as penalty minutes and goals, to song/artist attributes, like mood, energy and location (from The Echo Nest APIs).

  • LinerNotes by Ed Hickey (@bassnode) (video) - recreating the album liner notes in the digital listening experience. LinerNotes pulls in metadata from Rovi APIs, including artist biographies, full album credits (“from the tambourine player to the mastering engineer”), album art, and more.

  • Leap Orchestra by Dean Hudson, Vamsi Mynampati, Tyler F, Neal Riley, Seth Tsui and Nicholas Charriere (video) - another hardware hack utilizing the Leap 3D motion sensor. This team kicked of the app demos with a live performance, starting with some ethereal Theremin-ish melodies before shifting into a dub-step jam. Very entertaining!

  • Follow Swap for Rdio by Devin Sevilla (video) - a random music following app to help you mix up your social discovery mechanisms. Simple, fun and useful.

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The Prizes and Winners
Most of the teams seemed to be less concerned on trying to win specific prizes, and more focused on learning new skills and meeting new people. However, there were a ton of prizes to be had, and we were all happy to award them to these hard working teams:

  • Mashery selected DJ Wizard for the best API integrations, sending Brian and Jonathon home with Jawbone Jamboxes.

  • Rdio chose Tweedio and Sing Along with Me for their prizes, one year Rdio subscriptions for all team members.

  • TokBox awarded two tickets to Coachella to the team that built TokBox Ukulele. Twilio went with Biscuit Orchestra.

  • The Echo Nest awarded iPad Retinas and iPad Minis to Biscuit Orchestra and Inspiration.

A complete list of all 12 prize categories and winners can be found here.

So… Did We Build the Future?
Yes, we did. :) The developers clearly pushed the envelope by integrating the latest music platform APIs with apps for both desktop and mobile. They utilized external hardware devices like the Leap Motion, integrated automotive data controls and came up with new ways to discover and share music. I was a bit surprised not to see any TV hacks, but I can imagine we will see more of that at vertical hack events like TVnext Hack coming up in late April 2013. Overall, the hackathon was a huge success, and extremely collaborative. In fact, there were more projects open sourced than I’ve ever seen at a hackathon.

Big thanks to The Echo Nest, SoundCloud, Spotify and TokBox for organizing the event. That was some amazing hackathon fare — healthy and delicious from morning until night.

See you next year, where we’ll continue to build the future of music!

Hacking the Future of the Music Industry

Just the other week, Mashery along with several of our clients (RdioRootMusicRovi and Klout) took part in participating and sponsoring Music Hackday in San Francisco. Held at the TokBox HQ, over 200 developers spent an entire weekend meeting new people, learning new skills and applying everything in their arsenal to build apps that will define the future of music. You didn’t think that we were finished innovating and disrupting the music industry, did you?

Streaming Music On Demand
We have buried the 8 track, shattered the LP, killed the cassette, and chucked the CD. Trolling for pirated MP3s is passé. Paying $0.99 per song will also suffer the same fate. Why? Because streaming music on demand is what we all want, and it’s available now. For less than $10 month, we can stream unlimited music to all of our devices (phone, tablet, laptop and set-top box) using services like Rdio. The sound quality is superb (320kbps). The collection is vast (12+ million tracks). So what is left to innovate upon in this seemingly perfect music consumption nirvana? Music discovery and recommendations — because with so much to choose from, choosing what to listen to is the new problem.

Multidimensional Discovery
There are various methods for discovering music to listen to. In machine-based music discovery, algorithmic playlist generators such as Pandora, make recommendations based on a musical taste graph.
In social music discovery, recommendations are based on what your friends are listening to. It’s a tall order to construct highly satisfactory playlists based on your social graph, preferences and listening history — which explains why there were a significant number of the apps at Music Hackday that leveraged music streaming and metadata APIs to solve the problem.

Behind the Music Apps
Building apps for the music vertical has never been easier. For instance, the Rdio API has methods for streaming playback, retrieving data (by artist, album, track, etc.), playlist control, listening statistics, and social hooks (friends, followers, etc.). For the most comprehensive entertainment metadata, the Rovi Cloud Service API provides deep data for music, as well for TV, movies and games. Rovi’s methods include retrieving reviews, recommendations, credits, images and surprisingly complex data such as moods (expressive characteristics) and themes (topics, feelings and circumstances that motivate or fit with the music). Other APIs like JamBase provide upcoming and historical data for concerts and live music shows around the world, with methods to search by artist, venue, date and geocode. These are just a few of many music-focused APIs available for developers to build the music discovery apps of the future.

Best in Show
Over 60 apps were built and presented at Music Hackday SF — and here are a few of my favorites. The app titled BWV, created by Ian McKellar, presents all works on Rdio by BWV number (compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach). The app Music Smasher, created by Matt Montag, is a music keyword meta-search engine — aggregating search results from six different music services, including Rdio, Spotify, MOG and Grooveshark. Another app by Ian McKellar, titled Musiac, adds a fun approach to music discovery by building a photo-mosaic of an album cover comprised of minature tiles of other album covers — where clicking through on a minature tile launches you into a fractal like experience of infinite random discovery. My favorite app was eezdropper by JB Steadman, a native iPhone app that injects songs into your Rdio playlist based on what other Rdio users within your vicinity are listening to — implicit geo-local social network music recommendations! In fact, we selected JB to win the Mashery spot-prize at Music Hackday, the Jawbone Jambox wireless speaker in Mashery red.

What’s Next?
The music industry has undergone radical changes, many of which have been brought on by the Internet — from the pirated MP3, to the $0.99 song purchase, and now to unlimited cloud streaming services. Artists, music industry labels and music listeners have never been so closely intertwined. Data and services have never been so accessible. I believe that the new and exciting things in this industry will be born from events like Music Hackday, fueled by business opportunity, open dialog, and most of all, by the passion and appreciation for discovering and listening to music.