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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.