CANNES, France -- In a digital music environment where upstart legal services can take years to go from inception to launch, some technologists are creating new music innovations in a single day. And it's just what the music industry could use for an occasional shot in the arm.
They may be more clever than popular, but these applications are important for bringing new ideas to the market and showing how people can experience music in ways not previously imagined.
At a MIDEM presentation titled "Introducing the New Music Developer Ecosystem," Dave Haynes from SoundCloud and Paul Lamere from the Echo Nest walked the audience through the origins of music hacking and the companies that are opening up their data for use in brand new music apps.
Music Hack Day is a roving event in which developers have 24 hours to create an app that builds upon various APIs of companies like SoundCloud and SongKick. There are no rules, just a time limit. Entrants are free to develop hardware, software or applications. "Anything goes at Music Hackday," Haynes said. In 10 hack day events, he added, over 1,500 participants have completed over 300 hacks.
To show what can come out of a Music Hack Day, Haynes and Lamere ran through some of their favorites. One was Lamere's own Earth Destroyers. Powered by the touring data of Songkick and Bandsintown, the site takes a bands touring schedule and calculates its carbon footprint. For example, Earth Destroyer tells us that Nickelback's extensive yet concentrated touring schedule means many dates are played in an earth-friendly manner. Bon Jovi's tendency to travel by jet and play few dates, on the other hand, gives it the site's "earth destroyer" tag.
Music hacks can be more serious, too. CitySounds.fm sorts music by the location of producers, organizes it by location and streams directly from the web page. Pulling in data and music from SoundCloud, CitySounds offers a chart with the 32 most popular cities as well as individual cities and a list of recently updated cities. It turns out to be a handy and fascinating way to search for and experience new music.
Piracy is both fun and serious. The Android app allows users to "drop" tracks from their music collection at places on a Google map. Other people using the app can "pick up" the tracks if they are close enough on the map.
So far, hacks are far underground and haven't made it to mainstream music fans. Most music hacks have a short life, although CitySounds was later offered as an iPhone app and has been refined into an excellent website. But it's not difficult to imagine some of these hacks either reaching the mainstream or influencing new technology that goes mainstream. And that's great for the music business and music lovers.