The consensus from SXSW so far appears to be that no single app is dominating the festival, although Highlight and some other apps did see their share of hype. One observer bets that Groupme may have been the breakout hit of SXSW just like last year because the company has only lost one employee since being acquired by Skype; five more employees joined; it threw a well-attended party; and at least two groups of 30 used it at SXSW Interactive. Ho hum. In the spirit of finding more than one app to represent all of SXSW, we cruised the trade show floor at the SXSW Interactive trade show looking for every single music app designed for music fans' enjoyment. Several other apps debuted there for bands, labels, promoters, videographers, and other elements of the music industry. But our focus is on apps that deliver for fans. So far as we could tell, here's a list of every user-facing music app from the show floor at SXSW Interactive 2012 (please let us know if we missed yours; see all exhibitors):
PicoTube VETTL's PicoTube reminds us an awful lot of that breakout hit of 2011, Turntable.fm, which announced that it had inked licensing deals with all four major labels at SXSW earlier this week. Just like with Turntable.fm, users can grab one of five chairs in each room (PicoTube calls the rooms "pods" instead) in order to DJ tunes to everyone else in the pod. The difference: The DJs sit in the foreground, while YouTube videos occupy the majority of the real estate on the "stage." When we tried it today, the most populous room, Club SXSW2012, had only two other people in it, but who knows -- maybe it will start out big in Japan (this web app currently runs in either Japanese or English). But the company gets bonus points for handing out a handheld fan with its details printed on that instead of a flyer. Get it? A music fan.
Beatrobo Another twist on the Turntable.fm theme that adds a video component from YouTube, Beatrobo adds a twist by letting you design your own robot avatar from the ground up, although of course you'll need to get some experience points before you can add the fancier options. You can DJ songs and vote on what other people -- er, robots -- are playing, as well as inviting friends to join you from Facebook. This web app requires you to log in with Facebook, and it can see your Likes and those of your friends. An optional feature lets you send and accept music from the app to Facebook. Perhaps the coolest feature: When you comment on a given song, and one of your Facebook friends listens to the same song later within the service, they'll see what you said. This eliminates one of the biggest issues with services like these: getting everyone together at the same time. (Basically, it can either be synchronous or asychronous.)
Amykdala This web app has yet to launch to the public, although if it does what it purports to do, it could be pretty neat. Basically, Amykdala (try telling someone about that in a crowded bar) is a crowd-enhanced search engine for music and other media files on YouTube, SoundCloud, Flickr, and other large, somewhat undifferentiated repositories of neat stuff. Users can vote on what's best, influencing what other people find, as well as co-writing descriptions of what they find, like a musical version of Wikipedia. Of course, as with other crowd-dependent products, whether it succeeds will depend on whether it succeeds [not a typo].
AudioAir The concept behind this one is simple: To let you watched muted televisions in public places using an app on your Android or iOS device with the ability to chat within the app with other people who are watching the same thing. It was designed primarily with sports in mind, but we can imagine it coming in handy at a music-oriented bar or club, if only as a gimmick; a bar owner could tune each television to a different concert DVD, allowing patrons to watch the one they want, or switch between them, while potentially meeting other people at that location who are into the same music.
Mashroom Mashroom is pretty neat in theory, but it would take some musical expertise and dedication to make it work. Basically, it lets you mash together multiple videos on YouTube into the same audio-visual experience. In the example we saw, the same musician plays a drum part in one video, guitar in another, and so on. By pressing play, you can experience the whole thing as one performance in multiple YouTube videos. Clearly, this would take some doing, but again, it's sort of a neat concept. Users have already uploaded over 50 such mashups.
Spinlet This company offers Android, Blackberry, and Symbian apps designed to represent the music from five countries in Africa. It sounds like a potentially useful way to find out about some new music from outside your usual routine (not to mention country), but there's just one problem, where we users outside those countries are concerned: We can't use it -- at least not yet. "Spinlet is not available in your region just yet," read the message when we tried to install the app. "Please check back in a little while as we are making Spinlet available in various countries across Africa." Unfortunately for those of us who have left Austin, the only way to hear the music on the Spinlet apps is to see it live.
HashtagArt We thought about leaving this one off the list, because like many others, it's directed at bands and marketing firms. However, it's just too neat to pass up. If your favorite band uses HastagArt, they can embed one of these interactive mosaics on their web, Myspace, Facebook, Tumblr, or other page so that fans can add themselves to the mosaic by tweeting. Not only does this generate publicity for the band (because you have to spam all your friends), but it automatically parses your Twitter profile pick and adds it to the correct place in the mosaic in order to form part of an image of the band. It's a neat (patent-pending) idea, but you can't use it unless a band you like does too.
TuneUp TuneUp has been around for about five years, so it wasn't exactly launching at the SXSW trade show -- but it had a large, impressive booth at the SXSW trade show this year. For $50, TuneUp cleans up your iTunes or Windows Media Player library, fixing the metadata tags to make your downloaded music easier to deal with. This is most useful if you have yet to make the leap to a subscription service and/or music apps, and often download music from disparate free sources (blogs, bit torrent, etc.) -- so ironically, it might end up costing more than your music. (A little bird tells us that TuneUp has a big announcement coming up, so stay tuned.)
Honorable Mention: VinylRecorder This is not a music app, quite obviously. But for the music fan who has everything, how about a machine that lets you turn whatever sounds you want into vinyl records? That way, you can astound your friends by playing the latest Pitchfork hits on vinyl when everyone else still has the pre-release version on MP3.