Hack Days

The music industry should learn from #MusicHackday

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Hack Days are becoming increasingly popular, fostering innovation in technology and helping companies reach out to and engage with users. In this guest post, Dave Haynes (@Haynes_Dave), head of SoundCloud in the UK and founder of Music Hackday, argues that hack days also show a way forward for the wider music industry.

Inside the Radialsystem V in Berlin, one of the city’s “new spaces for the arts”, the second Music Hackday has begun. There’s a real buzz of excitement within this diverse collection of people, some traveling from as far away as Boston, Stockholm, London and Amsterdam, who have just 24 hours to conceptualize, build and present the best possible ‘music hack’.

This is a new type of event for the music industry. Sessions are focussed on talks about APIs and technology and the mood is refreshingly upbeat. You won’t find any long-winded panels about ‘Music 2.0’ or the death of the traditional music industry here: the participants are too busy swapping ideas, sharing code and building the future using blocks laid down by companies like SoundCloud, Songkick, 7digital, Last.fm and The Echonest. The hackers are also joined by music software companies such as Ableton and Native Instruments: hardware meets software meeting the web, all connected via music.

The results (listed in full here) are varied and innovative. Projects presented on the final day include a Berlin gig visualiser GigLook that takes events data from Last.fm and Eviscape.com and displays it along with pictures from Last.fm and Musicpictures.com.


The aptly named TracksOnAMap, a polished mashup of Google Maps and tracks uploaded to SoundCloud by users.


One of the event’s best physical hacks is a more artistic piece called Xylobot, a music robot consisting of an Arduino micro-controller, six servos, a toy xylophone and a lot of wood and glue:

Also created was a rather slick iPhone app made for Citysounds.fm – one of the excellent projects already developed during Music Hack Day London earlier this summer (fingers crossed that it makes it on to the App Store!):

Despite Berlin being smaller than London, the quality of hacking and passion for the subject has been particularly high. We’re seeing the beginnings of a whole movement seeking to change the traditional music industry and the way we consume music: in Europe alone we now have platforms like SoundCloud, Songkick, 7digital, Last.fm, Gigulate, Cloudspeakers and Spotify. Events like the Music Hackday are stepping up in frequency: there are instalments being planned in Amsterdam, Boston and Mumbai and there are tentative talks about Music Hackdays coming later in San Francisco, New York, Stockholm and Manchester.

The main aim of a Music Hackday is to showcase the forward-thinking companies opening up their APIs and connecting them with local coders, hackers and enthusiasts with a passion for music and building amazing new things. For our part, SoundCloud is really embracing this new way of doing business by totally opening up its platform, making it as easy for developers to build on top of its foundations as possible. In the last week, we’ve released PHP, Actionscript and C wrappers for the SoundCloud API (in addition to its existing Ruby Gem and iPhone/Cocoa wrappers). One of the keys to success for SoundCloud is an active developer community, using our API to build everything from desktop music uploaders and iPhone apps through to cool music players and integrations with other sites.

There is a serious point underlying this for everyone: many of the recent innovations in the music industry have happened from people outside of it. Talented and smart developers are taking full advantage of all the tools at their disposal to interact with music in the ways that they want to, not just the ways that the traditional music industry wants them to – so quite often that’s happening illegally. Popular sites such as Muxtape and Mixwit have been forced to shut down by the RIAA, while Seeqpod is the target of a major label’s lawsuit. Those who try to explore the legal route are plundered for expensive advances. Barriers are put up. But I sincerely hope that he industry is taking note and seeing what could happen if it was to embrace change.

Just like these pioneering digital music services, the labels should be providing resources, data and audio to developers. Let them play, develop and experiment, building (legitimate) new services along the way. Sure, maybe 8 out of 10 of these new services will fail. But this is nothing new to labels: they’ve faced exactly the same risk/reward ratio when it comes to investing in and signing new artists!

  • Christoph

    Change the city name in the GigLook url and you get more cities.

    e.g.: http://giglook.musicpictures.com/giglook/London/

    It’s not just only Berlin.

  • http://eric.wahlforss.com Eric Wahlforss

    Big ups to David from SoundCloud for a really well organized hackday!

  • http://eric.wahlforss.com Eric Wahlforss

    Oh and the SoundCloud API does have a Python wrapper as well: http://wiki.github.com/soundcloud/python-api-wrapper

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  • http://twitter.com/slainson Suzanne Lainson

    I feel music is becoming more participatory and will eventually break down the division between artist and fan. The ultimate model will be one which fosters creativity, engagement, and participation among people of varying levels of talent.

    So encouraging more input from a variety of techies, music people, and music users might be one way to accomplish this. Most of the current music business models are still based on creative types selling to fans in some fashion.

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  • http://www.musicpictures.com/www.eviscape.com Simon Redfern

    Great stuff. It was similar in spirit to some contemporary art/music/dance residencies I’ve participated in. i.e. you focus on the essential, meet cool people, mix ideas, get feedback – and just make it work somehow!

    Thanks to this event we wrote the first method of our musicpictures API in the days before and used it the next :-)


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  • http://www.seslisohbetbk.com Sesli Sohbet

    So encouraging more input from a variety of techies, music people, and music users might be one way to accomplish this. Most of the current music business models are still based on creative types selling to fans in some fashion.

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