This weekend, Music Hack Day returned to the city where it all began. On Saturday morning, nearly 200 hackers arrived with the hottest hackathon tickets at the Shoreditch Works Village Hall, in Hoxton Square to spend the weekend exercising their passion for music and technology. After 24 hours of hacking, over 50 hacks were built – hacks that let you explore, discover, arrange, create and play with music.
I’ve been to many Music Hack Days, and I must say this was a special one. It had all the magical ingredients to make this the perfect event. First, the Shoreditch Works Village Hall was the ideal hacking venue.
It is located in the heart of London’s exploding tech community, surrounded by pubs and restaurants (in my five minute walk from the hotel to the Village Hall, I walked past a dozen pubs). The Village Hall had perfect power and ample bandwidth for 200 data-starved hackers. The hackathon was sold out and everyone showed up, so we were all tightly packed into the hall – adding to the crazy energy. There’s a coffee shop connected to the hall where baristas were preparing coffee for the hackers long into the night.
Food was not your standard hacker pizza – it was “modern British slow cooking” provided by the Bow Street Kitchen. It really added to the London vibe.
Finally, Thomas Bonte of MuseScore was in attendance – Thomas is the official photographer of Music Hack Day. He’s been taking pictures of MHD since the very first one. He takes great pictures and makes them all available on Flickr via Creative Commons. Check out his full set of the event on Flickr. He took nearly all the photos in this blog post except for this one:
Since the event was sure to sell out (everyone wants to go to a London Music Hack day), only the most motivated hackers were able to get tickets. Motivated hackers are the best kind of hackers.
These are the folks that arrive early, stay late, work hard and finish their hacks on time – leading to a very high level of hacks being built.
The event kicked off with organizer Martyn Davies providing opening remarks, followed by API presentations by various companies. By 2PM hacking was in full swing.
24 hours later, 51 hacks had been completed and submitted to hacker league. The epic demo session started at 3PM and by 6PM all the demos had been completed and prizes were awarded. Unlike other hack days, all the prizes were pooled and distributed to the top hacks (determined by popular vote).
A new and awesome twist to the demo session was provided by Becky Stewart’s hack. She created #mhdbingo – a set of custom bingo cards filled with common Music Hack Day tropes and memes. Each hacker received a unique bingo card to fill out during the demo session. Bingo wins were recorded by tweets with the #mhdbingo hashtag. Here’s a sample bingo card:
Becky’s hack not only provided a little humor for the demo session, but was a great tool to keep the attendees focused on the demo during the nearly 3 hour demo session. There was a point near the end of the demo session when seemingly dozens of folks were praying for a hack that showed ‘tracks on a map’ – and yes, their prayers were answered. Becky’s hack is on Github and she accepts pull requests so if you have suggestions for more MHD memes and tropes go ahead and add them and submit the pull requests. I’m sure #mhdbingo will become a fixture at future Music Hack days.
Some of my favorite hacks of the weekend are:
Hipster Robot - A hipster robotic arm that stops you listening to any music it deems “too mainstream”
Didgidoo - An electronically augmented didgeridoo.
#mhdbingo – the aforementioned Bingo game celebrating all our favourite Music Hack Day tropes.
notepad - Draw a piano on a paper pad, and start playing it!
These are your Burns - takes your favourite bit of audio at the moment (Your ‘jam’ if you will) and creates a beautiful collage of memes, informed by the lyrics of the song, and presents them in a familiar documentary style.
MidiModulator - This Python script will take a song and modulate the pitch with the melody of a chosen score (basically, another song). Think of it as FM, except instead of a frequency we take an entire Christmas carol.
playsongsto.me - a collaborative playlist tool with a difference – you have to convince your friends to keep adding tracks faster than you can listen to them or face the consequences! This hack was created by Ross Penman – the youngest hacker to demo a project. I really liked his unique double twist on the party playlister.
album pairs - a nearly ready for the iOs App Store is the Album Pairs app by Iain Mullan – its an album cover matching game – when you make the match the corresponding song is added to the playlist.
Block Surfer - Rhythms created from waves using a bit of 2D physics.
Chiptar - hacked a guitar to control an 8-bit C64-inspired synth engine. Using an accelerometer it’s also possible to control arpeggiation.
Attention Deficit Radio – This is my hack – Attention Deficit Radio creates a Pandora-like radio experience for music listeners with short attention spans.
The top popular crowd favorite was Lifesong. This hack was written by Ben Nunney entirely on an Amstrad 1512 – a mid-80s PC with 512k RAM and a 4Mhz processor. It’s based in Pascal with a BASIC wrapper around it.
Since this computer has no network, audio out, or video out, Ben had to resort to some unusual methods to demo his hack.
It was a really fun demo session. There were lots of unique hacks. See the full list on hacker league. Many APIs were used including Spotify, Deezer, Songkick, Last.fm, Twilio, SoundCloud, Discogs, MuseScore, MusicMetric and more. I was especially pleased to see that several dozen hacks use our Echo Nest API to make cool hacks.
Thanks to @martynd and everyone involved in organizing the Music Hack Day London. It really was the perfect Music Hack Day.
This weekend, I’ve been in London, attending the London Music Hack Day. For this weekend’s hack, I was inspired by daughter’s music listening behavior – when she listens to music, she is good for the first verse or two and the chorus, but after that, she’s on to the next song. She probably has never heard a bridge. So for my daughter, and folks like her with short attention spans, I’ve built Attention Deficit Radio. ADR creates a Pandora-like radio station based upon a seed artist, but doesn’t bother you by playing whole songs. Instead, after about 30 seconds or so, it is on to the next song. The nifty bit is that ADR will try to beat-match and crossfade between the songs giving you a (hopefully) seamless listening experience as you fly through the playlist. Of course those with short attention spans need something to look at while listening, so ADR has lots of gauges that show the radio status – it shows the current beat, the status of the cross-fade, tempo and song loading status.
There may be a few rough edges, and the paint is not yet dry, but give Attention Deficit Radio a try if you have a short listening attention span.
In the last few months I’ve found myself listening to Skrillex non-stop – usually because I’m working on some sort of Skrillexed-based hack. One thing about Skrillex – his music is quite layered, there’s lots of interesting sounds packed into every second of a song. I thought I’d explore this layering a little bit by applying Paul’s Stretch to Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. The effect is quite pleasing.
Yesterday, I wrote about who the Deepest Artists are. So naturally, today I’ll turn that on its head and take a look at who are the Shallowest Artists. I define a shallow artist as an artist that despite having a substantial number of released songs, has most listens concentrated in their top five tracks. These are the artists that are best known for just a small number of songs.
For each artist, I’ve calculated a Shallowness Score which is merely the percentage of an artist’s plays that occurs in an artist’s top 5 songs. A Shallowness Score of 71% means that 71% of all listens occur in the top 5 songs. Thus, 71% of all listens to Survivor (of Eye of the Tiger fame) are found in their top 5 songs.
Update: This post used to reference the Pitch Perfect Treblemakers, but Glenn points to an ambiguous artist issue with the Treblemakers where multiple artists were conflated. The Pitch Pefect Treblemakers only have 4 songs so they are no longer a candidate for this list.
Here are the top 15 Shallowest Artists. Click to see the full chart:
As you’d expect, there are plenty of new artists on the list, artists like Icona Pop, Avicii and Zedd that have had a few charting songs. Being tagged as a shallow artist isn’t necessarily bad, it just means that your music is dominated by a handful of hits. That’s why we find Adele and Jeff Buckley on the same list as Paris Hilton and Smash Mouth.
Our playlists our filled with One Hit Wonders like My Sharona, Tainted Love and Final Countdown. One Hit wonders are the non-nutritious food of the music world – they are Twinkie’s, the Ho Hos and the Yodels of our musical diet. But what should we listen to when we want a full and nutritious musical meal? We should look for music by artists that have deeper catalogs – artists where the fans spend substantial time listening to the non-hits. These are the Deep Artists, the opposite of the One Hit Wonders – the artists that you can spend months or years listening to and exploring their collection.
Unfortunately, there’s no master list of Deep Artists – but I have lots of music listener data, so I figured I could build one. Here’s what I did. First I restricted my results to somewhat familiar artists with at least 100 songs in their catalog. I then scored each artist by the percentage of song plays that occur in the deep catalog versus the total plays for the artist – where deep catalog means a song that is not in the top ten for that artist. This gives each artist a Deepness Score that I could then use to sort artists to give us a list of the Deepest Artists. Here are the top ten:
Not surprising to see Johann Sebastian Bach at number two. Bach has no real ‘hits’ – and indeed has an incredibly deep catalog. 90% of all Bach plays occur in Bach’s non-top 10. The number one deep artist is Vitamin String Quartet – they have 3500 covers of songs with no clear hits among them.
Looking at the full list we see jam bands like Phish and Grateful Dead, AOR staples like Pink Floyd and David Bowie.
I’ve built a list of a little over 500 of the Deepest Artists. These are artists that have a deepness score of 50% or greater – meaning that at least 50% of all listens for the artist is in the deeper cuts. This Thanksgiving if you are looking for some more nutritious music, stay away from Alice’s Restaurant and other One Hit Wonders and listen to music by artists on this Deep Artists list.
Update: Glenn looked at these results and felt that a nutritious music meal shouldn’t include Vitamin String Quartet (it’s the ‘artificially-fortified sugar-coated cereal of music’ according to Glenn), so Glenn took a different approach with different results. Glenn calls his results boring, but I think they are quite interesting. Read his post: Good Boring results
It has been nearly 10 years since Chris Anderson’s Wired article and subsequent book called The Long Tail. In the article, book, and subsequent blog posts Chris (and I can call him Chris because we once had a 3 minute conversation in Bilbao Spain, so we are friends) showed data about how music listening is changing as we move away from the physical constraints of CD shelves and replace them with the infinite virtual shelves of the online music store.
I thought it was time to look at the data again to see if the trends that my good friend Chris was seeing back in 2004 still persist today. In particular, in the blog post Latest Rhapsody data and more Chris showed how a substantial fraction of the music market is shifting away from the Walmart inventory of the top 50,000 tracks:
This chart shows that as Rhapsody’s collection size increased the amount of listener market share in the songs that were not in the top 50K grew from 26%, to 28% and then 30% over 3 years. Today’s music subscription services boast 10 million or more songs (but of course, those numbers start to get a bit meaningless beyond a certain point – it becomes filler). Let’s take a look to see if the fraction of listening that is not in the top 50K tracks has continued to grow. Here’s some pie:
This data shows that in 2013, with 10million+ tracks available, 42% of listens can be found in the long tail (i.e. beyond the top 50K tracks). So the trend has continued. More listening is taking place in less popular music.
In the same blog post, my pal Chris presents this Hitland vs. nicheland chart that shows what percentage of the music business is selling the top 100 artists. Back in 2006, 50% of Walmart’s music business was selling music by the top 100 artists, while for Rhapsody, about 25% of market share was in the top 100 artists.
Lets’s extend this chart using listening data from 2013:
As you can see, the trend continues, only 20% of listening is in the top 100 artists. It’s not a dramatic change, but it does show that the more music you make available, the deeper the catalog, the deeper the listening.
Here are a few more fun facts about today’s listening. 80% of all listening is concentrated in the top 5,000 artists. The top 1,000 songs account for about 13% of all listening, and 80% of all listening is spread over about 222,0000 songs.
My good buddy Chris’s Long Tail hypothesis has come under considerable scrutiny in the last few years, but by looking at the data we see that the trends Chris pointed out have continued. Our listening is less concentrated in the hits than ever before. Yes, hits are important and will alway be, but if you make more music available to listeners, they will indeed listen to it. So, remember my best friend’s three rules for the Long Tail:
- Make everything available
- Cut the price in half – now lower it
- Help me find it.
At The Echo Nest, we work hard to make rule 3 a reality – our mission is to help connect people with the best music, whether it be in the short head, or deep into that Long Tail.
The Sydney Opera House hackathon is off to a bad start. The infamous institution is holding a hackathon next month. They are offering a prize of $4K AU (about $3, 750 US) along with ‘The glory of developing an app for Sydney Opera House which will be seen by millions of visitors every year’ for the best hack. The Register dove into the Terms & Conditions (warning, 2,000 words of legalize) and dug up all sorts of IP grabs. Bottom line, at the end of the hack the SOH can do just about anything it wants with what you built at the hackathon. To quote the Register:
“By entering this competition, every last line of code you cut becomes the property of the Sydney Opera House Trust.”
There’s also this little nugget in the T&C:
“By entering this Hackathon, you agree that use of information in our representatives’ unaided memories in the development or deployment of our products or services does not create liability for us”
One can just imagine how it this came about. Some biz guys (yeah, all evil comes from the biz guys) were sitting around thinking about how they could get their mobile app done for cheap. “Let’s do a hackathon! Toss a few bean bag chairs and power strips into a hotel conference room. Send in boxes of Pizza every 6 hours and out will pop dozens of apps to chose from. Even if none of the apps built are polished enough for release we will be able to mine all the best ideas from the most creative Australian techies and put them into our app when we finally hire that digital agency to build it.”
Unfortunately for the SOH, developers are too smart for that. They can do the math. To win a high profile hackathon with a goal of building a mobile app for millions of users, you probably need a team of four: the front-end programmer, the back-end programmer, the designer and the do-everything-else-including-the-presentation guy/gal (a.k.a The Face). At a modest $125 an hour per team member on the open market that team costs $500 per hour, so 24 hours of hacking is worth about $12,000. (That’s not even counting the pre-hack work that any team going to win will do – getting the code repository setup, the tools primed, the workflow established). The chance to win a $4K prize for $12K of work is just not worth it. And of course, the SOH IP grab crosses the line. Any developer who goes to the SOH understanding the T&C will leave their best ideas at home. No one wants to give away their good ideas for nothing.
The Sydney Opera House is not the first example of a hackathon abuse nor will it be the last – but it highlights the wrong thinking that many businesses seem to have about hackathons – that hackathons are a way to get stuff built quickly and cheaply. So here’s some unsolicited advice to businesses thinking about holding hackathons from someone who’s been to lots of them and has seen how they work.
Hackathons are not competitions - Hackers love to build stuff. We build apps, we build web sites, we build hardware gizmos, we build musical instruments. Hacking is all about being creative and building stuff. Nothing fosters creativity more than being in a room full of other like-minded folks. Folks that share your passion for building cool stuff. At a hackathon such as a Music Hack Day, the emphasis is not on prizes, the emphasis is on creativity. At a Music Hack Day hackers form teams spontaneously to build stuff. They share ideas with each other, they help each other – they revel in every cool demo. If you throw a big prize into the mix the dynamic changes dramatically. The hackathon becomes a competition. Hackers become developers that are thinking strategically about how to win the prize. They don’t share ideas with others, they don’t go for the creative but risky idea – they go for the conservative idea and spend their extra energy making nice colors and fonts in the PowerPoint presentation for the demo. In the early days of the Music Hack Day, we had one event where a big local sponsor brought a $10K cash prize. Not knowing any better, we went with it, but that was a mistake. Yes, there were lots of hackers and lots of completed projects, but the whole vibe of the hackathon was different. The hackathon was no longer a center of creative sharing, instead it was a cut-throat event. The goal was no longer about being creative, the goal was to win $10K . We learned our lesson and now we make sure that prizes offered at Music Hack Days are modest. Note that there are some really good hackathons like HackerOlympics that are designed to be competitions. These hackathons value teams that can think quickly and creatively across a wide range of skill sets. Winners get bragging rights and modest prizes.
Don’t use a hackathon as a way to develop your app - no one wants to go to a hackathon to do work for someone else. Hackers want to scratch their own creative itch , they don’t want to build your app for you. No amount of free pizza is going to change that. Now, if you’ve got a million dollars to spend, I’m sure you’ll get some good apps but that’s not the kind of hackathon I’d really want to go to.
Bottom line - if your hackathon has a T&C that requires developers to give up any rights to the stuff they’ve created at your hackathon you are doing it wrong. If you are going to give away big prizes, don’t expect to have a creative, sharing atmosphere – if you give away big prizes expect to see people spend more time working on a powerpoint and less time on that creative but risky hack. The currency at a hackathon should be creativity, not money or prizes and at the end of it all, the creators should own their own ideas. No amount of pizza should change that.