Archive for category code

Interactive Music – Richer

Here’s a nifty web-based music experience created by Dutch Gramophone (aka Yotam Mann).  It’s an interactive song about working and employment where you have to do work to hear the richest version of the track.


To hear the song, you add virtual pennies to the penny jar. The fuller the penny jar, the richer the music.  This is similar in concept to’s 18 months where you had to dance to hear Calvin Harris’s new album, but takes it a step further by automatically expanding and contracting the instrumentation of the music.  The result is that everyone hears a different version of the song.  It is a neat idea and very well executed with intriguing images drawn by Sarah Rothberg.  Check it out: Richer

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The Perfect Music Hack

There have been 30 Music Hack Days since the movement began back in 2009.  Since then there have been somewhere around 1,500 music hacks built.  I’ve seen lots of and lots of hacks, many have been technical marvels that have become the seeds of new music startups. However,  there’s no better hack to demonstrate what music hacking is all about than the hack by Iain Mullan called ‘Johnny Cash has been Everywhere‘.  This web app is simple – it plays Johnny Cash’s version of “I’ve been everywhere”, while it shows you on a Google  map all of the places Johnny has been.  Check the hack out here:


To me it’s the perfect hack because it captures all that is best about music hacking. First, it combines a few web services that had never been combined before (Tomahawk, MusixMatch and Google maps). Second, it has absolutely no commercial value: it’s an app built entirely for and around an obscure,  20 year old recording of a 50 year old song – there is no way to repackage this hack for other songs since just aren’t that many songs that list a hundred cities. Third,  its simple – inside and out. Most first year Javascript programmers would be able to re-create this app, and the only thing the user needs to do is hit the play button. But despite its simplicity Iain has done a great job making it polished enough to show to anyone. Fourth, its original. I’ve never seen any hack like this before, not an insignificant feat considering the 1,500 music hacks that have already been built.  And finally – it is whimsical and fun. It exists only for the 4 minutes of pure enjoyment you get from watching it play through that first time.

As we enter the thick of Music Hack Day season, I offer up this hack as an example of  a hack to aspire to. Whimsical, original, simple and fun. Don’t worry about the business plan, don’t worry about cramming in every feature or API, just build something neat.  And I look forward to seeing what Iain builds at his next Music Hack Day

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What really was the Song of the Summer?

It’s the time of the year when everyone is crowning the Song the Summer. Billboard has picked Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines as their choice based upon radio airplay, audience impressions, sales data and streaming activity, but that’s not the final word.  Other’s have chimed in with their own picks. MTV Video Music Awards Best Song of the Summer, based on online voting went to One Direction’s Best Song Ever, while Paste Magazine’s editors picked Daft Punk’s Get Lucky.

But do any of these songs really deserve the Song of the Summer crown? I really don’t like a metric like Billboard’s that uses radio airplay or sales data – that’s really a measure of how well a label’s marketing department is performing, not a measure of how well the song is liked. Online voting, such as is used to select the MTV Video Music Award winner, is easily hacked, manipulated and subject to the Tyranny of the Bored, while an editorial pick is just the opinion of a couple of writers on a deadline.

I think the best way to pick the Song of the Summer is see which song is actually played more by music listeners. Forget the song that is getting the most buzz, the Song of the Summer is the song that is getting the most plays.  So, let’s look at song plays and pick our own Song of the Summer.

The following chart shows a plot of the top 750 songs played over the summer. The plot represents the song plays vs the song fans. Songs on the upper right are the songs that have the most fans and are getting the most plays

Plot of the Hot Songs of Summer 2013

click to view an interactive version of the chart

You can click on the above image to open an interactive version of the chart. You can mouse over the songs to see what they are, you can click on a song to hear it, and you can click on a genre in the legend to highlight songs within a particular genre.

Using this chart we can see that the top songs of the summer based on play data are:

  1. Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
  2. Radioactive – Imagine Dragons
  3. Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke
  4. When I Was Your Man – Bruno Mars
  5. Thrift Shop – Mackmore & Ryan Lewis
  6. Holy Grail – Jay Z
  7. Just Give Me A Reason – P!nk
  8. Treasure – Bruno Mars
  9. Mirrors – Justin Timberlake
  10. We Can’t Stop – Miley Cyrus

Daft Punk’s Get Lucky is at #13, and One Direction’s rank is way down at #74.

Blurred Lines is close at number three, but the clear winner of the Song of the Summer crown, based on play data is Macklemore’s Can’t Hold Us.

The songs with the most passionate fans
I like plotting songs on a plays vs fans plot. It not only shows what songs are most popular in terms of plays and fans, but it also helps us find songs that are attracting the most passionate fans.  For example, in the plot below, I’ve highlighted certain songs that are getting more than their fair share of songs plays:


These are songs that fans are listening to over and over – a good indicator that the song is destined for greatness.  Avicii and Lorde are already on the Billboard top 10.  The Fifth Harmony Song Miss Movin’ On has an extremely high passion score.  I expect we’ll be hearing a lot about Fifth Harmony over the next year.

Update -  it turns out that the Fifth Harmony high passion score is not  an honest score. The fans of Fifth Harmony (aka Harmonizers) have been organizing a continuous streaming of Fifth Harmony’s Miss Movin’ On to push it up the charts.   Here’s a peek into the twitter campaign:


This campaign explains why the Fifth Harmony track is such an outlier, and is a reminder that any single metric used to pick winners can and will be manipulated. sigh.

Perhaps Blurred Lines is the Song of the Summer in that it best captured the vibe of 2013, but my vote, and the data say that the real song of the summer was Macklemore’s Can’t hold us.  Now, since it is after labor day, we can put this topic to rest, and start thinking about how we feel about the Song of the Summer 2014 being by Fifth Harmony.


What are your favorite Music Hack Day Hacks?

Photo by Thomas Bonte

Photo by Thomas Bonte

In a couple of weeks I’m heading out to Chicago to give a talk at the Chicago Music Summit about Music Hacking at Music Hack Days. I’ll have an hour to talk about hack days and show off lots of demos. Naturally, I’d like to highlight all the best hacks. However,  given that there have been over 30 music hack days, remembering the best of the 2000+ hacks is going to be a challenge.  I’m hoping you can help me remember the best hacks, either by adding a comment to this post or just tweeting with #bestmusichack. I prefer hacks that I can demo directly via the web or that have been captured on video. To get things started here are some of the most notable hacks that I can recall.

Whimsical Hacks

Hardware Hacks

Music Exploration and Discovery Hacks

Party playlisting

Of the many party playlisting hacks that have been created, which one is the best?

Hacks that have been turned into businesses

Music Remixing Hacks

Performance art

No need to be shy about suggesting your own hacks. As you can see, I have no qualms about adding my own hacks (Bonhamizer, Infinite Jukebox and Boil The Frog) to the list.

I anticipate your recommendations. Thanks in advance for your help!

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Github repositories of music tech

There are a lot of music tech companies working to create new ways for people to engage with music. Lots of these companies are also giving back to the world by making their source code available.  Here are the top music tech companies who have made significant open source contributions (in alphabetical order). Criteria to be on this list: The organization must be primarily a music company (sorry, google and twitter) that has participated in a Music Hack Day and must have at least three 10-star or more github projects. If I’ve missed anyone, please let me know. - 23 public repos. Top Projects:

  • lastfm-deskiop - 166 stars - The official desktop application suite
  • Fingerprinter - 160 stars -  the official repository for the fingerprint library.
  • libmoost - 122 stars -’s collection of C++ utility libraries

Rdio - 31 public repos. Top projects:

  • Vernacular  - 95 stars –  a localization tool for developers. It currently is focused on providing a unified localization system for MonoTouchMono for Android, and Windows Phone.
  • Bujagali - 90 stars – Bujagali is a flexible template system that is a thin layer on top of JavaScript which makes it easier to write HTML (or any templated text) using JavaScript
  • rdio-simple - 83 stars - a set of simple clients libraries for Rdio’s web API.

SongKick – 52 public repos – Top Projects

  • oauth2-provider –  334 stars – Simple OAuth 2.0 provider toolkit
  • transport – 40 stars –  A transport layer abstraction for talking to service APIs
  • aspec – 10 stars – a testing language for API external surfaces.

SoundCloud – 123 public repos – Top projects:

Spotify – 28 public repos – Top projects:

  • luigi – 682 stars –  Luigi is a Python module that helps you build complex pipelines of batch jobs. It handles dependency resolution, workflow management, visualization etc. It also comes with Hadoop support built in.
  • cocoalibspotify – 425 stars – A Cocoa wrapper for libpotify
  • sparkey – 161 stars - Sparkey is a simple constant key/value storage library.

The Echo Nest - 42 public repos. Top Projects:

  • Echoprint-codegen – 323 stars - Echoprint is an open source music fingerprint and resolving framework powered by the The Echo Nest.
  • pyechonest – 258 stars - Pyechonest is an open source Python library for the Echo Nest API. With Pyechonest you have Python access to the entire set of API methods.
  • Echoprint-server – 212 stars – the server component for Echoprint – an open source music fingerprint and resolving framework powered by the The Echo Nest.

A few companies / organizations have only one frequently starred repos, but since it is their entire source code, it seems worth mentioning.

  • MuseScore – 135 stars - MuseScore is a open source and free music notation software
  • Tomahawk-player – 445 stars - Tomahawk, the social music player app

Criteria to be on this list: The organization must be primarily a music company (sorry, google and twitter) that has participated in a Music Hack Day and must have at least three 10-star or more github projects. If I’ve missed anyone, please let me know.

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Are these the angriest tracks on the web?

I built a playlist of songs that most frequently appear in playlists with the words angry or mad with the Smart Playlist Builder. These are arguably some of the angriest tracks on the web.

It is interesting to compare these angry tracks to the top tracks tagged with angry at


I can’t decide whether the list derived from angry playlists is better or worse than the list driven by social tags. I’d love to hear your opinion. Take a look at these two lists and tell me which list is a better list of angry tracks and why.

yep, this is totally unscientific poll, but I’m still interested in what you think.


Top cover songs

I’ve always been a big fan of cover songs. They provide a great way to experience old music in a new way. They can help you discover a new artist or a new genre - by combining the familiar with the novel.  To build the ultimate cover song playlist I used the Smart Playlist Builder to create a playlist of covers that most frequently appear in cover songs playlists. These are the essential covers.  Have a listen:

You can read more about the Smart Playlist Builder and create your own wisdom-of-the-crowds playlists.


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Rock Steady – My Music Ed Hack

This weekend I’m at The Music Education Hack in New York City where educators and technologists are working together to transform music education in New York City.  My hack, Rock Steady,  is a drummer training app for the iPhone.  You use the app to measure how well you can keep a steady beat.  Here’s how it works:

photo (1)

First you add songs from your iTunes collection. The app will then use The Echo Nest to analyze the song and map out all of the beats. Once the song is ready you enter Rock Steady training mode: The app will show you the current tempo of the song. Your goal then is to match the tempo by using your phone as a drumstick and tapping out the beat.  You are scored based upon how well you match the tempo.  There are three modes: matching mode  - in this easy-peesy mode you listen to the song and match the tempo.  A bit harder is silent mode -  you listen to the song for a few seconds and then try to maintain the tempo on your own. Finally there’s bonzo mode - here the music is playing, but instead of you matching the music, the music matches you. If you speed up, the music speeds up, if you slow down, the music slows down.  This is the trickiest mode – you have to keep a steady beat and not be fooled by the band that is following you.

This is my first iOS hack. I got to use lots of new stuff, such as Core Motion to detect the beats. I stole lots of code from the iOS version of the Infinite Jukebox (all the track upload  and analysis stuff).  It was a fun hack to build. If anyone thinks it is interesting I may try to finish it and put it in the app store.


Here’s a video:


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A quick hack to explore gender and music

Given that it is a holiday today, I only had a short amount of coding time this morning. Still, I built something that is pretty fun to play with. It is a little tool that lets you explore gender and music.  With the tool, you can search for Rdio playlists via keywords and the app will give you the gender breakdown of the matching playlist creators. For example, if you type in ‘exercise’  the tool finds the top 200 playlists with exercise in the title and gives you the gender breakdown like so:


You can use the tool to explore gender biases in music. Some examples:

  • 90% of Bieber playlists are by female listeners
  • 81% of  heavy metal playlists are by male listeners
  • 61% of love playlists are by female  listeners
  • 70% of driving playlists are by male listeners
  • 70% of cleaning playlists are by female listeners
  • 95% of coding playlists are by male (!) listeners
  • 100% of Mamma Mia playlists are by female listeners
  • 88% of frat playlists are by male listeners

The tool was built using the superduper Rdio API.  Try the tool out here:   Gender Bias in Music


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Getting the Hotttest Artists in any genre with The Echo Nest API

If you spend a few hours listening to broadcast radio it becomes pretty evident who the most popular pop artists are.  You can’t go too long before you hear a song by Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Bruno Mars or P!nk.  The hotttest pop artists get lots of airplay.  But what about all the other music out there?  Who are the hotttest gothic metal artists? Who are the most popular Texas blues artists?   Those are the kind of questions we try to answer with today’s Echo Nest demo:  The Hotttest Artists


This app lets you select from among over 400 different genres from a cappella to Zydeco and see who are the hotttest artists in that genre.  The output includes a brief bio and image of the artist, and of course you can listen to any artist via Rdio.   The app is an interesting way to explore all of the different genres out there and sample some different types of music.  The source is available on github. The whole thing including all Javascript, html and CSS is less than 500 lines.

Try out the Hotttest Artist app  and be sure to check out all of the other Echo Nest demos on our demo page.

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