Archive for category Music

Let’s go to France to write some code

This past weekend was the fourth annual MIDEM Music Hack Day held in Cannes.  During about 48 hours 2 dozen or so hackers collected in a beautiful hacking space at the top of the Palais Des Festivals to build something cool with music and technology.

The MIDEM Music Hack Day is no ordinary Music Hack Day. It has a very limited enrollment so only hackers that have demonstrated the ability to create music hacks are invited.  Add to that, the fact that there is about 50% more time to build hacks and the result is a set of very high quality hacks.

Martyn giving the hack talk (photo by @sydlawerence)

Martyn giving the hack talk (photo by @sydlawerence)

Martyn Davies, master Music Hack day coordinator, kicked off  the event with a talk to the MIDEM attendees about what Music Hack Day is all about.  Martyn talked about the things that drive the hackers to spend their weekends hacking on code – in particular how the Music Hack Day is a chance to combined their love for music and technology, be creative and to build something new and cool during the weekend. Martyn demonstrated two representative hacks built at previous Music Hack Days.  First he showed the demo given by master hacker @sydlawrence of a hack called Disco Disco Tech. The excitement in Syd’s voice is worth the price of admission alone.

Next he showed one of my favorite Music Hack Day hacks of all time, Johnny Cash is Everywhere by @iainmullen

One of the special features of the MIDEM Music Hack Day is that non-hackers get to pitch their hacking ideas to the hackers about what apps they’d really like to see created over the weekend. There were a number of pitches ranging from a proposal for an artist-centric tool for organizing a creative music production team to a whimsical request to show what the music on the Internet sounds like when it decays. (Here’s one answer). All of the idea pitches were interesting, but here’s the secret. The hackers are not going to build your idea. It’s not because they don’t like your idea, it is because they already have tons of good ideas. The hackers are a very creative bunch, each with a long list of ideas waiting to be built. What the hackers usually lack is a solid block of time to implement their own ideas and so a hackathon is the perfect time to take that best idea on the list and work for a solid 24 hour to get it done.  It is rare for a hacker to get excited about building someone else’s idea, when they have so many of their own. As they say: “ideas are cheap, execution is everything“.

Once the opening talks concluded we hackers made their way up to the top of the Palais des Festivals (the heart of MIDEM) to our hacking space. It’s a great space with lots of natural light, a terrace that overlooks the French Riviera, and it is some distance away from the main conference so we were not bothered by stray walk-ons.

View from the hacker space

View from the hacker space

To kick things off, we went around the room introducing ourselves, briefly talking about our background skills, and ideas, and almost immediately got to hacking.  Since all the hackers were experienced hackers there was no need for the typical API workshops or learning sessions. Everyone knew, for instance, that I was from The Echo Nest and was ready to answer any questions about the Echo Nest API that should arise.

The hacking space (photo by @neomoha)

The hacking space (photo by @neomoha)

The next 46 hours was a blur of coding, punctuated by food delivery, the sound of the espresso maker and the occasional wandering pigeon.

Hacker Self Portraits

Yulile's hack in progress

Yulile’s hack in progress

There’s a math error lurking in there …

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@alastairporter does the math to work out the path of a record groove for his hack

Early morning coding on the French Riveria

Typical view for an international executive music hacker

Typical view from the international executive music hacker suite

The Hacks

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After 48 hours, we gathered in the Innovation Hall to demonstrate what we built. Each hacking team had about three minutes to show their stuff.  Eighteen hacks were built.  Here are some of my very favorites:

DJ Spotify  – built by Yuli Levtov – This is a real hacker’s hack. Yuli had a problem. He wanted to use Spotify when he DJed, but Spotify won’t let you beat match and cross fade songs. In fact, Spotify won’t even let you play two streams at once. So Yuli got to work to make it happen.  Along the way Yuli augmented his DJ playlists with BPM and key information from The Echo Nest (using a very clever growl hack).  One of the highlights of my MIDEM week was listening to Yuli try to explain what OS virtualization is and how Soundflower works to a room full of Music Biz types. Yuli has a detailed blog post that describes how his hack works. Yuli’s hack was voted the best hack by the hackers. Well done Yuli!

iPhoto-2That One Song by Matt Ogle and Hannah Donovan – For this hack, Matt added a feature to his super popular This Is My Jam site. Type in any band and let the Jam community tell you the one song you should hear first. Plus: playback options, commentary, and an alternative “B-side” song recommendation for each artist.

iPhoto-2Skrillex Invader 20 – by Vivien Barousse – Imagine Guitar Hero meets Space Invaders meets Skrillex meets a Piano Keyboard. Skrillex Invader 20 is a small game designed to help you improve your skills on a piano keyboard.

Bang The Biebs – by Robin Johnson – A hack that combined the Leap Motion with a game. This hack was special, not only for the Bieber banging, but because Robin used the hack as a way to learn Javascript. This was his first JS app.

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Scratchy Record –  by Alastair Porter – Playing music from mp3s today has no soul. Scratchy Record reproduces the joy that can be had listening to music on vinyl. From the dirty needle causing extra noise, to the pops and skips that we all love, to the need to get up half way through the album and turn it over. Scratchy Record has it all.

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HappyClappy - by Peck, ankit and mager – an IOS app that lets you queue up songs by clapping the rhythm. Uses The Echo Nest to search for songs by BPM.

iPhoto-2PhatStats – Syd Lawerence – Syd tried to build a sustainable subscription business during the hack with PhatStats – A new tool to discover up and coming talent across the social web, and to monitor your videos and their engagement levels across the social web.

PhatStats

This is your tour - Sam Phippen – Going on tour is hard. You’ve got to find someone to tour with. You’ve got to pick cities and venues. You’ve got to book hotels, find places to eat and drink. All of this takes far too much time.

This_is_your_tour

iPhoto-2Nikantas – Sabrina Leandro – a clever app that helps you learn a new language through music lyrics.  Fill in the blanks in lyrics of your favourite English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, or Italian artists. Can you recognise a word in a song? A word will be displayed on the screen, press the space key when the artist sings it

neoScores meets Deezer - Bob Hamblok – HTML5 sheet music score following inside Deezer.

neoScores_app_on_Deezer

Seevl hipster - by Alexandre Passant – Be a real hipster. Impress your friends with obscure music tastes. Do you want to impress your friend who’s into electro-folk, or that other one who only listens to avant-garde metal? Now you can! With seevl hipster, find obscure artists that match your friend tastes, and show-off on their Facebook wall.

Playlist Plus - Iain Mullan – Playlist Plus allows you to create a richer interactive version of a playlist. Add notes and comments to each track, to share with friends, or distribute an in-depth album review. Like a particular lyric? Bookmark it at the exact timestamp in the song. Think a track has a heavy Zeppelin influence? Link to the song/album it reminds you of. Cover version? Link to the original and let the reader stream it instantly from within your PlaylistPlus!

ScapeList - Mohammed Sordo – How does a landscape sound like? You take a picture of, let’s say, the Grand Canyon in Colorado, a la Instagram, but you also want to attach a song to it, a song that makes sense to you while you were taking that picture. Now imagine that other people went to the same place, took another picture of it but picked a different song. You end up with a playlist of songs related to that landscape, a ScapeList, curated by the users themselves, which you can listen to.

VideoFairy - by Suzie Blackman – A radio-style music discovery app designed for smart TV! It’s a bit like channel hopping, but for music videos. VideoFairy finds music videos from artists you’ll like with a simple interface that works with a remote control (use arrow keys and ‘enter’ on a keyboard).Designed for ‘lean back’ TV viewing with minimum interaction, you can sit back and watch new music recommended from your last.fm profile. Skip skip anything you don’t like with a simple tap of the remote.

Cannes Burn - my hack – a music visualizaton of Ellie Goulding’s Burn

I was unusually nervous and quite tired when I gave my demo, so I fell for a newbie demo mistake and had trouble getting my desktop to display properly. But when I finally did,  my demo went off smoothly.  I only had to say  a few words and hit the play button, so despite the nerves, it was a pretty easy demo to give. Here’s my view of the audience while giving the demo:

Demoing Cannes Burn to the MIDEM crowd

Demoing Cannes Burn to the MIDEM crowd

 

After we presented the hacks the hackers themselves voted for the best hack which went to Yuli for his amazing DJ Spotify.  Yuli is quite the gracious and humble winner, making sure everyone got a glass of his winning champagne.

Post Hack
After all the hacking the exhausted hackers took some time to kick back, have a good dinner, a few drinks and long conversations into the night about life as an international music hacker. 

Post hack drinks with @sydlawrence @iainmullen @alastairporter @saleandro @lucyeblair

Post hack drinks with @saleandro @sydlawrence @alastairporter @iainmullen and @lucyeblair

Outro

Halfway through the MIDEM Music Hack Day I paused to take stock. Here I was, on the other side of the world sitting at the top of the Palais des Festival, overlooking the French Riviera, surrounded by friends and writing code. It was a great place to be, and I felt very fortunate to be there. This was all possible because the music biz folks realize that we hackers have lots of ideas that will advance the state-of-the-art in music tech, and even more importantly we have the ability to actually turn those ideas into reality. And so, they treat us very well. It is good to be a music hacker.

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Creative hacking

My hack at the MIDEM Music Hack Day this year is what I’d call a Creative Hack. I built it, not because it answered any business use case or because it demonstrated some advanced capability of some platform or music tech ecosystem, I built it because I was feeling creative and I wanted to express my creativity in the best way that I can which is to write a computer program. The result is something I’m particularly proud of. It’s a dynamic visualization of the song Burn by Ellie Goulding.   Here’s a short, low-res excerpt, but I strongly suggest that you go and watch the full version here: Cannes Burn

Unlike all of the other hacks that I’ve built, this one feels really personal to me.  I wasn’t just trying to solve a technical problem. I was trying to capture the essence of the song in code, trying to tell its story and maybe even touch the viewer.  The challenge wasn’t in the coding it was in the feeling.

After every hack day, I’m usually feeling a little depressed.  I call it post-hacking depression. It is partially caused by being sleep deprived for 48 hours, but the biggest component is that I’ve put my all into something for 48 hours and then it is just over. The demo is done, the code is checked into github, the app is deployed online and people are visiting it (or not). The thing that just totally and completely took over my life for two days is completely gone. It is easy to reflect back on the weekend and wonder if all that time and energy was worth it.

Monday night after the MIDEM hack day was over I was in the midst of my post-hack depression sitting in a little pub called Le Crillon when a guy came up to me and said “I saw your hack.  It made me feel something. Your hack moved me.”

Cannes Burn won’t be my post popular hack, nor is it my most challenging hack, but it may be my favorite hack because I was able to write some code and make somebody that I didn’t know feel something.

 

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Cannes Burn

This weekend brought me to Cannes and the French Riviera for the MIDEM Music Hack Day where I’ve spent about 40 hours working on my music hack called Cannes Burn.  Cannes Burn is a visualization that accompanies the song Burn by Ellie Goulding. Go check it out if you haven’t already seen it before reading on. It requires a modern computer and browser that supports webgl.

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The Hack uses the new ENsync.js library that I created last week. ENsync uses the Echo Nest analysis to provide synchronization of a JS web app with music.  With ENsync you can setup elaborate animations that are triggered by musical events (such on every bar, beat or tatum).  The Hack also uses threejs – the amazing 3D library by Mr.Doob.

Creating the hack was a whole lot of fun – I spent hours building 3D shapes out of flying cubes. I probably listened to the song Burn many hundreds of times this weekend. (Thanks to my hacker neighbors who put up with my endless Ellie looping without complaint).  

It has been a great weekend here in Cannes. It is so inspiring to be surrounded by a bunch of really smart folks who are passionate about music and technology and see and hear how they are building their stuff.  Such a great, sharing vibe from all of the hackers. I feel really lucky to  part of it all!   

Check out all the hacks on hacker league:  MIDEM Music Hack Day Hacks and check out my hack at:  Cannes Burn

 

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New Genre APIs

localhost_8000_index.html-2Today at the Echo Nest we are pushing out an update to our Genre APIs. The new APIs lets you get all sorts of information about any of over 800 genres including a description of the genre,  representative artists in the genre, similar genres, and links to web resources for the genre (such as a wikipedia page, if one exists for a genre).  You can also use the genres to create various types of playlists.  With these APIs you build all sorts of music exploration apps like Every Noise At Once, Music Popcorn and Genre-A-Day.

The new APIs are quite simple to use. Here are a few python examples created using pyen.

List all of the available genres with a description

This outputs text like so:

We can get the top artists for any genre like so:

Here are the top artists for ‘cool jazz’

We can find similar genres to any genre with this bit of code:

Sample output:

% python sim_genres.py cool jazz
bebop
jazz
hard bop
contemporary post-bop
soul jazz
big band
jazz christmas
stride
jazz funk
jazz fusion
avant-garde jazz
free jazz

We can use the genres to create excellent genre playlists. To do so, create a playlist of type ‘genre-radio’ and give the genre name as a seed.  We’ve also added a new parameter called ‘genre_preset’ that, if specified will control the type of songs that will be added to the playlist. You can chose from core, in_rotation, and emerging. Core genre playlists are great for introducing a new listener to the genre.  Here’s a bit of code that generates a core playlist for any genre:

The core classic rock playlist looks like this:

  1. Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  2. Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf
  3. All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix
  4. Kashmir by Led Zeppelin
  5. Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream
  6. Let’s Work Together by Canned Heat
  7. Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones
  8. It’s My Life by The Animals
  9. 30 Days In The Hole by Humble Pie
  10. Midnight Rider by The Allman Brothers Band
  11. The Joker by Steve Miller Band
  12. Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival
  13. Black Betty by Ram Jam
  14. Heart Full Of Soul by The Yardbirds
  15. Light My Fire by The Doors

The ‘in rotation’ classic rock playlist looks like this:

  1. Heaven on Earth by Boston
  2. Doom And Gloom by The Rolling Stones
  3. Little Black Submarines by The Black Keys
  4. I Gotsta Get Paid by ZZ Top
  5. Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band
  6. Blue On Black by Kenny Wayne Shepherd
  7. Driving Towards The Daylight by Joe Bonamassa
  8. When A Blind Man Cries by Deep Purple
  9. Over and Over (Live) by Joe Walsh
  10. The Best Is Yet To Come by Scorpions
  11. World Boss by Gov’t Mule
  12. One Way Out by The Allman Brothers Band
  13. Corned Beef City by Mark Knopfler
  14. Bleeding Heart by Jimi Hendrix
  15. My Sharona by The Knack

While the emerging ‘classic rock’ playlist looks like this:

  1.  If You Were in Love by Boston
  2.  Beggin’ by Shocking Blue
  3.  Speak Now by The Answer
  4.  Mystic Highway by John Fogerty
  5.  Hell Of A Season by The Black Keys
  6.  No Reward by Gov’t Mule
  7.  Pretty Wasted by Tito & Tarantula
  8.  The Battle Of Evermore by Page & Plant
  9.  I Got All You Need by Joe Bonamassa
  10.  What You Gonna Do About Me by Buddy Guy
  11.  I Used To Could by Mark Knopfler
  12. Wrecking Ball by Joe Walsh
  13. The Circle by Black Country Communion
  14. You Could Have Been a Lady by April Wine
  15. 15 Lonely by Walter Trout

The new Genre APIs are really quite fun to use. I’m looking forward to seeing a whole new world of music exploration and discovery apps built around these APIs.

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Must listen to podcast – Digital Music Trends

My top ‘must-listen’ podcast is now Andrea Leonelli’s Digital Music Trends.  This weekly podcast is jam packed with analysis and info about what’s going on in the digital music space.  The latest podcast includes Music Hack Day master Martyn Davies and Ben Graham from StrategyEye in a round table discussion on Gracenote’s recent sale, their Rhythm announcment, CES and more. Good stuff.

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Six Degrees of Black Sabbath (v2)

For my Christmas vacation programming project this year, I revisited an old hack: Six Degrees of Black Sabbath.  I wrote the original, way back in 2010 at the very first San Francisco Music Hack Day. That version is still up and running, and getting regular visits, but it is getting a bit long in the tooth and so I’ve given it  a total rewrite from the ground up. The result is the new Six Degrees of Black Sabbath:

ss

Six Degrees of Black Sabbath is like the Oracle of Bacon but for music. It lets you find connections to just about any two artists based upon their collaborations.   Type in the name of two artists, and 6dobs will give you a pathway showing the connections that will get you from one artist to another. For instance, if you enter ‘The Beatles’ and ‘Norah Jones’ you’ll get a path like:

If you don’t like a particular connection, you can bypass it generating a new path. For instance, if we bypass Ravi Shankar, it will take us eight steps to get to Norah Jones from the Beatles:

The Beatles -> Paul McCartney -> The Fireman -> Youth -> Pigface
-> Mike Dillon ->Garage A Trois -> Charlie Hunter -> Norah Jones

Not all connections are created equal.  Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have been playing together for over 50 years in the Rolling Stones. That’s a much stronger connection than the one between Mick Jagger and Fergie for performing a single song together at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We take these connection strengths into account when finding paths between artists. Preference is given to stronger connections, even if those stronger connections will yield a longer path.

The new version of Six Degrees of Black Sabbath has a number of new features:

Video – Each step in a path is represented by a Youtube video – often with a video by the two artists that represent that step. I’m quite pleased at how well the video works for establishing the connection between two artists. Youtube seems to have it all.
From_The_Monkees_to_Justin_Bieber_in_11_steps_

Live stats  – The app tracks and reports all sorts of things such as the longest path discovered so far, the most frequently occurring artists on paths, the most connected artists, most searched for artists and so on.

Larger database of connections – the database has about a quarter million artists and 2.5 million artist-to-artist connections.

Autocomplete for artist names – no need to try to remember how to spell ‘Britney Spears‘ – just start typing the parts you know and it will sort it out.

Spiffier looking UI –  It still looks like it was designed by an engineer, but at least it looks like it was designed in this decade by an engineer.

Path finding improvements – faster and better paths throughout.

Revisiting this app after 4 years was a lot of fun. I got to dive deep into a bunch of tech that was new to me including Redis, Bootstrap 3, and the YouTube video search API. I spent many hours untangling the various connections in the new Musicbrainz schema.  I took a tour through a number of Pythonic network graph libraries (Networkx, igraph and graph-tool), I learned a lot about Python garbage collection when you have a 2.5gb heap.

Give the app a try and let me know what you think.

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Million Song Shuffle

20111023_ipod_jpg__1337×1563_Back in 2001 when the first iPod was released, Shuffle Play was all the rage. Your iPod had your 1,000 favorite songs on it, so picking songs at random to play created a pretty good music listening experience. Today, however, we don’t have 1,000 songs in our pocket. With music services like Rdio, Rhapsody or Spotify, we are walking around with millions of songs in our pocket. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to use Shuffle Play when you have millions of songs to shuffle through. Would it be a totally horrible listening experience listening to artists that are so far down the long tail that they don’t even know that they are part of a dog? Would you suffer from terminal iPod whiplash as you are jerked between Japanese teen pop and a John Philip Sousa march?

To answer these questions, I built an app called Million Song Shuffle. This app will create a playlist by randomly selecting songs from a pool of many millions of songs. It draws from the Rdio collection and if you are an Rdio user you can hear listen to the full tracks.

Cytotoxin

The app also takes advantage of a nifty new set of data returned by the Echo Nest API. It shows you the absolute hotttnesss rank for the song and the artist, so you will always know how deep you are into the long tail (answer: almost always, very deep).

So how is listening to millions of songs at random? Surprisingly, it’s not too bad. The playlist certainly gets a high score for eclecticism and surprise, and most of the time the music is quite listenable. But give it a try, and form your own opinion.

Its fun, too, to see how long you can listen to the Million Song Shuffle before you encounter a song or even an artist that you’ve heard of before. If the artist is not in the top 5K artists, it is likely you’ve never heard of them. After listening to Million Song Shuffle for a little while you start to get an idea of how much music there is out there. There’s a lot.

For the ultimate eclectic music listening experience, try the Million Song Shuffle.

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