Top SXSWi panels for music discovery and interaction

SXSW 2014 PanelPicker has opened up. I took a tour through the SXSW Interactive talk proposals to highlight the ones that are of most interest to me … typically technical panels about music discover and interaction. Here’s the best of the bunch. Tomorrow, I’ll take a tour through the SXSW Music proposals.

Algorithmic Music Discovery at Spotify
Spotify crunches hundreds of billions of streams to analyze user’s music taste and provide music recommendations for its users. We will discuss how the algorithms work, how they fit in within the products, what the problems are and where we think music discovery is going. The talk will be quite technical with a focus on the concepts and methods, mainly how we use large scale machine learning, but we will also some aspects of music discovery from a user perspective that greatly influenced the design decisions.

Delivering Music Recommendations to Millions
At its heart, presenting personalized data and experiences for users is simple. But transferring, delivering and serving this data at high scale can become quite challenging.
In this session, we will speak about the scalability lessons we learned building Spotify’s Discover system. This system generates terabytes of music recommendations that need to be delivered to tens of millions of users every day. We will focus on the problems encountered when big data needs to be replicated across the globe to power interactive media applications, and share strategies for coping with data at this scale.

Are Machines the DJ’s of Digital Music?
When it comes to music curation, has our technology exceeded our humanity? Fancy algorithms have done wonders for online dating. Can they match you with your new favorite music? Hear music editors from Rhapsody, Google Music, Sony Music and Echonest debate their changing role in curation and music discovery for streaming music services. Whether tuning into the perfect summer dance playlist or easily browsing recommended artists, finding and listening to music is the result of very intentional decisions made by editorial teams and algorithms. Are we sophisticated enough to no longer need the human touch on our music services? Or is that all that separates us from the machines?

Your Friends Have Bad Taste: Fixing Social Music
Music is the most social form of entertainment consumption, but online music has failed to deliver truly social & connected music experiences. Social media updates telling you your aunt listened to Hall and Oates doesn’t deliver on the promise of social music. As access-based, streaming music becomes more mainstream, the current failure & huge potential of social music is becoming clearer. A variety of app developers & online music services are working to create experiences that use music to connect friends & use friends to connect you with new music you’ll love. This talk will uncover how to make social music a reality, including:

  • Musical Identity (MI) – who we are as music fans and how understanding MI is unlocking social music apps
  • If my friend uses Spotify & I use Rdio, can we still be friends? ID resolution & social sharing challenges
  • Discovery issue: finding like-minded fans & relevant expert music curators
  • A look at who’s actually building the future of social music

‘Man vs. Machine’ Is Dead, Long Live Man+Machine
A human on a bicycle is the most efficient land-traveller on planet Earth. Likewise, the most efficient advanced, accurate, helpful, and enjoyable music recommendation systems combine man and machine. This dual-pronged approach puts powerful, data-driven tools in the hands of thinking, feeling experts and end users. In other words, the debate over whether human experts or machines are better at recommending music is over. The answer is “both” — a hybrid between creative technology and creative curators. This panel will provide specific examples of this approach that are already taking place, while looking to the future to see where it’s all headed. 

Are Recommendation Engines Killing Discovery?
Are recommendation engines – like Yelp, Google, and Spotify – ruining the way we experience life? “Absolutely,” says Ned Lampert. The average person looks at their phone 150 times a day, and the majority of content they’re looking at is filtered through a network of friends, likes, and assumptions. Life is becoming prescriptive, opinions are increasingly polarized, and curiosity is being stifled. Recommendation engines leave no room for the unexpected. Craig Key says, “absolutely not.” The Web now has infinitely more data points than we did pre-Google. Not only is there more content, but there’s more data about you and me: our social graph, Netflix history (if you’re brave), our Tweets, and yes, our Spotify activity. Data is the new currency in digital experiences. While content remains king, it will be companies that can use data to sort and display that content in a meaningful way that will win. This session will explore these dueling perspectives.

Genre-Bending: Rise of Digital Eclecticism
The explosion in popularity of streaming music services has started to change the way we listen. But even beyond those always-on devices with unlimited access to millions of songs that we listen to on our morning commutes, while wending our way through paperwork at our desks or on our evening jogs, there is an even a more fundamental change going on. Unlimited access has unhinged musical taste to the point where eclecticism and tastemaking trump identifying with a scene. Listeners are becoming more adventurous, experiencing many more types of music than ever before. And artists are right there with them, blending styles and genres in ways that would be unimaginable even a decade ago. In his role as VP Product-Content Jon Maples has a front row seat to how music-listening behavior has evolved. He’ll share findings from a recent ethnographic study that reveals intimate details on how people live their musical lives.

Put It In Your Mouth: Startups as Tastemakers
Your life has been changed, at least once, by a startup in the last year. Don’t argue; it’s true. Think about it – how do you listen to music? How do you choose what movie to watch? How do you shop, track your fitness or share memories? Whoever you are, whatever your preferences, emerging technology has crept into your life and changed the way you do things on a daily basis. This group of innovators and tastemakers will take a highly entertaining look at how the apps, devices and online services in our lives are enhancing and molding our culture in fundamental ways. Be warned – a dance party might break out and your movie queue might expand exponentially.

And here’s a bit of self promotion … my proposed panel is all about new interfaces for music.

Beyond the Play Button – The Future of Listening
35 years after the first Sony Walkman shipped, today’s music player still has essentially the same set of controls as that original portable music player. Even though today’s music player might have a million times more music than the cassette player, the interface to all of that music has changed very little.  In this talk we’ll explore new ways that a music listener can interact with their music. First we will explore the near future where your music player knows so much about you, your music taste and your current context that it plays the right music for you all the time. No UI is needed.  Next, we’ll explore a future where music listening is no longer a passive experience. Instead of just pressing the play button and passively listening you will be able to jump in and interact with the music. Make your favorite song last forever, add your favorite drummer to that Adele track or unleash your inner Skrillex and take total control of your favorite track.

The SXSW organizers pay attention when they see a panel that gets lots of votes, so head on over and make your opinion be known.


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