Archive for category fun

The Logos of Music 2.0 vs Logos of Music APIs 2013

Way back in 2006 Jadam Kahn (aka @rocketsurgeon) created this collage of Music 2.0 logos.



Compare that to the Music APIs of 2013 logos:


There’s almost no overlap. Even the iTunes icon changed color. Thank goodness for the steady hand of MusicBrainz keeping things together for so long.


Music Hack Day NYC


Music Hack Day NYC has just wrapped up, and what a great weekend it was!. Hosted at Spotify’s spiffy new headquarters in midtown, Music Hack Day NYC was the place to be if you are passionate music, technology and building stuff. During all night Friday and all day Saturday, hundreds of hackers used music APIs from companies like The Echo Nest, Soundcloud, Gracenote, Rdio and of course Spotify, to build next generation music apps.


It was a really fun event. The Spotify headquarters are perfect for hacking. Flawless and apparently limitless wifi/bandwidth, awesome A/V setup, and great sound for an unending social hacking playlist.


Over the course of about 20 hours of hacking, 36 hacks were built and demoed.  There was quite a range of inventive hacks. Some of my favorites:

The crowd favorite was Oscar Celma’s extremely clever EERFY – He solved the Music Industry Problem in 24 hours by turning it upside down with EERFY:

Another favorite was Leo and Jason’s halfstep –  a chrome extension that motivates you to move more. How? If you only moved 20% of your movement goal yesterday, then halfstep will also let you listen to first 20% of any songs today. Check out the screencast of their hack.


There were lots of great Echo Nest hacks including the Echo Nest prize winner partyOutlook by Matt Egan. PartyOutlook is a CocoaLibSpotify powered iPad jukebox that accepts tracks via the Twillio API and displays real-time information about the life of the party using Echo Nest song data. Allows an administrator to pause and play music, as well as skip tracks.


Another really neat Echo Nest hack was TuneTravelr created by Chris Evans and Joshua Boggs. Tune Travelr  is a web app that  takes cities and locales a well as a time period and returns a  playlist of songs that were hot at the time. It uses the Echo Nest data to leverage some analytic querying, before pipping the results into Rdio’s web API for playback.


MoodVenue used The Echo Nest API to help find out what’s going on tonight based on your mood and location.


Repetition faceoff
Artists fight to the death, using only the sheer repetitive force of their music! By Brian McFee. Brian used the Echo Nest analysis data to build a custom metric for repetition for any song and used that to score songs by the artist for the face-off.


Cheese Tray
A novel use of The Echo Nest API was Cheese Tray – A  Spotify app that takes selects randomly from among your Spotify playlists and analyzes it. It then adds to that playlist a song that best represents the average attributes of the playlist, as given by The Echo Nest API. Then, via SMS through the Twilio service, it sends a command to your Android device that changes its background to the album artwork for that average song.

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Songs About
Uses wikipedia articles titled ‘List of songs about…” to generate Spotify/Rdio playlists about different subjects/places. Songs about used The Echo Nest’s Rosetta Stone to get the song IDs for playing in Spotify and Rdio.


Awesome Chart Explorer

This is my hack. A visualization that lets you explore and listen to 50 years of Billboard charts.

Upload a song, ccRex’ll fetch Creative Commons music to match using Echo Nest song attributes to determine the best match.


Other nifty Echo Nest hacks:

  • opporTUNEcontext dependent playlisting based upon weather, activity, location, time of day and your favorite genresopporTUNE____Music_Hack_Day_NYC_2013____Hacker_League
  • crowdPlay – an SMS enabled party playlisterCrowdPlay_-2
  • BPM Reader –  an app that updates a playlist in real-time based on user keyboard input correlated to BPM. Tap in your beat, and generate a playlist of songs with that
  • Moody calls – Get a phone call with a song that matches your moodMoodyCalls
  • Spotify V. Rdio -Pitting the two music platforms against each other using your listening history
  • Perl client for the Echo Nest – Ajax built a library that provides support for nearly all of The Echo Nest API features.

All in all, it was a great event with lots of awesome, innovative hacks and lots of smart people. A good time was had by all.  Thanks to Spotify and @mager for organizing the event. Well Done!


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The Awesome Chart Explorer

I just finished coding up my Music Hack Day NYC hack called The Awesome Chart Explorer. It’s a web app that combines Billboard and Echo Nest data into a visual wonderland. (yes, I’m a little tired). Check it out here.  Almost time to give the demo, so more about the tech behind the hack later on.



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Stop playing with iOS7 and check out It synchronizes music and dance videos to give you endless pleasure by juxtaposing the music from one video with the dancing of another. Synchronization is aided by The Echo  Nest API. It is really fun. Check out this strange and mystical dance to Lorde’s Royals.




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The worst kind of tweet to read after giving a talk …

I was giving a talk last week at the Boston Music Tech Meetup about hacking on music. I was showing some of my recent music hacks, one of which is the Saddest Stylophone – a web app that generates a Stylophone auto accompaniment to any song.


In my build-up for the demo I think I described the stylophone as “the worst sounding musical instrument in the world”. The demo went well, and the audience had a few good laughs at the stylophone’s expense. All good, until after my talk when I saw this tweet appear on my feed:



I never would have imagined that there was such as thing as stylophone devotees, nor that I would one day offend the premier drone ambient stylophone composer.  But, then again, I was in Cambridge MA, where no niche is too fringe.   I was worried that I had gravely offended someone. I was steeling myself for an awkward conversation, but it turns out I had nothing to fear. The premier drone ambient stylophone composer was  Rev. Johnny Healy (i.e. the tweeter), and he was not offended but was just giving me a good natured ribbing.  He really is, however, the premier drone ambient stylophone composer. And he can make that “worst sounding instrument in the world” sound really interesting. Here is some of his work:


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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.


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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Using the wisdom of the crowds to build better playlists

At music sites like Rdio and Spotify, music fans have been creating and sharing music playlists for years. Sometimes these playlists are carefully crafted sets of songs for particular contexts like gaming or sleep and sometimes they are just random collections of songs.  If I am looking for music for a particular context, it is easy to just search for a playlist that matches that context.  For instance, if I am going on roadtrip there are hundreds of roadtrip playlists on Rdio for me to chose from. Similarly, if I am going for a run, there’s no shortage of running playlists to chose from.  However, if I am going for a run, I will need to pick one of those hundreds of playlists, and I don’t really know if the one I pick is going to be of the carefully crafted variety or if it was thrown together haphazardly, leaving me with a lousy playlist for my run.   Thus I have a problem –  What is the best way to pick a playlist for a particular context?

Naturally, we can solve this problem with data.  We can take a wisdom of the crowds approach to solving this problem. To create a running playlist, instead of relying on a single person to create the playlist, we can enlist the collective opinion of everyone who has ever created a running playlist to create a better list.

I’ve built a web app to do just this. It lets you search through Rdio playlists for keywords. It will then aggregate all of the songs in the matching playlists and surface up the songs that appear in the most playlists.  So if Kanye West’s  Stronger appears in more running playlists than any other song, it will appear first in the resulting playlist.  Thus songs, that the collective agree are good songs for running get pushed to the top of the list.  It’s a simple idea that works quite well. Here are some example playlists created with this approach:

Best Running Songs


Sad Love Songs


Date Night

Sexy Time

This wisdom of the crowds approach to playlisting isn’t limited to contexts like running or coding, you can also use it to give you an introduction to a genre or artist as well.


Post Rock


The Smart Playlist Builder

The app that builds these nifty playlists is called The Smart Playlist Builder.  You type in a few keywords and it will search Rdio for all the matching playlists.  It will show you the matching playlists, giving you a chance to refine your query.  You can search for words, phrases and you can exclude terms as well. The query sad “love songs” -country will search for playlists with the word sad,  and the phrase love songs in the title, but will exclude any that have the word country.


When you are happy with your query you can aggregate the tracks from the matching playlists. This will give you a list of the top 100 songs that appeared in the matching playlists.


If you are happy with the resulting playlist, you can save it to Rdio, where you can do all the fine tuning of the playlist such as re-ordering, adding and deleting songs.


The Smart Playlist Builder uses the really nifty Rdio API. The Rdio folks have done a fantastic job of giving developers access to their music and data. Well done Rdio team!

Go ahead and give The Smart Playlist Builder a try to see how the wisdom of the crowds can help you make playlists.

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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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