Drinkify, Mustachiness, and other Things You Missed at Music Hack Day 2011

Two years ago I wrote a feature on the first-ever stateside Music Hack Day. It was a rad occasion, not to mention an introduction to the way that I'd be finding and listening to tunes from that day forward. Because of that weekend and subsequent opportunities that I've had to cover the future of music, I can honestly say that I know more about what's coming down the wire than most Web pedestrians and even some tech writers (at least the shitty ones, I suppose).

But while the fan and computer worlds come around, it's hard to ignore the continuing absence of some major stakeholders. Indeed this was the focus of my early coverage, in which I wrote: “Considering how executives continue to defend dated hard-distribution models as their businesses implode, it's hardly a surprise to watch them miss the train. After all, tech mavens have long alleged that industry fat cats would rather toast past successes than discover how invention propels multimedia.”

On that note it was interesting to see the introduction of EMI to the equation. Though Hack Day is philosophically a “business-free zone,” the ultimate goal of events like this – and in the new music revolution in general – is to synthesize the commercial and technological sides of things, so that artists get paid and fans are satisfied. If major labels that own thick slices of the international songbook also get a cut, then so be it. But in the meantime problem solvers need to work together.

All of which is why it's only natural that the Echo Nest continues to host the annual powwow of music technology's most gifted hackers. The Somerville-based company is the undisputed leader in connecting independent developers with license holders, marketers, and everybody else needed to power sweet developments. They're responsible for more premier apps than you can imagine, from the MTV Music Meter to Discovr, Groovebug, and Pocket Hipster.

Echo Nest has been working with EMI to give developers access to select parts of their catalogue (including the entire Blue Note collection). The commercial possibilities are endless: Gorillaz remix apps, a Chiddy Bang frat house jukebox, Pet Shop Boys meme generators (or course artists would have to agree with ideas). With that said, EMI provided just some options for this weekend's wizards and code warriors, all of whom had a number of tricks in their toolboxes.

For outsiders, here's a quick pedestrian take on how Music Hack Day works: developers come up with app ideas, then hack them together by employing any number of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that can provide the content needed. For example: if an app needs tour or ticket info, then they might use the Ticketfly API. If the idea relies on knowing everything about a song – including how popular it is online – then they'll probably tap into the Echo Nest's Musical Brain.

So who came to play nice and network (and to chill with Ali Shadeed Muhammad at the afterparty)? There were scoring and composition assistants like Noteflight and Musescore, the latter of which makes it possible to render sheet music on your iPhone. Then there were powerhouses like Rovi, which has swallowed, among other companies, TV Guide and AllMusic in their mission to provide comprehensive bio info to the likes of and iTunes.

I'm also digging Twilio, which allows you to corporate voice and SMS to any app, and OpenTok, which performs a similar function for those looking to weave in live chat and video. Then there's location-based audio pegging through Shoudio, the increasingly indispensable SoundCloud, the Questlove-endorsed multi-network sharing tool, and Nimbit, which recently re-launched as a commerce device that allows for new and dynamic ways to push merch and music online.

By the end of Hack Day weekend, a score of fascinating apps had materialized in some rudimentary or beta form. Some – like the simple trendy Mustachiness, which, you guessed it, grooms a virtual 'stache out of peak loudness waves from your favorite songs – will probably drop soon (that one in particular if proceeds are really going to Movember). Others, like the awesome group-source party playlist enabler Spartify, are also already running and will likely hit app stores shortly.

There were too many fresh hacks to mention (check the whole list here), but especially worth noting are: the Rovi Christmas Findr, which can recommend obscure holiday tunes that don't completely suck; the self-explanatory Music Bloodline; poptoaster, which allows you to upload MP3s and play Name That Tune on Facebook with your geeky friends. Plus there are the Best in Show winners – Unity-echonest and MidiSyncher – and the oh-so-clever Drinkify, as in “I'm listening to Wu-Tang – what should I drink?”

Many of these inventions are pie in the sky - and are in some cases so arcane that few consumers would really actually them. But that's the furthest thing from the point, as Hack Day is first and foremost a venue for promoting friendships between Macbook-toting audiophiles who are engineering your next favorite applications. These aren't the kinds of people who are still bitching about the declining music industry, or holding back left-field ideas. They're the ones looking to change things for the better, one hack at a time.

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