Developers are the new rockstars, apparently.
At the weekend I attended a Music Hack Day in London, where a bunch of developers spent two days at the Facebook offices in London to whip together brand new digital ideas.
You've probably heard of hack days before, but this is the original and (arguably) the best hacking event. It started in 2009 in London, and spawned dozens of copycat events around the world.
This is how it works: you take a laptop and a working knowledge of coding languages to the event. You chug a few Red Bulls down from the free drinks cabinet. You spend the day whipping up barmy ideas that have never been done before, ignoring any concerns about whether they'll be useful or practical in the real world (and if they are, you earn bonus respect points). Then you present the results at the end of a long sleepless weekend.
It's f-ing awesome.
As guitar-toting rockers, you're probably finding it hard to imagine what kind of digital gizmos these hackers made. Out of the 40-something hacks that were presented, a few stuck out as being remarkably original, and I recommend checking out the links as they come up during this post.
Note: It might help if you use the Chrome browser which seems to have the best support for certain cutting-edge techniques that were on display.
Let's start with one hack which tapped into the Ultimate Guitar tab library. Technically this isn't allowed - we don't have an official API for developers to access - but on this occasion we've got to applaud this lone developer's initiative. It's called Now Start A Band, and aims to inspire new guitarists by showing them how many songs they can learn with three simple chords. It reads songs you like from your Facebook history, then tells you which fret to put a capo on and play the whole thing with three simple chords, with a little thanks to the UG catalog. What a great idea!
If you like running, you probably choose music that suits your pace. What if your heart rate could pick the music for you? Heartbeat Match reads data from your runs after you collect them using simple smartphone apps, then auto-selects a playlist to match your average heart rate. You can expect more of this kind of intelligence from apps in the future.
Remember how music seemed to sound better when you were young? Oh My Youth takes you back to the good times by building a playlist from a year of your preference. You can help it find decent songs by suggesting one artist you liked from that era and one you didn't. It then pulls together a playlist on Spotify which, in theory, will have you singing and dancing like a spotty teenager all over again.
Barbertron was another little app (sadly unavailable online) that turns one singer into a full barbershop quartet. All you do it sing into a mic, and the app converts it into four voices at different pitches.
The most technically impressive concept to me was CloudVerb. Using something called convolution reverb, you can apply any reverb sample from Soundcloud to any other song on Soundcloud. I won't go into the science of it, but trust me: it's clever stuff. Definitely worth trying the demo to see it in action.
Finally, the best hack of the day had to be Johnny Cash Has Been Everywhere, for being both a massive technical achievement and a lot of fun to watch. First it find the lyrics to a certain Johnny Cash song, then it searches for those locations and drops an image of Mr. Cash at every location he mentions. When you see how many venues he's been to, you'll agree: Johnny Cash has been everywhere. Check it out here.
It's a shame we don't have room to talk about more hacks from the weekend, but you can see the full list of entries over at Hacker League.
So, are developers the new rockstars?
Put it this way: music hacking is still an underground movement that puts creativity and innovation ahead of profits. They work with music and code for the love of it, like true punks. And like the generation of punks that came before them, they have the potential to change the world. That earns a big chunk of respect in my book.
What do you think of the music hacking scene? Should musicians and developers work together more? Share your opinion in the comments.