Industry Opinion: Hackers Are Rockstars

We spent the weekend at a Music Hack Day in London to find out if developers really are the new rockstars, and to see what music apps they could produce in one sleepless weekend.

Ultimate Guitar

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.

Tom Davenport

46 comments sorted by best / new / date

    It's an insult to me, as a computer programmer (studying Comp Sci right now) that some people (including the writer of this article) use the terms "Hacker" and "Developer" interchangeably.
    For those who don't know the difference, a developer is someone who creates software, and a hacker is someone who tries to manipulate already made software to do what they want with it I.E. get around a security feature, wallhacks in video games, etc....
    I'm studying Physics, but my IT prof said that back in the day anyone who could proficiently use a computer and develop programs for it was called a "hacker", so you shouldn't really feel insulted.
    That's because back in the day, you had to use the base OS code to develop anything, which makes it "hacking".
    I agree there is a distinction, but when developers are hacking together new ideas using APIs (and a little brute force, like the one that tapped into UG), it's not out of context.
    Hacker = enthusiastic computer programmer/developer Cracker = violates computer security Originally, those are the right terms...
    Terms change, you know. A hacker these days does something illegal generally. A programmer/developer use legal methods (such as a company's SDK or other utilities) to write programs.
    Hacker = enthusiastic computer programmer/developer Cracker = violates computer security Kracker = All the above
    Just for the record, I have no idea why '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' appears twice. Editor is offline, I'll get it fixed tomorrow.
    Are developers the new rockstars? No. They're computer nerds. I'll sit back and wait for the butthurt. Or my computer to be hacked.
    Regarding the CloudVerb one - there really isn't anything impressive about what that does. All it does is use one track as an impulse response and apply that as a reverb to the other track... you can do this yourself, very easily, just by importing any audio file into a DAW (Reaper, Logic, Pro Tools) and then applying any convolution reverb plug-in that lets you use your own IR's (Logic's Space Designer does this, and is bundled with Logic, for example, or you can use third party ones like Altiverb) and apply the impulse response and then set the dry/wet levels of the reverb. I'm only commenting on this because the author makes out that this is the most technically impressive of the 'hacks' presented... it is really incredibly simple, unless I'm missing something that isn't described here or on their website.
    It's all done in HTML5 for the first time dude. This all happens in a browser. It's sick.
    Actually it isn't. The page is presented in HTML5 but all the actual processing is being done in Javascript; HTML5 isn't a programming language, it's a markup language. Not saying that it's not cool that this is possible but if you're going to use a technical point like that you might at least get it right.
    Fair point, but if I had to say HTML and CSS and Javascript every time it would get really tiresome.
    And, of course, people without a DAW can experiment with it. After seeing all the hacks next to each other, this was the most musical and timely I saw.
    Developers technically are hackers. Get over it and remind yourself that Anonymous aren't hackers.
    No, hackers modify code without the permission of the original developer (which is what every amateur programmer used to do before companies began to develop SDKs, making most amateur programmers back in the day hackers). Anonymous technically are hackers; they're just incredible amateurs. Developers use SDKs or other utilities to write/create new programs.
    "remind yourself that Anonymous aren't hackers." nah thats right, they just fart onto their keyboards and sites are magically defaced. mong.
    People of Earth Opinion: "Hackers" are losers who have no lives of their own so they lash out from their parents' basements at people who actually do have lives of their own.
    Programmers are the reason you're able to use the computer you're using to read the article you just read. Shut your mouth.
    I said "hackers" not "programmers". Learn to read and I'll think about shutting my mouth. No one calls themselves "hackers" anymore... unless you're in you're in your parents' basement smelling not good or it's the 90's.
    Hackers and programmers are technically the same thing, one does it for a job, one does it as more of a hobby (or to troll people).. shutup and stop being wrong
    No, hackers modify things illegally generally. Programmers use legal methods, such as a company's SDK.
    illegally? Most hackers either write their own code or modify open source code, which is entirely legal.
    Yeah, I don't know why I'm trying to make a point have a discussion with dumb-as-f**k kids who say things like "shutup" when they disagree anyway. You obviously don't get what I'm saying and chances are you won't.
    So i tried the Now Start a Band , its pretty cool, it actually found songs and bands that i listened to like Rise Against, Rancid, etc. Idk why, but i was expecting it to be little more helpful than just the chord names, but its all good. Its cool to see that some of mi favorite songs can be learned in 3-4 chords.
    It would probably be really hard to listen to songs above 140 bpm with the heart rate thing. Unless your running all day or something.
    music sites like that, no... for both of em. usually it's just random stuff picked according to a setting it's given. even then, who knows maybe the playlist won't always be the best.
    Damaged Roses
    That's like the dumbest title possible for this article. Rockstars make music, don't make apps to amuse everyone. Cool article besides that.
    Heard of rocksmith? there's a group of us "hacking" that game by implementing custom songs. NOW THAT'S A ROCKSTAR APPROACH. Ths article is shit, tl;dr.