Archive for January, 2010

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Music Hack Day, the Stockholm edition

January 31, 2010

This weekend was Music Hack Day Stockholm (you may recall posts about the Music Hack Day in Boston a few months ago), and I spent far too much of my weekend following the events via their live feed – a little glimpse into the future of  how we interact with music.  I think my takeaway for the weekend was twofold: i) damn it, I really wish I wasn’t a mediocre coder and ii) Can we hurry up and have Spotify in the US already?

Some fave hacks out of the weekend (you can see a full list here):

HacKey: Matt Ogle‘s lovely hack takes your Last.fm listening history and generates a pie chart to tell you what proportion of your favourite music is in different keys. And if you click on a wedge, it’ll play you a song sample in that key (thanks to Tim for letting me use his pie chart!)

My City vs. Your City: Lets you compare what artists are being listened to in any two cities. I think it’s ‘differentially listened to’ (like Netflix’s ‘Neighborhood’ feature). This is kind of a cool music exploration tool – what are the outlier artists that I’ve never heard of?

Holodeck: This site elegantly links together your info from SoundCloud, Tumblr, Songkick, and Last.fm. The main use case is for artists – it’s a one-step, one-stop web presence.

One that looks great but isn’t quite ready for prime time:

Songkick on Tour: This hack links together info from two focused social media sites,  Songkick for concerts and Dopplr for travel, to make concert recommendations for your upcoming trips. Since I travel a decent amount and always check to see if there are cool shows, I would love to see this app go live (you can see a video of the demo here). And now I want to start using both Songkick and Dopplr more.

And one that I really, really want to play with but I can’t because Spotify isn’t here in the US yet (but if you’re reading this from the UK or other Spotify-friendly countries, enjoy):

TuneMyFeed: Takes any RSS feed (a Twitter stream, frex) or uses Facebook Connect to log into your FB account, pulls out keywords, and creates a list of related songs in Spotify. Want.

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Music, culture and tech roundup

January 18, 2010

Fun stuff from around the web:

Konks release vinyl + circuitry: Possibly the coolest answer ever to the ‘why should I pay for a physical version of music?’ Boston band The Konks released their new vinyl 7″, “Nerves,” in a limited edition of 500 that comes with an electronic music device built into the cover of the LP. Says Bob Konk, “…you can touch the letters of our logo and the board makes a bunch of squeaks and squawks that sound kinda like a theremin. It has an on board speaker as well as an output jack so you can plug it into an amp to annoy the maximum amount of people at maximum volume.” While it can be purchased pre-assembled, by far the cooler option is to do your own soldering (you can either get a bag of the requisite parts, or a link to an online retailer to buy them yourself). Naturally, it comes with a bunch of other goodies too. Look for it at Static Eye Records shortly.  (Via Boston Band Crush, and special thanks to Sophia for bringing it to my attention.)

Prehistoric bird named after punk/country band. World, meet Late Cretaceous bird Hollanda luceria, named after the band Lucero. As well as being quite the honour in its own right, it puts them in pretty good company. (Via The Stranger’s LineOut blog.)

What makes music emotional? Why does music in a major key sound cheerful and in a minor key sound sad? Researchers at Duke University may have part of the answer. They compared the frequency distributions of sounds in minor- and major-key music with that of speakers reading monologues in either a subdued or excited tone of voice, and sure enough they matched. More details in this New Scientist article, or you can read the abstract (or, if you’re Mike Epstein, the whole thing) here. (Via @danlevitin.)

Does music get popular because it’s good, or just popular? Columbia scientist and network-theory pioneer Duncan Watts did a gorgeous experiment to see if music gets popular because other people say it’s good, or because people actually think it is good. The answer, it turns out, is both. Watts uploaded 48 songs to a website, had people listen and rank them, and then repeated the same experiment with many different groups of people but the same songs. A few songs consistently did well, a few badly, but the rankings of most varied widely with each group. Go read Clive Thompson’s article for full details of the study, including a devious tweak.

MP3: Lucero – Darken My Door [buy]

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Live music venues and demographics

January 7, 2010

Much has been made of the future of music being in live experiences, rather than in CD sales. But as someone who sees a lot of live shows, I can’t help but ask, ‘Where are the fans?’ It’s pretty clear that the slice of fans who regularly go to indie rock (for lack of a better term) shows is startlingly limited: largely in their 20s, more male than female and, even in a city as diverse as Cambridge, predominantly white.

Leaving aside this last point—although it certainly seems like there’s a pattern—it’s pretty clear that age (and, to a lesser extent, gender) is governed by the venues. I frequent fantastic local bars that support live music but they’re still, well, bars. They make their payroll by selling alcohol, and this has consequences. If you want to see live music in Boston, you pretty much need to be over 21. You need to be okay with staying up late on a work night, because it doesn’t make financial sense for bars to host early shows. You need to have enough flexibility with your home schedule that you can hang out for an evening (although one of the reasons I love my local bars is because they post and stringently adhere to set times). You need to be comfortable in an environment where most people are drinking. And you need to be able to get home late at night, especially in Boston, where the subway unfathomably stops running before bars close. (It’s easy to see how the latter two factors would seriously affect the gender balance, even without any additional cultural issue.) Coupled with the aversion that many people have to the risk inherent in live music, only a tiny demographic slice of fans goes to see shows in small venues.

This was a perfectly fine state of affairs when the purpose of small local shows was to attract the attention of an A&R person: the slender stratum of early adopters was all that was needed to establish the public appeal of a band before they were catapulted into the world of record sales and radio play.

But if none of that’s going to happen, then live shows are it, and fans need to be able to come out. And based on the evidence, I’m not sure that’s happening.

From the perspective of the insider-fan, there’s something to be said for a small, discrete culture of concertgoers: everyone knows the etiquette, for example (something that can’t be counted on at bigger or all-ages shows).  But in the larger sense, I’m not sure that this model is the best one for musicians. While there are certainly artists experimenting with alternatives, like Amanda Palmer’s tweet-ups, for example, I can’t see a straightforward solution to this demographic conundrum.

Thoughts?

Image: Whisky a Go-Go by Mike Dillon, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Why I don’t make predictions

January 2, 2010

Future or Bust!

I’m not really into making predictions. Partly because I’m much more interested in the second-order effects than the first-order effects, and it’s pretty much impossible to correctly pluck those out of the chaos of possible futures (although it’s fun to watch them coalesce). But mostly because, in the words of Alan Kay, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” And I’m fortunate in that I get to work with, talk to, learn from and teach people who are doing exactly that.

Come out to the zed equals zee happy hour and join us!

Image credit: Future or Bust! by Flickr user Vermin Inc, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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