Music Hackday San Francisco, 7th edition

Automattic front doorIt's no secret that at Yahoo, we totally ♥ Hackday events. Anytime you can get a group of creative people, give them Wi-Fi, coffee, pizza, and a 24-hour deadline to create something amazing, you won't be disappointed.

This last weekend was no exception, as developers and artists from around the world descended on San Francisco for the 7th edition of Music Hackday.

As you would expect, Yahoo! was there to participate in the fun with organizing, presentations, giveaways, and — duh — hacking! In attendance we had Yahoo! Open Strategy's Daniel Raffel, who led the charge by taking on organizer duties, and a slew of Yahoo! hackers from Flickr, Yahoo! Research, YDN, and Yahoo! Entertainment.

The event kicked off on Saturday morning with workshops at Pier 38 on the San Francisco waterfront, home of Automattic. There were 19 workshops, which included companies such as Last.FM, Twitter, and Yahoo!, and a number of music-related startups presenting various APIs and services open for developers.

I gave a talk on one of my favorite Y! tools, Yahoo! Query Language. You can find the slides for it on my Github page. (Note: Because of HTML5 & CSS3 animations, it is best viewed in a Webkit-based browser, such as Chrome or Safari.)

Of these talks, the one that seemed to captivate the audience the most was given by Stanford assistant professor Ge Wang (@gewang). During his 90-minute presentation, he demonstrated many proof-of-concept ideas, such as: iPhone musical instruments, social-music iPad games, and a programming language called Chuck that allows you to easily synthesize music.

Here's a video of Dr. Wang presenting his Magic Piano iPad app.

If you are in the Bay Area, be sure to check out the Stanford Laptop Orchestra events Dr. Wang directs.

Once the talks concluded, the hacking began! The 80 or so hackers in attendance began frantically coding away on their laptops and soldering together hardware. When the smoke finally cleared we ended up with 33 hacks, putting SF near the top of the "Most hacks at a Music Hackday" list.

Of the winners, one of the crowd favorites was iSticks by David Ayman Shamma, a research scientist at Yahoo!. By using conductive fabric and metal rods, Ayman was able to create drumsticks that are capable of triggering the iPad touch sensors.

But what good are drumsticks if you don't have a drum-set? So part of his project was iSteelPan, an iPad application he created that lets you play steel pan drums. He even built in a tutorial that teaches you how to play songs in the form of a whack-a-mole game.

This video shows iSticks and iSteelPan in action.

You can find a full breakdown of how he built the drumsticks here.

Mashups are always very popular at Hackday events, and there is no better mashup tool than Yahoo! Query Language. My search for the best hack using YQL led me to Mark Reeder's Shared Music Discovery hack.

Mark wanted to build a way for two people to discover new music they would both enjoy. So using YQL (for the first time), he mashed together data from three different APIs: Last.FM, Echo Nest, and SoundCloud. For the latter two, he wasn't able to find YQL tables for their APIs, so he rolled up his sleeves and created his own, Echo Nest Artist Search and SoundCloud Track Search. Mark credited the ease of extending YQL's available APIs as one of the reasons he was able to get such a hack done in so little time.

Some of my other favorite hacks included:

  • The Profoundilizer - A way to turn mundane spoken word, into exciting storytelling.
  • Bragging Rights - Between two Last.FM users, determine who is the cooler one and listened to a specific artist first. For the record, let it be known that I am infinitely cooler than @dn0t by scoring the first scrobble for The Clash.
  • The Swinger - Give any music a swing beat! Check out the Every Breath You Take example.
  • The Artikulator - Fingerpaint your musical composition on an iPad. This team managed to get their app covered in a story on Mashable. Nice work!

There were a bunch of other really great hacks, so I encourage you to check out the MHD:SF Projects page and review the rest. You can also read the tweets tagged #musichackday for the word on the street.


#musichackday has been the most rewarding developer event I've been to yet.less than a minute ago via Tweetie

Yahoo! Developer Network would like to give a special thanks to fellow co-sponsors Automattic, SoundCloud, and Echo Nest. Without their support, Music Hackday SF wouldn't have happened. The team of organizers consisting of Dave Haynes, Paul Lamere, Elissa Barrett, and Daniel Raffel also deserve a huge round of applause.

Rumor has it that New York may be hosting the next Music Hackday later this year. Stay tuned!