5 Things I Learned at the SXSW Music Hackathon

2016 SXSW Music Hackathon Winners
2016 SXSW Music Hackathon Winners
Written by Panos Panay, Founding Managing Director BerkleeICE

Hackathons are kind of like playing the guitar -- everyone thinks they can do it, few do it well. Truth is, it’s hard to pull off a great hackathon, as often the design challenges tend to either be too narrow, or infinitely broad; the hacker groups are either too small or not diverse enough; or the scope of API providers is too limited, which puts a damper on the creative juices of the assembled talent.

I’ve observed the SXSW Music Hackathon grow in quality, attendance and ambition over the last few years. I came away from this year’s experience being blown away by the ability of this rather crazy, ad hoc gathering of complete strangers to push the envelope and tempt the imagination of what’s possible.

1. AI will change the way we experience and discover music. I loved seeing programmers play around with the possibilities of music discovery and the listening experience by tapping into technologies like Amazon’s super cool Echo and IBM’s Watson. It’s only a matter of time before these platforms completely change our expectations of music listening.

2. 2016 will be the year we begin to untangle the thorny knot called music rights. It’s crazy that with all the talk in the media about spies tracking every move of every citizen, we still can’t -- for some reason -- easily track who owns what in the music industry. Seeing hackers kick around possible apps built on blockchain technologies tickles the mind of all the possibilities.

3. Want innovative thinking? Mix creatives and technologists. Steve Jobs famously said that Apple is successful because it’s at the intersection of liberal arts and technology. The energy in the room that came from bringing programmers together with creatives, including students from Berklee College of Music, was off the charts. We need more of this elbow rubbing of hackers, hustlers and hipsters, even at SXSW.

4. The sharing economy is coming to music. Seeing Lyft as a sponsor of the hackathon was cool -- but even more cool was to see some of the clever applications that were being built by tapping into Lyft’s API. The sharing economy, with its house shares and car shares will undoubtedly affect the the way we discover and experience music, both recorded and live.

5. Today’s hacked app is tomorrow’s killer app. No joke -- I met a hacker at the convention center at noon demoing me a super cool shared music app; and a fully realized product version of the same concept nine hours later at the Hilton lobby. Pretty serendipitous right? Imagine what will happen when these two parties meet (which will happen right after I finish writing this post). The next great idea whose time has come?

Just wait and see.

Photo by Randy and Jackie Smith

By Rory Burbeck