Computer programmers new rockstars of music world

Studio 360

Hackers, who became anathema to the music labels at the dawn of digital file sharing, are now key players in the industry.

At the Rethink Music conference in Boston last month, programmers, developers and tinkerers showed up for a 24-hour coding frenzy — a hackathon at Microsoft’s New England Research and Development (NERD) Center — in an effort to make the coolest app that could transform music.

Music executives who once treated hackers almost like criminals treat programmers today “like they would treat emerging artists,” explained Paul Lamere, a computer scientist who attended. “They’re almost like the talent scouts from the 60s and 70s.”

The events are not for the faint of heart.

“I’ve slept three hours in the last two and a half days,” saids CJ Carr, a veteran at his third hackathon. “It was all over the place intellectually and emotionally — and physically. When Microsoft closed around 8:30 p.m., I went to Echo Nest, (an app development house). They had another hackathon going all night.”

One team programmed a system that captures a dancer’s movement and generates music from it — helpful if you can’t follow a beat. Carr’s invention was a sonnet generator. Give it a few keywords and it will search various databases online to assemble some facsimile of lyrics:

Where I can score some of that heroin brown
When sex is a pretext to a disease
Gone to set the score, gone into the town
Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese 
But if it takes a cheap, tawdry scene
Stay on the scene, like a sex machine

Some of the projects might seem silly, useless, and impossible to monetize. But today it’s hard to tell the silly and useless from the next big app.

Carr’s sonnet generator didn’t recreate Shakespeare, nor guarantee a road to riches, but “I got three people who wanted to hire me,” he said, “so there’s your monetization right there.”

Try Swingify, a hackathon-invented app that turns every song into a swing song.

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