Every couple months or so since July 2009, a group of programming enthusiasts from around the world assemble in a room for Music Hack Day. There, over a weekend, they use APIs and codes and other stuff I don't exactly understand to conceptualize and develop some think-outside-the-box applications. Basically, it's the Gathering of the Juggalos meets Top Chef—for computer geeks. The folks behind the event claim it intends "to explore and build the next generation of music applications," which would sound like corny ad copywriting if it weren't kinda true.
As a rule of thumb, the music industry will collectively react more suspiciously than curiously to renegade creations that aim to tap into its reserves. Perhaps it's time for those execs to embrace the MHD. With news that Google plans to freak out iTunes by launching a music store in the coming months, innovations in how we discover and consume music may be the factor that makes or breaks new music services. That's where MHD comes in, and where we hope The Suits are paying attention.
The last MHD, which took place a few weeks back in London—the next one, in October will be in Barcelona—proffered an assortment of goodies. Among them: CleverSounds (allows you to commandeer a jukebox upon walking into a joint), Lazy DJ (for the fair-weather turntable-ist), Mashbox (see lazy DJ), HOTTTABS (grabs guitar tablature for the song you're listening to), and Daily Sample Set (downloads the day's buzziest tracks). But hands-down, the coolest app this convention yielded has gotta be Trackdropper.
Trackdropper operates on the principle of geocaching. Folks "drop" tracks that they own wherever they wish, geographically. You, the listener, hunt down those songs—which cannot be heard until you reach that determined location—by using the app that'll navigate you to each spot. Think of it as a trek for music: Once you reach the proper coordinates, you can download the tune that's waiting for you.
In addition to being a super-sweet sixteenth birthday-party idea, this app teems with piracy potential. But there's a novel guerilla-marketing idea here, too, which combines three of the hottest keywords in sales these days: digital (these are downloaded mp3 files), mobile (considered the new vanguard way to pump people's pocketbooks), and green(inasmuch as mp3s, leaving no waste, are technically environmentally friendly).
Imagine you are an indie label wanting to tout your lineup of upstart bands during the CMJ festival around venues in New York City or around Austin during the influential South by Southwest festival: You can be that clown shoving CDs and fliers with download codes into hands, or you can start a viral Trackdropper campaign online. Maybe you're one of the innumerable big corporations that's rebranding to lure a desirable demographic; here, you could release exclusive tracks or videos or ringtones amassed by visiting key stores. Let's say you're a band that wants to bump up merchandising sales by offering a free download after buying a T-shirt, or an event that's first 100 guests are guaranteed a free album, or better yet, a hip-hop act that decides to release a mixtape in scavenger-hunt form... With the possibility of implementing streaming or paid downloads, the opportunities abound.
As a consumer, I love the idea of anything that plays into (a) my short attention span, (b) my addiction to my smart phone, and (c) my general, insatiable desire to seek out new music. This isn't the plan that'll fix the sales slump, but after the preponderance download codes and rapidshares, it's certainly one viable option. And I don't mind being stimulated as a consumer, as long as I get something for my troubles.