What I've Learned at SXSW So Far

The first thing I learned was that when people remind you all day to set your clocks ahead an hour on Sunday night, you should probably do that.  Instead, I woke up the next morning thinking I had plenty of time to make it to Paul Lamere's panel "Finding Music With Pictures: Data Visualization for Discovery" only to discover that it was, in fact, happening at that very moment, thanks to the ridiculous scam that is Daylight Savings Time.  Fortunately, Paul has posted his slides over at Music Machinery (linked from his name, above) and so when I have some more time I am going to try to piece together what he talked about based on a smattering of pictures and text.

I also learned that the SXSW Animated Shorts are not as good as the ones at Sundance that I was lucky enough to see a few years back, and in retrospect I should have skipped them entirely to attend the "Bloggers Fight Back: Legal Workshop for Music Bloggers" panel.  But since I didn't, don't be surprised when I start writing this blog from jail.

When I finally got into some panels, I learned even more.  Mainly, I learned that metadata is the magic word of the day.  First up was the "Love, Music & APIs" panel featuring speakers from Echo Nest and SoundCloud.  Their main point was that APIs are the new currency in music apps, and if you don't have one, you're not really playing in the same game as everyone else.  They had a slide listing all sorts of cool music companies with APIs - interestingly enough, Pandora wasn't listed.  I wondered why not, as they seemed to be in the heart of the music recommendation space, and my friend Lori quickly realized "they must not have an API."  I felt so sad for them.  The panelists talked a lot about Music Hack Days, finally answering the question of what actually happens at those things.  The answer:  a lot of smart people make a lot of really interesting and cool music apps in a very short amount of time, nearly all of them based around APIs.  And what do those APIs revolve around?  Metadata.  That was also the topic of the second music-related panel I attended that day, "Music & Metadata: Do Songs Remain The Same?"  The panelists here used a pretty broad definition of "metadata," using it to cover everything from the spelling of a song's title (apparently when users submit their own titles to most metadata repositories like MusicBrainz or the old CDDB, you can end up with 176 spellings of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door") to things like a song's cultural impact or a singer's unique and recognizable turns of phrase.  The main takeaway is that metadata may start out in the hands of the artist, but quickly becomes "owned" by listeners, users, remixers, etc.  Metadata is cultural currency in much the same way that APIs are technical currency.  Combined, they are helping make this a fascinating and wonderful time to be a music nerd.

The last thing I learned is that the line to see Surfer Blood was too long last night, so I will be trying again tonight.  Of course, there are about 50 bands (and a movie) that I want to see all playing at the same time tonight, so I have no idea what I'll end up seeing, but I'll tell you all about it here!

1 comment:

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