SXSW Music Seeks Houston's Next Music-App Developers

If you’re reading this on a computer, there’s a chance you have an app like Spotify streaming music in the background. Maybe that app and others, like Pandora, Shazam and Bandcamp, have also found homes on your smartphone.

These modern marvels began somewhere, in someone’s brilliant imagination, and ultimately became the household names we now cannot live without. Finding the next game-changer and boasting some of the newest apps and companies responsible for them are just two of the tech-oriented objectives of South By Southwest’s Music Festival.

Of course, the festival offers much more in terms of interactive media, all of which will occur March 11-20 in Austin. Houstonians can get a sneak peek at SXSW Interactive 2016 by attending a meet-and-greet with organizers tonight at SURGE Shack, 177 West Gray. The event begins at 6 p.m. and will include a presentation on this year’s scheduled programming. There will be a networking session in which the city’s tech community will have a chance to meet the festival’s staff. The event is free, but registration is required and can be done via Eventbrite.

The meet-and-greet will be similar to one SXSW Music held at Warehouse Live last fall. Not only was that gathering a big success, it gave us some insight into the music initiatives that might be found in the festival’s interactive programming. We checked in with SXSW Music account manager Luann Williams, who tipped us to Music Hackathon and the Music Startup Spotlight, two festival programs that will merge interactive and music interests.

“This will be the third year we've done the Hackathon, and doing one with a music focus makes it more novel and more relevant to SXSW,” Williams says. “Hackers and designers spend 24 hours collaborating and creating innovations in the music world, and we invite artists to sit in with the teams to brainstorm and develop ideas that are useful and meaningful to musicians and music fans. Then we bring in a team of judges to choose the winning teams.”

Travis Laurendine, of hackathon production company CODEMKRS, runs SXSW’s hackathon. He shared thoughts on past hackathons and on the sorts of prospective apps that might garner some big attention in 2016.

"Apps have changed over the two years of the event; 2014 was dominated by creative uses of streaming music services especially using Beats Music API, which was debuted at the Hackathon that year,” Laurendine says. “Last year’s event was won by an Apple Watch developer, and also featured artists working with rock-star developers who made an instrument for Robert DeLong controlled by a body-motion camera and a stage visual rig for Win Butler of Arcade Fire and his new DJ group, DJ Windows 98, that used a Microsoft Kinect and a Windows 98-era CRT monitor controlled by a Microsoft Surface.

"SXSW is where the hottest bands and killer apps of the world are discovered,” Laurendine continues. “This is exactly why we created this Hackathon, to give innovative developers the opportunity to create the next amazing innovation that changes the game for musicians and fans. This year we look forward to welcoming technologies like The Blockchain into the Hackathon to help fix the huge transparency and payments problems that plague the music industry. Also, to further the cause, this year we are offering select teams access to a three-day incubator during SXSW Music Fest featuring learning sessions with some of the country's top musicians and music startup CEOs."

The notion of techies and musicians sharing ideas and building music app prototypes from them is exciting. Even more exciting is seeing what has moved beyond the incubation stage and into the startup stage. That’s the thrust of SXSW’s Music Startup Spotlight.

“That was born out of the merging of music and tech at SXSW and the fact that so many music startups were applying for our Accelerator program or wanting to do something that would have an impact," explains Williams. "Hence the pop-up Spotlight expo that happens the same afternoon that the hackathon begins. The Spotlights are a quick, snapshot way for up-and-coming companies to show their apps to possible investors, media and people interested in budding tech innovations. Some of the startups on board range from music-discovery and streaming tools to artist royalty services. These are the kinds of things that are born out of our hackathon, too, and these startups have taken it to the next level.”

These programs are evidence of how music begat other SXSW programs, programs that encompass a broader scope of creativity and innovation.

“Two thousand sixteen is the 30th year of SXSW Music and we're pretty proud of that,” Williams notes. “It all started with music and has grown into an event that has great depth and breadth, from the groundbreaking Interactive Conference, to the renowned Film Conference and Festival, and our newer events, the education conference SXSWEdu, SXSW Eco and SXSW V2V. Music touches all of these in some way. This year, virtual and augmented reality will be a focus, and next year, the sky's the limit.”

For more details on SXSW's Hackathon, click here.

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