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Automatic Music Data for the People

Lollapalooza opens its data to music hackers, and offers prizes for the best new apps.

Yesterday at San Francisco Music Hack Day, the popular alternative-music festival Lollapalooza announced that it had opened access to a trove of data related to its acts and events, and will offer prizes for the best apps and services created using the data.

Data center: The Lollapalooza music festival (shown here in 2007) is opening up its data to better serve an increasingly tech-savvy population.

The data includes information about the artists at different Lollapalooza events, the festival schedule (including last-minute changes), the precise location of stages and other venues, and data about which artists are getting the most interest from fans. Developers can use an application programming interface (API) to connect this information to Web apps. Organizers expect to see apps that help users discover new music, get recommendations, connect with friends, and follow interesting bands.

Music fandom has always been both a personal and social experience. Most music-focused technology companies, such as Pandora and Last.FM, recognize this and provide personalized music recommendations and other social features.

A new wave of music hackers is getting more personal—creating smart-phone apps and websites that tap into the increasing amount of music data available on the Web to deliver customized information and recommendations. For example, some newer music apps help concertgoers schedule their time at a festival; others recommend artists they might want to check out while they’re there.

Like many events, Lollapalooza already offers an official app. But by releasing its data, the event’s organizers say they hope that fans will go beyond what organizers themselves can build. “We can only do so much with our app, and there’s a lot of creativity out there,” says Michael Feferman, digital director for C3 Presents, the parent company for Lollapalooza. “We saw that a lot of fans were already starting to do stuff by scraping data from our site.”

The prizes for the best apps include flights, hotel rooms, and VIP tickets for two to various events. Brandon Kessler, founder of ChallengePost, which is managing the contest for the festival, says the large group expected to enter the competition will generate interest, which gives developers a better chance to find users.

“Developers are becoming the next gatekeepers to the world of music,” says Paul Lamere, director of developer platform for the EchoNest, a company that collects and produces data about songs and artists that can be used by music applications. Lamere says that whereas people used to explore music by listening to the radio or talking to friends, they’ll now use smart, personalized software applications. He says such apps are coming into their own as guides for consumers who want to discover new songs and artists. Lamere is one of the judges for Lollapalooza’s contest, and the EchoNest’s own collection of music data is a featured resource for contest participants.

Taylor McKnight, who founded the music technology startups the Hype Machine and, says he started building apps after deciding there had to be a better way to track bands and events than typing notes into his iPhone. Recently, he scraped data from the official websites of a festival and used it to create an app that automatically generated a playlist with songs from acts at the event that he liked.

Lollapalooza’s open API will let developers build apps faster and more easily than they could with unofficial methods. “Usually, festivals don’t fully embrace the unofficial apps and the unofficial events,” McKnight says. “I really like making something new with existing data instead of reinventing the wheel.”

Feferman hopes to see developers create apps that are useful before, during, and after the festival. He hopes they’ll help people make new friends or introduce them to new bands. “We want to enhance the experience across that full spectrum,” he says.

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