Music Hack Day Boston was the best music tech event I’ve recently attended. The first one was held in London this summer and was organized by Dave Haynes. The idea is simple: get a lot of techies that love music in a room and create a space where they can experiment with each other’s API and tools. Then show off the results and inspire.
The organizers of the Boston event, Dave Haynes, Jon Pierce and Paul Lamere, thought out everything and executed it diligently with a ton of integrity. This is what happens when people genuinely set out to make an event where the right people gather, participate, and just feel comfortable. Thanks guys!
So, what was awesome about Music Hack Day Boston?
1. The space. Microsoft may be evil but they sure know how to support a variety of smaller non-evil tech communities in Boston. The Microsoft New England Research & Development (it spells NERD, you see) Center is a large space on the edge of the MIT campus that has a bunch of meeting rooms of various sizes, quiet corners and a ton of power outlets and seating. Most of the space is set up in an open way, making it easy for new people to join a group hacking or talking, but leaving enough space between the groups so as to not get too crowded. My understanding is that this is just one in a series of different social tech events that MS has allowed to use this space. Very cool.
2. The Internet worked. Sure, it lagged at times, but serious credit is due to any wireless network that survives a few hundred savvy tech people with laptops. I can count the number of conferences I’ve attended that had functional connectivity, at all, on one hand.
3. There were just three panels. This removed the pressure from the organizers to fill panels with important-sounding people and wasted no time. It also made each panel more of an event, which made everyone participate more. Suddenly, the panels were also worth attending.
4. More specific to the panel I was on: our moderator, Chris Dahlen, a writer for Pitchfork, the Onion (& more) was a total badass. He was flawlessly prepared, asked good questions and created excellent, effortless conversation flow. Then, that conversation set up a good base that let the audience ask interesting questions. This was one my favorite panels to have been on in a long time.
5. It was actually a hack day (as a follow up to #3). Most of the time was allocated to workshops where anyone willing was able to show off their API and tools. This even allowed sponsors to participate in the event in a cool way – Yahoo was one of the event sponsors, and so Ben Ward talked about YQL/Yahoo Developer Network/etc. Same for the Echonest, and hey, their API are from the future, anyway.
There was also space and equipment for hardware hacking (circuit bending) and learning. I didn’t play there much, but the chirping, strange sounds and frequent ‘whoa’s from the hardware table spoke for themselves. Jimmie Rodgers was patient and generous in showing how to tinker with these noisy circuits.
6. Tons of opportunities to hang out with great people. The genuine nature of the event gathered a great group of people that actually create and build things on the web: developers from a representative set of innovative music/web companies, as well as those who tinker and experiment with music and tech outside of the confines of the browser. They were all easy to find on the event floor. Some of them weren’t hacking, and thus talking. I was planning on building something, but totally got distracted by the people. Dave, Jon and Paul deserve a ton of credit for making an environment where this was possible.
7. No goodie bags. There was a table with stickers, pins and t-shirts. That’s cool and all you ever really need. People empty out goodie bags and keep the totes for grocery shopping, if at all.
8. The event was free. This is often a moot point for many events anyway as a lot of people are invited and get in free, and thus limited revenue comes from tickets. The fact that the organizers were able to get the event sponsored well and placed in a donated space allowed it to be the most open event possible and added to the community vibe.
Oh yeah, and since this was a hack day, it ended with quick 3 minute demos of the hacks
! I had to catch a bus out of Boston before all the demos were done, but among the hacks: