A new mix for Miami’s musicians and entrepreneurs

Communities / Article

Photo credit: Luis Olazabal.

The first MIA Music Summit, celebrated at the New World Center in Miami Beach Monday, combined everything an event that brought together music, technology and entrepreneurship could offer, and more. RELATED LINKs

Music and tech: A new beat for Miami” on KnightBlog.org

It was inspirational but buttressed by numbers and definite strategies. It embraced music and the creative spark but also algorithms and Big Data.

Just as importantly, it often examined past experiences and new opportunities—on issues ranging from branding and record labels to alternative funding—from unexpected angles.

The goal of the event, which was sponsored by Knight Foundation, Choose Digital, .CO, SESAC Latina and Mobile Roadie, was to bridge the different worlds of music, technology and entrepreneurship and, as Matt Haggman, Knight’s Miami program director said, “help make Miami a place where ideas are built.”

Reflecting that goal, the summit had a very practical, hands-on component; it actually started Saturday morning with Miami’s first music “hackathon” at The LAB Miami in Wynwood.  About 50 programmers, designers and musicians, most working in teams, set out to create new projects that may be the kernels of new companies.

On Sunday judges evaluated 13 new ideas, ranging from programs to find people to jam with, to applications that coordinate what you are reading with the music you play, to a program that adjusts your playlist geographically, depending of the town you happen to be passing.

The top five projects were presented to the summit at large, and a new set of judges, on Monday.

Judges chose iRemix, an app that allows users to mix and match instrumentals and a cappella tracks, as the winner. Besides presenting the project before an audience that included potential investors and partners, the iRemix team received a thousand dollars cash, a guitar and $16,000 in in-kind services.

Sean Canton, a Monday finalist who developed a regional music event “localizer,” had not planned to attend, but decided to enter the hackathon at the last minute.  As it turns out, the summit was “an amazing experience.”

The summit featured panels such as “Creating the Next Music Innovation Hub,” which included Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine; and “Alternative Music Funding: Friends, Fans and Patrons,” which included Vann Alexandra Daly, Juan Pablo Cappello and Benji Rogers, who discussed opportunities in crowd funding. “In Miami a lot of people don’t know what crowd funding is,” said Daly, a filmmaker who recently led a workshop sponsored by Knight Foundation on the subject. “I’ve actually run a campaign for a theater company in Miami and our biggest challenge was that people didn’t even know what it was…. [The idea] is very, very young.”

There was a fascinating discussion about “Big Data and music,” which delved into some of the statistical tools being used to understand, and try to predict, trends.

But when asked about his approach in looking at Big Data, Chris Boos, of Arago, warned record companies about “trying to get deeper and deeper and deeper into data … generally statistical analysis of data doesn’t tell us why anything happened … the ‘why’ is very much open to interpretation.”

And at one point in the discussion about data, Daniel Savage, of Musicmetric, the leading music analytics company, brought it back from numbers to music. “You can do all the data analysis you want,” said Savage. “But that won’t help you write a hit song.”

Meanwhile, in his conversation with host and emcee Derrick Ashong, a Fusion anchor, Cory Ondrejka, VP of engineering at Facebook, addressed what’s needed in a thriving startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem.

For starters, the place has to have something that makes it different. “Miami has a historic music scene; [it has] a collision of cultures; it’s so close to the Americas [and] to Europe,” Ondrejka said. “That is a starting point. You need people willing to take the risk. [Before you succeed] you are going to fail …. You need seed funding … and you need … sophisticated investors.”

The summit also included a short segment featuring Miami-based startups showing their products in development and a couple of high-tech musical performances, one, by Berlin-based Nagual Sounds, showed a project that turns movement into music. The other, presented by Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics, featured a cross-country duet, with one singer at Stanford and the other at the New World Center.

But beyond specific projects, one realization to come out of the first MIA Music Summit is that the elements of a creative, productive startup ecosystem are already here; they’re just becoming aware of each other.

Canton, who works for startups making test prototypes to “help them visualize ideas quickly,” moved to South Florida from California last February. He sees Miami’s potential as a tech startup hub.

“The talent, the developers, is definitely here,” he says. “I hear it all the time: ‘We want to get people out here.’ Well, I’m here. Let’s go.” 

Fernando González is a Miami-based arts & culture writer.