October 21, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Interview: How Martyn Davies Turned a Music Hack into an App Company

Note: Evolver.fm editor Eliot Van Buskirk will appear at the midem conference in January 2012 to judge music apps submitted to midemlab. The deadline to submit music apps to the contest is November 4. In anticipation of the event, here’s a guest post from midemblog’s James Martin — an interview with former Universal Music Group UK app developer Martyn Davies (pictured above), who went solo after receiving funding for an app he created at midem Hack Day 2011.

We first met Martyn Davies in mid-hack at the first ever midem Hack Day, in January 2011 (video interview here). As that event proved, hackers are not freewheeling pirates out to scupper the industry; rather data creatives who can turn a Twitter, a last.fm and a flickr feed into a music discovery app in just 48 hours (check evolver.fm here & here to see the hacks created at the event).

Having met the music industry face to face in Cannes – and scored unexpected venture capital for his own hack – Davies decided to leave his job as Universal UK’s in-house hacking expert and form his own company, Six Two Productions. He told us why, right here:

James Martin, midemblog: What is Six Two Productions?

Martyn Davies, Six Two Productions: Six Two is a technology company that’s split into two halves. The first half is a small development shop specialising in building web and mobile web applications out of bits of open data and APIs (application programming interfaces, the code specs that programs can use to work together), mostly focused on music industry clients. The other half is the product side, or ‘start-up’ side if you will, which is place to incubate product ideas from pub chatter into working alphas. We have two in development right now. One is straight-up music based and the other is about culture discovery. The name Six Two doesn’t refer to anything at all. I wasn’t expecting to set up brand so I used a company name I already had. It’s the number of my house.

midemblog: What was it about midem hack day that made you think Six Two was a good idea?

Davies: Midem was responsible for Six Two’s emergence in two ways. Midem Hack Day proved that the more traditional members of the music industry were ready to embrace more open data concepts, and with it the idea of rapid prototyping and using the web and web-based services as the content management system behind their ideas. That really excited me and I felt that after 12 years working to develop similar processes and systems at the BBC and Universal Music Group, it was time to try to take that wider. I was also very kindly offered a small angel investment to develop up one of my hacks. This provided me not only with a huge confidence boost, but also the advice of an experienced entrepreneur.

midemblog: How does it work exactly? Is it like a talent agency for hackers?

Davies: In a way, yes. As the workload has grown beyond what I can manage myself, I’ve been drafting in other developers that I’ve met at other Music Hack Days, or that I’ve worked with in the past. The common theme is that they all have excellent knowledge of the APIs and services they work with and can bend them to create new and interesting applications. I didn’t really want to start a traditional development agency, but as we’ve grown in popularity, that’s started to happen naturally.

We spend as much time advising companies on how they should work with, or open up, data as we do actually building products. Not everyone comes to us with the expressed intention of building something, often they’re just looking to find out more about what the process of working solely with the APIs of companies such as Soundcloud, Songkick, Last.fm, Mobile Roadie and The Echo Nest [publisher of Evolver.fm] might be. We’re happy to help break that down for them; and if that results in an idea we want to build, then that’s even better.

midemblog: Mobile Roadie [see more], for example, often says you can make a mobile app for a few hundred dollars. Can you put a price on a hack?

Davies: You can’t put a price on a hack, because when you do it’s not a hack anymore. Hacking is a great way to generate ideas and show people what’s possible in a relatively short space of time. Once you get commissioned to build something it’s moved out of that realm – we just try to maintain the ethos of keeping things simple, always trying to do something new and using the power of platforms like Soundcloud.

midemblog: Which achievements/hacks have you been the most proud of so far? Or is it too soon to say?

Davies: I’m proud of OutNow, the hack I created at midem Hack Day; it’s not available anymore because the name has changed to Traxsy and it’s one of the products we’re going to be releasing in the new year. I’ve been building it up from a hack into something people hopefully want to use to discover new releases across multiple types of services. The proof of concept I made in Cannes started everything I’ve done this year.

I also built an app called TrackChattr, which recommends music based on the artists people are talking about. It’s based on Echonest technology, and it’s at trackchat.heroku.com.

midemblog: What are your priorities for the immediate future and two-three years’ time?

Davies: Scaling the both sides of the business up is my priority right now. I’m thrilled we’ve become so popular in just a little over six months and I don’t want to lose that momentum by saying no to people that are offering great opportunities to create something new, or try to do something differently. After that, I’ll be concentrating on consulting for the agency side, but running the product side. We’re aiming to release our arts/culture discovery service into beta before the end of the year followed by the beta of Traxsy in January (at midem hopefully). It’s been a very exciting and busy year for me and I hope the next few are the same.

(Photo courtesy of Thomas Bonte via midemblog)