Sony Music and The Orchard hold machine-learning hackathon

Sony Music and The Orchard hosted a machine-learning hackathon last week, in partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS). 

Now in its second year, this marked the first time that the event was held on both sides of the Atlantic. Sony Music hosted the hackathon in London, while The Orchard office simultaneously hosted the New York competition over the course of three days. 

Each team was tasked with creating a proof-of-concept for a new machine-learning solution that would positively impact the business. The hackathon focused on improving the quality of content releases and making them more discoverable, using machine learning as a toolset to support creative decisions.  

The teams in each location comprised technical staff from Sony Music and The Orchard plus solutions architects from AWS, while BRIT-nominated producer DJ Fresh joined the British hackathon to lend his expertise as a machine-learning engineer. “The way we consume media now is three dimensional – as an artist I want to learn how to use that palette,” he said. “The last few years, being an all-or-nothing kind of guy, I devoted myself to AI and trained as a machine-learning engineer, so when Sony Music asked me to get involved, I thought it sounded like an interesting challenge.” 

In the US, the opening keynote by Jacob Fowler, Chief Technology Officer at The Orchard, challenged competitors to inspire, create, and push the boundaries of innovation. 

On the competition’s final day, the UK teams presented their projects and received feedback from the executive judging panel. The winning team then presented via video-link to those attending the US event, before teams there presented their projects. 

Five executives made up the UK judging panel, with representatives from both Sony Music and The Orchard: 

·         Cassandra Gracey, President, 4th Floor Creative Group 

·         Michael Hanson, Head of Digital, Columbia Records 

·         Olivier Parfait, Director, Global Business Development & Digital Strategy 

·         Chris Manning, General Manager, UK & EU, The Orchard UK 

·         Joe Andrews, Senior Director, International Sales and Marketing, The Orchard UK 

The US judges were: 

·         Jacob Fowler, CTO, The Orchard 

·         Rachel Stoewer, VP, Artist and Label Services, The Orchard 

·         Devki Patel, Strategy and Finance , The Orchard 

·         Chris Frankenberg, VP of Emerging Technology, Global Digital Business, Sony Music 

In London, the winning team trained a machine-learning model to understand and monitor user behaviour and interactions with brands and artists. 

The tool would enable marketers to rapidly create retargeting lists of high-value users and would be particularly beneficial for breaking new artists, as it only requires a small amount of input data. It could also be used by sync and brand partnership teams, enabling them to actively pitch brands on potential deals. 

The team behind the model included Sony Music UK’s Lewis Donovan, Francesca Lamaina and Josh Rubner, AWS’ Andrew Morrow, and (via a Hamburg dial-in) The Orchard’s Dino Celotti.  

Speaking about the event, Lewis Donovan, Lead Web Developer at Sony Music UK, said, “After three intense days in London, the teams produced a tool that analyses data to inform A&R decisions, a spike analysis tool and an artist/brand/user affinity tool.  

“Achieving this in such a short timeframe, and with teams of varying degrees of coding experience, illustrates the energy, creativity and ambition for innovation here.  

“Every participant in the UK event had the opportunity to collaborate with new people, learn new skills, and help create a new business application using machine learning.” 

4th Floor Creative’s President Cassandra Gracey said, “I loved seeing what could be achieved in such a short space of time, looking at ways to boost our business using various machine-learning applications and our owned data. I look forward to the winning team’s programme being finished so I can start using it!” 

In New York, the winning team produced a model that uses machine learning to auto-generate artwork for artist and label merchandising. This innovative design created interesting opportunities for artists and labels to utilise existing content on various platforms. 

The team behind the model comprised The Orchard’s Anthony Khoudary, Jinny Yang, and Peter Iannone, and AWS team members Julia Soscia, Rahul Popat and Alex Jestin Taylor. 

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