The future of music production is not a band of robots playing AC/DC. Nor is it a mind-controlled audio workstation. And no, you won’t get cool helmets like Daft Punk, either.
The future of music production is much simpler than that. If you’re paying close attention to things you encounter almost every day in your digital life—the evolution of the Internet, the mobile devices we use, the contents of app markets, social networking sites, and the means by which we currently consume music—then predicting how tomorrow’s music will be made really isn’t that hard.
Ten years ago—or perhaps even earlier than that—digital audio workstations (DAWs) on consumer-level computers were considered as the next big thing in music production. As early as the late 1980s, manufacturers had already begun experimenting with support for audio interface hardware in personal computers as well as digital audio editing software to enable ordinary users to record and mix audio files on their own machines.
Fast-forward to the early 2000s and you have a towering heap of commercially available DAWs, not to mention the rise of recording and editing software applications for desktops, both Mac and PC. This includes the likes of FL Studio (formerly FruityLoops), Logic, Pro Tools, Acid Pro, and GarageBand.
Today, music creation software has moved towards the mobile space, with loads of apps and peripherals being developed for on-the-go recording and mixing. IK Multimedia is my favorite example of a music tech company that has given emphasis on mobile music creation in recent years, producing apps and interface hardware for iOS and Android. Their magnum opus is a program called AmpliTube, a guitar amp and effects emulation software that can be used both as a standalone application for desktop and mobile devices, and as a DAW plug-in. The latest version of AmpliTube comes with a built-in DAW-style editing suite called AmpliTube Studio. This software was originally solely for desktop use, but in the previous years, it has been made available to mobile platforms.
For recording and mixing on smartphones and tablets, particularly on iOS devices, the AmpliTube app works in tandem with interface peripherals. iRig HD, for instance, is a digital guitar interface that can be used on iOS devices. It enables one’s electric guitar to interact with the AmpliTube software installed on the smartphone or tablet. While IK Multimedia has placed an apparent emphasis on the mobile needs of guitar players, they have also come up with apps and interfaces for other types of musicians. Singers can process their vocal recordings even when they’re on the move using the VocaLive iOS app, which records audio using the iRig Mic. Keyboard players can do the same with iGrand and iRig Keys.
IK Multimedia is definitely not the only one making all the effort to aid musicians in the shift to mobile music creation. A lot of manufacturers are coming up with all kinds of products to support seamless instrument-to-smartphone connectivity and to enable audio editing on mobile devices. Even makers of desktop-based DAWs have jumped onto the momentum of mobile migration and have created smartphone and tablet versions of their software. Apple, for instance, has developed versions of GarageBand for the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod Touch. FL Studio followed suit and launched FL Studio Mobile.
With the sophistication of smartphone and tablet hardware and the growing necessity to slake musicians’ desire to make music on the move, it was only a matter of time for DAWs to be supplemented by what we now call MAWs—mobile audio workstations. Today, there are countless mobile tools that allow musicians to create music no matter where they are at the exact moment when the muse strikes.
The pervasiveness of commercially available mobile music creation tools comes with the promise that independent music production is now made easier than ever. The technical requirements have been lowered in such a way that musicians are more capable of a certain level of self-sufficiency that was difficult to achieve in the past.
The concept of independence holds true for distribution and promotion. Musicians no longer need to be under a label to get their music out there. Intermediaries make sure that independent artists get nearly the same extent of digital distribution as signed ones, and they even offer distribution into mobile stores. Even better, if independent musicians do not have the resources to pay intermediaries, they can still distribute their music through more creative means.
The use of streaming services will always be a free, but effective way of sharing an artist’s music, and it’s a big plus that these services have their own mobile apps, thus increasing the artists’ chances of being heard. Streaming apps such as Spotify and SoundCloud give musicians a leg up by giving people free access to their music wherever they are, as long as they have the app installed on their devices and they’re online.
Another streaming service, Reverbnation, which was created to establish a network of artist profiles, takes their distribution and promotion offerings up a notch. Reverbnation now gives musicians the chance to create their own mobile app, where those who download the app have access not just to audio tracks, but also to pictures, videos, and tour details.
Music is mobile, and nobody can ignore it. In fact, paid intermediaries—those that deliver music from the artist to distribution channels like iTunes—such as AMAdea, TuneCore and CDBaby now include distribution to mobile stores like Google Play in their catalog of services.
The cloud is also making an impact on the structure of digital music distribution in the mobile space, especially to the increasing number of independent artists who wish to offer their albums and tracks for free.
With platforms like Dropbox and Google Drive, it’s incredibly easy for artists to distribute their music. All they have to do is create a public or shared folder and post the link on Facebook, SoundCloud, or email it to their mailing lists and fan bases. It’s a way for everyone on the web to be able to download their songs into their computers or mobile devices.
We’ve all heard the story of Amanda Palmer—how the Dresden Dolls frontwoman created a Kickstarter campaign for her 2012 album. The goal was to reach $100,000. The results were astounding—the campaign accumulated more than a million dollars with nearly 25,000 backers. Theatre is Evil, the debut album of Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra, is just one of the success stories of how artists have managed to crowd source funds to produce their records. A local example is Color It Red, who was able to record their album last year with the help of donations solicited via local crowd-funding site ArtisteConnect.
Crowdsourcing introduces the concept of remote collaboration in its simplest form. By using the funds donated by their supporters, the song or the album produced by the artist then becomes a collaborative effort, with the solicited input being solely financial.
What if it isn’t money that the artist is crowdsourcing? What if it were parts of a song—a bass line, perhaps, or individual vocal parts in a chorus arrangement?
Using today’s technology, the most practical way musicians can crowd source parts of a song is by asking people to record their parts and send them in via email or share them via cloud. As mentioned earlier, it is now easier for aspiring artists—ordinary people, if you will—to record and share their music files. We owe it to the apps, software, and cloud-based distribution channels that we have today. After receiving the files, the main artist would then compile the recordings on the editing software he or she uses and the track would undergo the mastering process. Then, it’s done. The finished product is a remote collaboration with creative input rather than financial.
Let’s say we take it up a notch.
All contributing artists engage in a Skype conference call and jam simultaneously. Each one records a track on his or her own computer using their own software, sends it via email or via cloud to a central person for mixing and mastering, and the finished product is uploaded to the cloud or distributed via email for everyone involved in the collaboration to download and listen to. Again, it’s a remote collaboration with creative input; only this time, actual interaction takes place, even if it’s as simple as a video call.
We take it one level higher.
Say, there’s only one central network or program through which all of this takes place. This means that everyone involved in the collaboration will use the same software or platform. All members of the ensemble can record remotely at the same time using this platform and all the tracks will be recorded in real time onto the timeline. Users within that platform can edit the working file simultaneously and everyone has their own copy of the working file and the finished product. Real-time interaction is enabled, creative input is stored, and because a singular system is being used, the process is centralized and consistent.
This kind of system requires a lot of fine-tuning in terms of support for high performance and security, but it’s achievable. Think of it as the virtual equivalent of your college band jamming and making music in the garage. This, folks, might just be the future of music production.
Such programs that enable real-time remote collaboration within a single platform already exist—yes, the future is already here. In fact, some independent artists are already trying it out. Kompoz and eJAMMING AUDiiO are just two of the existing collective music production services.
In the coming years, as the speeds of internet connections across the globe continue to mature along with the sophistication of computer hardware, there will be an era of propagation for dedicated multi-tracking platforms that let musicians create, collaborate, and share among fellow musicians and supporters—wherever they are in the world.
Here’s taking it one giant leap further:
Thanks to the continuous development of mobile music creation tools and the music distribution system’s penetration into the mobile space, it is highly possible (in fact, almost predictable) that real-time music collaboration platforms are going to be a big thing in smartphones and tablets as well.
MAWs that would allow real-time collaboration might have a performance issue today, but there’s no doubt that smartphones and tablets in the future will be able to accomplish and handle much, much more. App developers, too, are getting insanely creative and are bent on revolutionizing the use of mobile devices.
In the next few years, artists will witness the growth of internet connection speeds, software, and hardware and how tech becomes more mobile than ever. Knowing that this technological advancement signals the possibility that tomorrow’s music could be a shared creation, not hindered by space and time, makes it all the more exciting. If real-time collaboration features and capabilities hit MAWs, this gives musicians nearly limitless possibilities as to when to create, where to create, how to create and whom to create music with. You can collaborate anywhere you want at any time.
It seems that tomorrow sounds like a worthwhile wait for musicians. Even without the promise of Daft Punk helmets.
Words by Racine Anne Castro
First published in Gadgets Magazine, August 2013