Food for Thought

George Howard on Bitcoin, Blockchain and Music Entrepreneurialism

This is not a post with a lot of my own thought attached.  I referenced George Howard’s work earlier this week.  This content was originally published on Forbes, I believe.  This is some of the best thought that I’ve seen printed about how a future can exist outside the current mega-label hegemony.  Those of us who are not selling – and may never sell – millions of records are not well served by the existing royalty, tracking, payment and rights administration schemes.  What is proposed here would be transformative for composers, song-writers, indie labels, and just about anyone who makes things that exist in digital form.  I don’t know how close or far this is, but the ideas are important and worth discussion and advocating for.

Without further ado, here are links to the articles.  Personally, I wish George Howard & Imogen Heap success in what they are championing.  It is refreshing to see new thought on these subjects that is not just echo-chamber material.


Part 1:The Bitcoin Blockchain Might Save The Music Industry…If Only We Could Understand It

Part 2: Bitcoin Can’t Save The Music Industry If The Music Industry Continues To Resist Transparency

Part 3: Bitcoin And Music: An Interview With Artist And Composer Zoe Keating

Part 4:  Imogen Heap’s Mycelia: Creating A Fair Trade Music Business, Inspired By Blockchain

Part 5:  Union Square Ventures’ Andy Weissman On The Blockchain And The Music Rights ‘Nirvana State’

Part 6:  Imogen Heap On Mycelia: A Fair Trade Music Business Inspired By Bitcoin Blockchain



Stimulating Interview with Composer Morton Subotnick

This is not a new interview, but I just came across it and found it to be insightful and challenging.  You can enjoy a transcript here and then watch the video:

A Better Way to Market Music

George Howard is on a roll over at Forbes.  His latest set of articles on the interplay of music and commerce are not to be missed. He recently sat down with Ryan Leslie for an hour long interview.  This is well worth the time.  Ryan is a musician, entrepreneur and generally well-thought out young man.  George’s interview is insightful, thorough, and gets to the meat of the issues surrounding releasing music, building a fan base, being able to market one’s music, etc.

Long Term Investment

In the last post, we discussed a framework for evaluating musical technology that centered around how well it facilitated artistic vision.  I have been thinking a lot about this because of a fluke rash of equipment issues in my studio.  Camel Audio decided not to keep the Alchemy synth software going, my box of knobs failed on a firmware update, and my Bowen synth no longer turns on.  In all cases, the manufactures have been helpful, but equipment or software that I use regularly suddenly became “unavailable”.  In no way does it stop me from making music, or being creative.  But it takes time and money to remedy or replace the lost capability.  My trombone doesn’t do this in the same way, or my classical guitar – though in fairness, both could easily be destroyed through careless handling.  The net result has been that I’ve been considering how I’ve invested into musical instruments and technology and have been thinking about how I want to position myself moving forward.

As I think about categories of investment I’ve made, I make several observations:

Software is the least permanent, whether synthesizers or DAWs, effects, etc.  Versions come and go.  Apple updates OSX every year, as Microsoft does with Windows.  Digital rot is real, and in most cases it is “upgrade or die” where file formats and software are concerned.  There is a real ongoing cost of doing this of time and money.  Yes, one can “freeze” a system at a moment in time and use it until the hardware dies, but it doesn’t change anything – that simply makes a full upgrade of all hardware and software at once inevitable.  I’d rather pay the tax gradually as tech is so disruptive when it is not working.  Software is basically worth it in terms of immediate and constant use.  Software things that are not going to see regular use just aren’t a good investment unless matched with cash flow from a project.  There is just too much drift and loss over time for this to be strategic for me.  I have mid-term investments into Cubase for my orchestral template and probably 150-200 hours of working on that.  DAWs won’t go away, but try telling a composer he or she has to move their templates….  Possible, but no fun, and a major interruption to productivity.

Computer based controllers need to be reasonably priced for this reason – they too are tied to operating systems and digital rot. It is unlikely that I will be using the same box of knobs and buttons in 15 years.  If I get 3-5 years of solid use, I’ll probably be glad, and I need to keep these things in check accordingly.  The Ableton Push is also in this bucket.  Useful if used, but it will not have a long shelf life relative to a piano or high-quality microphone.

Orchestral sample libraries are pretty stable, and do not soon go obsolete.  As time marches onward the programming and scripting improves and the state of the art moves forward.  The cost of buying a complete “virtual orchestra” at the state-of-the art is high, but promises 5-10 years of commercially viable capability.  In this world, continued availability and updates to Native Instrument’s Kontakt sampler is a critical part of the infrastructure, along with Vienna’s Ensemble Pro software that distributes load across my computers.  Those are dependencies for which no perfect alternative exists.   This whole industry is made of small players compared to the giant MI companies like Korg or Yamaha or Roland.  Again, there are maintenance costs, but beyond a certain point of having the necessary orchestral palette, having every possible flavor is not a strategic goal for me.  While some growth of my sample library is inevitable, I consider myself pretty well invested and there is a pretty high bar for me to consider adding additional things at this point.  Certainly, I am not significantly limited in what I can compose and turn out at a professional level.

Electronic instruments like my Bowen Solaris synthesizer are supposed to offer a stability and longevity that exceeds software.  By virtue of having a dedicated firmware that is stable, the idea is that this kind of gear leaves the factory in full working order and keeps working until physical failure or mechanical damage intervene.  Because there is not an operating system to upgrade or other software to conflict, hardware does tend to be much more stable and reliable.  Gear like this works just fine without ongoing updates.  It works the same every time.  That said, my Bowen is currently sick. It will be fixed – John is a great guy and very responsive.  But what about 10 years from now? It is doubtful that it will still be made new.  It is unlikely that there will be a parts depot for key parts.  Unless it is a simple power supply issue, the reality is that it will likely not be repairable.  So, I see both sides with hardware synths, and embedded systems like audio interfaces.  It is certain that USB has and will outlive whatever OS Microsoft and Apple make this year, but these are also not likely to be around in another ten years.  Even with hardware, many things that we take for granted are really just tools of the moment,and need to be justified by significant and immediate use.

I would tend to categorize the Seaboard in this category as well, except that it serves a different function for me.  It’s long term viability is unknown, though I wish Roli maximal success, as it has software dependency on OSX.  It cannot work without a computer.  That said, this is on my “R&D” list.  In order to be at the front of progress, one must be at the front of progress. There are lots of ways to be there in software and hardware.  None of us can try or own every product.  I want to be involved with this one and it fits my situation, so whether I am playing it in 10 years or not, I will have had an experience at the forefront of a new era of controllers and that is worth something to me, and it is worth being part of that dialog.  There is a fundamental shift happening in controllers, and it is important to electronic music and musicians that these develop and are adopted.

Other types of electronic hardware can be much more long lasting due to serviceable components and lack of digital components.  Microphones, monitor speakers, amplifiers, electric guitars and basses, analog recording equipment all fall into this category.  These items are rarely cheap, but are serviceable, most parts are available apart from the manufacturer, and much of this equipment can last for 20-30 years, even with very regular professional use.  Not all items in these categories have that much life in them, but the best items certainly do, and can last for the better part of a career.  My current monitor speakers are over 10 years old and still working very well. They have been a fantastic investment, and I would have to spend a lot to do better in my room.  It is definitely possible to make strategic investments in this category for tools that will see daily use.  At the same time, buying highly specialized microphones for infrequent use isn’t worth it.  Studio time is too easily rented where those pieces exist.

Acoustic instruments sit atop my chart for longevity expectation and strategic value.  Some instruments, like a grand piano, age at about the same rate as a human being and one or two instruments can last a lifetime.  Acoustic guitars and stringed instruments like violins and violas can last a very long time with proper care and repair.  Professional wind, and brass instruments are not as durable as these instruments mentioned so far due to mechanical complexity, but can certainly be expected to last 7-15 years under heavy professional use with appropriate maintenance.  Most professional players would purchase new instruments before 7 years, but this would be after many thousands of hours of demanding use, and at least in part due to changed requirements or tonal preference.  If the hours of use are reduced, many instruments can last for decades.

It turns out that in our technology driven era, choosing equipment has artistic implications and requires a variable investment profile with a mix of short and long-term investments.  Choosing one’s place on both artistic and investment dimensions is important.  Some will need to be on the cutting edge technicality, and their instruments and studios will be constantly shifting mix of software and hardware.  Archiving to WAV file will be very important for this group to avoid losing work to digital rot.  For others, playing and physicality are more important, and for them, the scale will tilt heavily towards more traditional interfaces and instruments, serviceable electronics, and longer-term investments – often at a larger cost per item.  I suspect that the absolute cost is similar.  For the $8,000 it takes to buy a fine professional oboe, one can buy and upgrade quite a lot of software, so it really is a matter of preference.  I have become more clear on my preferences by writing this.  How do you think about investing in musical instruments and equipment?

Evaluating Music Technology

Manufacturers of all instruments have it pretty well figured out. They just need to find a musician who can do something impressive with the instrument, software or device and make a video recording of it.  From this, no end of “eager desire” can be generated.  The implied message is clear, “Buy this instrument/sample library/synth/whatever, and you will make impressive music too!”.  Generally, the tool in question delivers exactly what it says on the tin, and if approached with thought, significant amounts of creativity and physical ability, “impressive” is within reach.  In the last several years, the market has been flooded with devices and software in the $200-$500 mark, and gear flies off the shelves.  By modularizing the purchase price into small hits of $200-$500, the modular synth industry is undergoing a renaissance or sorts.  This seems to hold true from synths to sample libraries, to beat boxes, keyboards, and any number of cheap guitars, drum sets, etc.  By the time the price hits $1000, sales volume drops off rapidly.

In some ways, for many in the “first world”, the cost of new electronic and software music “widgets” has reached a point where new gear can be purchased regularly.  For software, it doesn’t even take up space in one’s home, so the clutter can become invisible.  This is very different than the world of physical instruments like trombones and pianos, where it takes thousands of dollars or tens of thousands of dollars to purchase an instrument.  Interestingly, once one has a fine concert instrument, there is often little felt need for another.  Additional instruments tend to be focused on other applications or significantly different tone colors.  With software, though, the tendency seems to be to keep adding and keep adding.

In an interview with Seth Godin, Krista Tippet uncovered a number of significant nuggets of thought from Seth that weigh on the selection of technology. At some level, the use of technology is inherent in music making.  Physical instruments are one form of technology.  Electronic instruments like guitars and basses are another.  Then we have the whole world of electronics, computers and software.  If it makes noise, humans will use it for music, it seems.  So how do we select technology for our music?

Seth offers several penetrating questions for evaluating technology:

  • Does this help me hide?
  • Does it carry artistic risk and motivate forward motion?
  • Does it make me uncomfortable as an artist?
  • Does it challenge me in making art?

Technology can easily help us hide.  It takes a lot of time to master most tools, making it far easier to purchase ever newer tools in a vain search for progress, when the progress comes from mastering what is right in front of us.  This phenomenon affects all artists who use technology from photographers, to musicians, studio owners, etc.  With the interconnectedness of the world, it can be a part-time job just keeping up on al the latest advancements in a field – all available for purchase, and all demonstrated by someone doing something amazing!

But, technology can also carry artistic risk and propel forward motion.  The Seaboard is this way for me.  I know it is very expressive, but how expressive can I make it?  Am I willing to find out?  There are no lessons for it – it is up to my own initiative. It looks at me and stares, daring me to find its limits.  I don’t know about its durability, permanence or the fate of the company.  I need to make things with it now, not later.  Being digital, it may not “keep” for 20 years.  It is a tool of the moment.

Computers have been making people uncomfortable for years, along with all the arcane software we have devised.  This is one way that technology can hinder art.  If we spend our time “geeking out”, that is usually a different space than the creative impulse.  Technology problems can definitely distract us right away from finishing things.  But, technology can also make us uncomfortable and goad us.  We may hear a new way to use something associated with dance music, heavy metal, or whatever and think – they haven’t begun to explore the goodness that I hear.  Good or bad?  I suppose it depends.

Does it challenge me in making art?  Do I wonder if I can measure up?  For some, this is exactly what turns them off about EDM – they feel that “anyone” can push buttons on a computer.  For others, the computer and a sequencer are a limitless playground offering constant chance for growth, experimentation and forward progress.

In all of this, “Musician, know thyself” seems to be the only lasting advice.  I find Seth’s framework helpful, and the questions insightful.  My office surrounds me with music technology, and I have a large investment into software and musical electronics. I spend many hours bending computers to my will for my orchestral template, my DSO project, and for composing and notating music.  And yet, I have been climbing off the acquisition treadmill. I don’t really need anymore subtractive synthesizers.  I don’t need another string library.  And I find my attention moving on from building my template to just sitting down and using it.  Ultimately we as artists must rule the technology and bend it to our will – it must not be allowed to seduce us from our mission of actually making things and striving to be more expressive and effective in our art.

2015 – Year of the Polyphonic Multi-Dimensional Controller?

Two year ago, I wrote a short piece on preparing for the future, musically.  In it, I hinted that controllers would be changing the face of music making, and that has become increasingly apparent.  DJ booths are migrating from turntables and mixers to fully programmable electronic control surfaces.  Innovators have brought us stick-on sensors for piano keys (Touch-Keys), and the next wave of control surfaces is coming to market in volume.  I still believe this is going to “change the world” for creative musicians.  Most acoustic instruments have been continuously refined for hundreds of years, but with very, very small changes.  Put simply, they work!  They are well-adapted to human physiology, acoustic sound production, and tonal shaping.

Playable synthesizers are barely a few decades old, and polyphonic synths with stable pitch (read digitally controlled synths – whether analog or plugins) are even newer.  So far, synthesizers have been available through traditional keyboard interfaces or MIDIfied versions of guitar or wind controllers.  Most of these controllers are cheap plastic and offer poor tactile feedback and control for nuanced performance.   No one has produced a commercial string-based controller for violin family instruments that I am aware of.  Two years ago, my first foray into the edge of this world was the Infinite Response VAX-77 – a fairly traditional piano keyboard controller with the addition of polyphonic aftertouch and high-resolution velocity sensing.  It was not a very big leap compared to a Haken Continuum.

Fresh out of the box!

A Seaboard, fresh out of the box!

In the time that has passed, a number of new instruments have been produced.  Roger Linn calls this movement Polyphonic Multi-Dimensional Controllers or PMC’s for short.  Check out the list on his site and read up on the different approaches inventors are taking.  So far, pitch layouts are either based on traditional keyboard layout, or on a grid that more approximates the neck of a guitar or a violin.  With all the parameters that make a sound “alive” under one’s fingers, it remains to be seen if there is a need for moving a bow or blowing in a tube to control synthesizer sounds.  Observationally, few Eigenharp players seem to use the breath interface – the 3-D grid surface is expressive enough.  Fingers are more controllable than a diaphragm from a muscular perspective, so I suspect bow and breath will remain primarily tied to acoustic instruments.

Readers will know that I just received one of these controllers, the Roli Seaboard Grand Stage.  It is a powerful and expressive instrument, and the transition from one dimension of control to two is transformative.  The LinnStrument, Madrona Soundplane, Eigenharp, and Haken Continuum all offer three dimensions of control.  Interestingly, three of them are fully grid-based, and the Continuum uses its own linear equal spacing of semitones on its surface.  None are traditional keyboard instruments.  Even the Seaboard is quite different from a piano or an organ and has to be approached differently.

I have watched the Eigenharp for years with interest, but been unwilling to approach it on its own terms, fearing that it would be “starting all over” from an ability to play perspective.  My thinking on this front is changing because the grid-oriented controllers do have real advantages, as Roger Linn and others point out.  I think that in this regard, experimenting with the Seaboard and an Ableton Push has warmed me to the idea that I could play a grid-based controller successfully.  Perhaps I am being weaned from an over-dependence on piano keyboards, but it appears that grid-based controllers will be a significant part of the musical world moving forward, and I want to be able to engage freely as they develop and mature.  I suspect that technique and pitch recognition could be reasonably transferable between grid controllers to the degree that different grid manufacturers can present the same pitch organization on their grids.  So I am now at least at the place that I think it would be good for me to learn a grid-based instrument.

The LinnStrument and the SoundPlane are both much more affordable than the Seaboard, Eigenharp, and Continuum.  This will revolutionize this space, I believe.  At $1,500-$1,900 they are priced in the range of entry-level professional or advanced student instruments and within reach for most in the “first world” with a bit of economic sacrifice.  As sensor technology and computing cycles fall in price, we will ultimately reach an equilibrium where the finishing materials and touch surfaces will drive the cost the most.  Premium instruments won’t have better sensors, but will feel nicer and come with better cosmetics.  For example, the Roli Seaboard feels fantastic.  Anyone who sits at it keeps running their fingers over it, even if not playing a note – it feels interesting and inviting as a physical object.  The Madrona instrument is made of beautiful hardwood – like a traditional instrument.  I am sure that, like the Seaboard, it feels solid, substantial, and carved out a block of material – not flimsy or cheap.  I expect that as the physical interface standardizes, we will see the market stratify into different cost points based around the luxury and ergonomics of the physical controller.

The other factor that will be explosive, is the ready availability of powerful software and community development options.  I am learning Cycling’74’s Max right now to serve as the signal router for my digital organ project.  It is easy, powerful, and VERY light on CPU.  I am already empowered to know that if I can imagine it, I can build it using the tools in front of me.  Max is MUCH easier than Ruby or Python, which are themselves not that hard.  The LinnStrument and SoundPlane both provide their source code as Open-Source-Software.  This means that ANYONE can modify the code, come up with new uses, or extend it.  If they stop making the instrument, users can keep the instruments running for years, just like classic cars.  The internet, owner’s forums, and web technology ensure that this will be a rapidly evolving space where even the instrument inventors will be surprised at what happens and how rapidly it occurs as musicians customize their tools.  It will not take hundreds of years for this space to evolve and mature, and that is exciting.

As these instruments get beyond a few hundred “early adopters”, and deployed by the thousands, whole new expressions will come out of it.  What is hard to play on a piano or a guitar may be easy on one of these, and new possibilities will emerge.

I believe that synthesizer programming will also rise to new levels.  We will be able to have patches that rely less on programming to generate movement, and be able to focus more on the harmonic and timbral content of our work and how those map to a surface that we personally control.  I doubt it has ever been more possible in history for a musician to make “exactly” the sound that they want to hear for a given musical context. I know that all of the main synths that I use from the Bowen Solaris, through Alchemy, Bazille, and Omnisphere are all capable of multi-timbral input.  Native Instruments is lagging, but Roli’s PolyThru software makes this transparent.  The sound generation engines are ready, the control surfaces are emerging, and musicians are as anxious as ever to explore the world of sound and organize it to their taste.

So, I ended 2014 by welcoming one of these controllers into my studio.  Will 2015 also see the addition of a grid-based controller?  We will see, but I did sign up for the mailing list for LinnStrument availability – I like the clear LED feedback on pitch organization – great for dark stages, and the automatic pitch centering, which is very clever.  It will be a good year for electronic musicians and performers, and it may well be the first year that there is broad availability of polyphonic multidimensional controllers.  Will you be participating?

The $900 Surge Suppressor

As someone who leads a “digital lifestyle”, I use computers and electronic equipment for 10-16 hours a day.  Even while exercising, my phone is busy turning my workout into data. I use my computers more than I use my bed, my car, my bike, or any other possession.  I depend on them to make a living, and it is not an exaggeration to state that any money I spend on computers that makes me more productive is the the best money I can spend.  It pays dividends 10+ hours every day!

This being the case, I have been fairly responsible regarding protection for my computing setups.  I have a reasonably complete backup regime in place for my two primary computers, and could recover from a hard drive crash with very minimal loss – at most a few hours of work.  Key work is stored on drive arrays that are themselves internally redundant and protected.  The hard drives are regularly defragmented and tested.  For data recovery, I keep bootable backups of my hard drive and use Apple’s Time Machine to cover work in-progress.  All my computers, and even my cable modem and wireless router are on Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) with built in surge suppression.  This way a power problem turns into a non-event and I have time to save my work, shut down and unplug until the power comes back on.  These UPS’s are brand-name items of the type you’d find at Fry’s or Best Buy in the $70-120 range, so typical small-office equipment, not enterprise-grade data-center gear.

One of the “nice” things I own is an Epson 4900 photo printer.  This is a big printer, from their professional line and will print exhibition quality 16×20’s,  17×50 panoramas, etc.  It lived on the surge suppressor/UPS that protects the wireless router and cable modem.  All was well and good until one day, Samuel Farinato, an artist friend, came over to print some work for an upcoming show, and the printer would not print black ink.  No amount of cleaning cycles, printer resets, etc would fix the problem, and we both assumed there was some kind of ink clog, perhaps due to a faulty design.

After calling Epson, and finding out that the printer is no longer under warranty, I was directed to a repair shop outside Sacramento.  It took a week, but after ruling out a clogged print-head, a bad ink pump, etc, it was determined that the logic board was bad.  $700 parts and labor would restore my printer.  Ouch.  The printhead and ink supply system was fine.  The brains were scrambled.

That’s when the penny dropped and I realized what had happened.  We had a large power event several months ago – it fried the UPS/surge suppressor that protects the cable modem, wireless router, kids computer, AND that printer.  Everything else seems Ok, but the printer’s logic board is not.  Somehow something died on it that tells it to output black ink, rendering the whole printer useless.  The UPS protected everything else, but I did not have effective protection for the most expensive item.  Not good.  It mostly did the job, but failed in a minor way that produced a major expense.

Clearly an exact replacement is not going to happen.  I need something that fully works on my critical equipment all the time, every time, so I kicked off the research engine and learned about surge suppressors.  In part II, you can learn why I settled on a $220 surge suppressor for my core music and computing rig, bringing the total for this lesson in power protection to over $900!

The bottom line is that surge suppressors that cost much less than $135 just don’t provide the protection we think we are buying.  Something like the Furman PST-8 is the lowest cost protection that will actually work repeatedly and reliably.  If you depend on your computers or have priceless data on them (like family photos), you may want to re-evaluate how you protect your critical data and systems.  I certainly have.



We need some new Standards-Bodies for the music industry

If you have been following my blog, I have laid out a number of fairly obvious possibilities for the evolution of music-making. In order to fully take advantage of the possibilities, I believe there are two cross-company initiatives that would transform the marketplace for everyone:

1. Define a standard plug-in data model and API for parameter passing. Today every manufacture has their own data model and writes to specs like VST, AU, etc. This is great and works well, but all of these technologies involve local processing. Vienna has figured out how to remote VST and AU plugins, but that is just the beginning. What we need is a specification that allows processing to be outsourced to internet-based engines. Instrument models, incredibly rich reverb effects, and powerful synth engines that would overwhelm a desktop PC can be envisioned and created by existing instrument and effect designers. The problem is not the algorithms. The problem is the communications infrastructure and data model for passing the parameters. A group with representation from DAW manufacturers, plugin vendors, digital instrument makers (like Eigenharp), and sample vendors/modeling companies could produce a rich, extensible data model that could facilitate an on-line/offline render model and incorporate the kind of rich data than next generation musical controllers can produce in a post-MIDI world. The spec needs to be open, and not tied to any one vendor. The Internet Engineering Task Force and dozens of other high-tech standards bodies show how this works to benefit of all participants.

2. Create a standards-body work for virtual performance space. Like the plugin specification above, this would specify a Data model, interfaces, etc for a virtual concert space. As I lay out in my previous post on the future of music, there will be entirely digital performances in the future. What we need is a model that allows all the vendors to plug in seamlessly to a cloud-based concert hosting service. Everyone from mix engines, FX providers, lighting technicians, instrument models, etc need to collaborate to make a virtual concert happen in a virtual space. Provision must be made to use rich controller and body-suit information to create 3D performers, and avatars that can actually play instruments on virtual stages. Even 30 minutes of reflection on the inputs and outputs for a virtual concert experience point directly to the need for a standards-body to coordinate industry input and define interfaces that dozens of vendors can use to meet customer demand. We don’t need proprietary digital islands – that will delay progress by 5-10 years. Existing enterprise technology adoption illustrates this – closed development is a dead-end, and technology will route around road-blocks.

Both of these efforts are multi-year efforts that will require a lot of work. As the CPU and RAM vendors push forward, the timeline for broad distribution of the requisite horsepower and consumer devices will roughly coincide. A 3-5 year timeframe for the development of this technology is reasonable and most MI companies would stand to benefit tremendously. Even DSP-based companies like AVID or UAD could easily port their algorithms and control surfaces to this world.

Organization of these bodies will create a rising tide that lifts all boats within the industry, and vastly expand what artists can deliver.

The Future of Orchestral Mockups

Orchestral mockups are presently a LOT of work – as much work as actually composing the piece. On the one hand, this is reasonable – one person is trying to simulate 50-100 players. It stands to reason that this will be hard, and fraught with complexity. As processor power increases, and instrument models evolve, we should expect this area to be transformed. Much of the variation that has to be hand-entered today, should be performed via a “rich-data” controller like an Eigenharp Alpha or some other string/wind variant geared toward those kinds of players. These controllers output exponentially more information than MIDI could ever handle, but will provide the kind of expression data that makes an analog instrument so rewarding. Think about the possibility of feeding a violin model parameters like: bow pressure, speed, angle, distance from the bridge, string friction coefficient, string bending force, etc. Once this rich data is in a suitable DAW, it will be possible to use algorithmic means to vary this data, run it through different models, and truly make whole sections of related, but individual performers. This has the potential to revolutionize orchestral mockups and completely eliminate manual sample switching.

It would be ideal if rich and very expensive instrument models were accessible in the cloud – in two part form – smaller models to write with, and crazy rich models to render with. The history of all samples is that they get cheaper over time, no matter how real they seem initially. In the future, one or a handful of highly skilled players in each section will play rich-data controllers in real-time. Sample switching is not necessary since the models record all string/bow movement, pressure, bow speed, pluck point, fretting point, breath parameters, etc. All data goes to the cloud as inputs to the model. Algorithms can create interpolated players using the rich data to fill out the sections and avoid repeating sounds identically; different instrument models can be mixed as well to further the ensemble. Incredibly expensive reverb can put every player into a common space. This reverb can effectively be almost infinitely expensive computationally because of the power available in large internet data centers. Cloud0-based CPU complexes can render the sound and output individual tracks for mixing in 24 bit surround-sound, or provide direct output as a simple stereo wave from modeled microphones in the modeled room.

Whoever figures this out, will have most of commercial music beating a path to the door. If someone like the VSL folk figure out how to take their samples, apply modeling over the top and come up with a fast data interface (think Eigenharp level data feeds) in cooperation with a digital instrument maker, they will be an incredible force to reckon with. The SampleModeling stuff is already amazing. Put this in the cloud where computation is limitless for final render, and the local composer’s responsibility is just to get rich data off a digital controller.

Open Letter to the DAW Companies

First, allow me to thank you for the incredibly rich capabilities you already deliver. Being able to run 30-50 tracks off my MacBookPro is most excellent! This letter, however, concerns the future and how you might re-invent the DAW to take advantage of next gen computing horsepower.

Today, all audio plugins have to operate in real-time. This means that the average laptop drives the quality level for the whole industry since that is what most people use. More computationally expensive algorithms exist, but are not compatible with real-time playback on a laptop. We need the ability to “render” our final audio, just like the video folk. Video is massively more than a desktop PC can handle, so all previews are of lower quality, but are fine for editing, color correction, etc. The final render, however, runs at full resolution, full frame rate, and full color bit depth. In the music world we don’t have this option. The DAW company that figures this out will have a massive advantage. If the software is smart, it can tell when a full version vs a draft version will do and automatically render in the background what is needed. Video companies do this, and some even use GPU cards to accelerate algorithsm – another viable strategy.

What we need is an online/offline model. I can use existing plugins to work – they are real-time and have great sound. But, I want my plugins to have access to algorithms so powerful they would halt my computer for days. This kind of power is available in the cloud, but I can’t send data to the cloud in real-time; there is too much latency. What I need is for my plugins to be able to stream audio to the cloud in the background, process it using very expensive algorithms and return my processed audio to the track as a “freeze” track. Even as good as a UAD or Protools card is, more quality can be had – particularly for reverb and highly involved synthesis engines.

You could leave this up to the plugin vendors and simply make a way for them to “play a track” in the background through their plugin (a great use for all the cores in a modern multi-core machine). Or, you could make a torrent server that centralizes these requests, schedules them and maximizes the communication, keeping track of which tracks are edited and need to be updated. Or, you could allow plugin vendors to make a “render” algorithm that runs on the final bounce/mix-down. Because this doesn’t have to be real-time, more expensive processing can be used. Plugin vendors can get their real-time tools close enough to the render tools for engineers to have confidence that it will be “the same, only better”.

If you do this, your plugin vendors will love you. All software synth makers should be requesting this from you. This is how they can keep their best code in the cloud and not deal with copy-protection, etc. it also opens up the idea of an online plugin marketplace. They can give lower quality versions away and charge for the renders. Surely you don’t want Propellerheads to own this by themselves (they already have an online plugin marketplace)? Your users will also love you. This will let me access “the high end stuff” on a project by project basis. If I am just writing demos for my band, I may not care, but if I am polishing our album, I would definitely spend extra to get the last bit of great sound via some cloud-based plugins that are so expensive they don’t even fit in a 5k Bricasti box or a $3k Access-Virus chassis.

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