October 9, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Splice Hopes To Reinvent Music Collaboration for Umpteenth Time

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“What if you could share your music — and the way you make music?” asks the video above for Splice, a soon-to-be-launched music collaboration platform. “Organize your creations — every song, every sample, every save — a way to collaborate easily.”

Steve Martocci, founder of the group messaging app GroupMe, has been thinking about online music collaboration “for a long time,” reports Pando Daily, because he bought the Splice.com domain in April. That’s about six months ago, which might be a long time if you’re trying to book a vacation, but not really if you’re trying to revolutionize an industry.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that hundreds of incredibly smart people have been trying to make the internet into a virtual recording studio for nearly 20 years. That’s a long time for an idea to take off, especially in internet years. It’s the online equivalent of “people have been trying to do this since the beginning of time.”

Rocket Network was the first tool for online music collaboration that regular people could use. It appeared as a mailing list and FTP server in 1994, launched its online recording server software in 2000, and then integrated into most popular recording software. Suddenly, everyone could record audio and MIDI data together. But then it folded in 2003 for a variety of reasons (.pdf cites the author). Its assets were then bought by Avid (formerly DigiDesign), maker of Pro Tools, and scuttled.

Years later, I reported on the latest crop of online music collaboration tools, which were trying to crack this same nut… in April 2007, over six years ago. That Wired.com article rounded up no fewer than 8 new online music collaboration tools.

One of them was even called Splice. So not only is the idea behind Splice just about as old as the web, but its name is has already been used for an online music collaboration service. Plus, others, including Blend.io, are trying to crack the same nut.

All of internet history seems to indicate that Splice will have a rough go of trying to get musicians to make music together online in a way that makes technological, cultural, economic, and design sense. Nonetheless, online music collaboration might actually work this time, because:

1. This sort of thing is working now.

As Smule has proven, there are enough people in the world who want to sing into and play instruments on their smartphones that you can build a whole new social network out of them. It includes over 125 million people and over a billion tracks.

2. Splice’s design looks like a good way to think about workflow.

From what we’ve seen of Splice so far, it seems to make the complex task of figuring out who did what to which sound or song somewhat simple (see timeline).

3. It’s thinking “open source.”

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Splice shows the edits various people have made to a track in the Timeline view (image courtesy of Splice.com).

These folks are trying to do nothing less than turn music creation into something like software development. Instead of open-source code, they’ll share and improve on open-source riffs.

4. It lets people keep using their regular music software.

Like Rocket Network before it, and Blend.io now, Splice isn’t a new recording interface; it’s connective tissue for people on the software they’re already using. From the video, it looks like Splice is using Ableton Live, and probably other software too.

5. It’s not trying for real time.

The holy grail of online music collaboration is playing as if you’re in the same room as other people. Today’s internet cannot pull this off. Previous inventors have trotted out rickety contraptions to try to deal with internet lag and live recording, even including asking you to play a measure behind all of the other musicians. Even thinking about that gives me a headache. Splice, cleverly, is focusing on version control of edits people make to a project (like Microsoft Word’s “track changes” feature) , instead of trying to let them play together (like Google Docs’ collaborative word processor).

Besides, it’s designed for making loop-based music, which tends to involve electronic instruments, samples, and “lone wolf” producers, so there’s less of a need for real-time collaboration anyway.

6. We might be approaching peak EDM.

Forbes says the electric guitar is over (even as, The New Yorker has found a new troubadour). Pando Daily thinks we might be approaching “peak EDM,” when electronic music will achieve a popularity apex. All data indicates that music has grown more “mechanized” over time, and EDM, or Electronic Dance Music, has been in the mainstream for a while now.

It’s safe to say that electronic music is not some sort of fad, but is here to stay — you know, the way rock n’ roll used to be.

And with electronic music, online collaboration is way easier, because you’re already dealing with machines in the first place. There’s no need to mic a guitarist, unless you want to for some reason, and most of the time, electronic music makers are recording sequences, re-ordering blocks, tweaking filters, and so on. That stuff translates to online collaboration in a way that analog guitars do not.

7. Tablets/smartphones are different from desktops/laptops.

It looks like Splice is designed to work primarily with laptop/desktop software. However, apps are supplanting that software — and as that happens, the potential for Splice to take off for mobile music increases. If you can hop into a session to add some effects to someone else’s drum track while waiting for the bus, online music collaboration will stand an even better chance of taking off, approximately 20 years after people first started doing it.