What’s going on with music tech funding?

I find it interesting to see what’s going on with music tech funding and how different ideas and prototypes get funding or don’t. So the last few weeks and months has had some quite unusual and telling developments. 
Let’s start with Skoog. Their original campaign didn’t make its rather high target of around £75k. That’s not unusual at all. Whist the regular media like to tell us stories of how well some campaigns do it doesn’t tell you the whole story of how only around 45% of crowdfunding campaigns actually make their goals. That may or may not come as a shock to you. But lots of campaigns just don’t make it for a variety of reasons. That’s probably a reason for a whole other post though. 
But of course crowdfunding is just one part of the picture. Lots of hardware gets funded through lots of other routes. In fact Skoog is also a good example of that too. After their first attempt on indiegogo failed they managed to secure further investment from their previous non Crowdfunding backers which allowed them to run another indiegogo campaign. This time around it was successful.  Why? Good question. Perhaps a lower raise was what helped? I’m not sure, but it did work the second time around.
But again that’s only part of the story. Music tech has never been the easiest thing to fund and investors aren’t always convinced of the viability of innovation. So enter the music bricks programme which is part of music tech fest. A now almost global event which brings together all kinds of different music makers and technologists. 
Music bricks is part European funded and part funded by a business angel network too. It’s trying to bring research out of academia and into the hands of hackers and music makers. In general I think it’s a good idea. 
So, there are lots of different options is you want to fund your idea or project. That’s good right? Yes, to an extent it is. But the question remains, should you take any of these routes, should you mix and match, and most importantly, what’s best for your project?
What I keep coming back to is this simple question around whether or not you should take one of the vast array of different options for funding, and I’m reminded of something that Paul Soulsby said to me when I interviewed him. Paul decided not to use any of these options. I’m sure he could have taken to Kickstarter or indiegogo to crowdfund his synth. I’m sure he wouldn’t have had any trouble in raising the money. But he didn’t. He decided that he wanted his synth to stand on its own. He wanted Soulsby Synths to be a synth making company. Not a startup, not a Crowdfunding project. Just a regular synth company. 
There is quite a lot to be said for that in my opinion. There’s a lot to be said for just making something and seeing if people buy it. Not buy into the idea, but buy the actual finished product. I’m coming around to this idea fairly firmly myself now. 
So there are lots of ways to get your product out there. VC or angel funding or crowdfunding isn’t always the best idea and none of these is by any means an easy option. Developing these finance routes takes time and hard work. But it is worth considering thinking about just doing it yourself. It might mean risking more of your own cash but you’ll probably have to do that anyway whichever route you take. 
So what my conclusion? Well it isn’t that simple as you can guess from what’s gone before. But I suppose that the main take away from this is that you should really carefully consider your options and their implications before taking any route to funding or to launch. Model your options and work out what’s going to be best for you. If you’re not comfortable with it, then perhaps it isn’t the right option after all.

I you haven’t heard about MicSwap Pro, then you really need to now

I thought I should put down some thoughts about this app as it’s one that may have escaped your attention and it really shouldn’t have.

I have to admit to being slightly sceptical about this app initially. It is after all a very impressive idea and quite a task to get that many mics together and properly represent their characteristics. So when I tried it out I wondered if the differences in each would actually be perceptible, or if the mics would largely sound the same but with tiny differences.
I have to admit to being very pleasantly surprised. In fact that statement really doesn’t do this app justice at all. I was actually very impressed indeed.

I’ve been using MicSwap as an IAA in Multitrack DAW to add character to existing vocals. The results are truly excellent. The modelling capability is amazing. Really amazing. The range of different mics that you can access is superb and affords you a really interesting sound palette of ways to alter and improve a vocal. I really didn’t think that it was going to be possible but the results were great.

Each mic has a very distinct character and response and the app’s UI makes it very easy to swap between them quickly and easily. I guess it would have to with a name like MicSwap! I can see this app becoming one that I use very regularly with all vocal work. It’s simple to use yet very powerful indeed, and that makes it an excellent mobile music app in my book, and the fact that it’s also universal is even better.

So I’m giving a very firm recommendation to anyone looking for a wide range of mic emulations to try this app out. You can of course use the lite version but I’d say that the full version is well worth the money. 

Loopseque, it’s not over, and that’s great

Loopseque has been a long time favourite of mine. From its earliest incarnation I’ve thought that it was truly a triumph of design and simplicity whilst providing an excellent array of options for making music. So I was really glad to see it get an update, however small. And it is a small update. All that they developer has done is make it 64-bit ready. Well that’s good isn’t it?

Yes, in fact, a resounding yes. Why? Well you may ask. From my perspective it just means that this app is still alive and the developer is still interested in it. That’s good news, because I certainly am still interested in it. I like this app so much that in 2013 I used it in our workshops for SoundLab and we even took it to the Royal Festival Hall in London and used it as part of the SoundLab set up for our club night. It was a massive success, and so it should be.

So this is good news. I’ve no idea what comes next for Loopseque, but I sincerely hope it keeps going as it’s a great app for making music irrespective of your level of ability, and that’s not something that’s easy to achieve in software development.

Here’s to more Loopseque!

So that’s how not to do Crowdfunding … UKCFA event

This was a tough choice. On the this same evening there was the Apple iPad event, a kickstarter event on planning and running a campaign and this event run by the UK Crowdfunding Association. So, which did I decide to focus on? I decided to go to this and I’m really glad I did for lots of reasons which will become clear to you I hope.

It’s peculiarly British to have an event that tells you how not to do something rather than how to actually do it. But in fact that’s a very useful message. All to often we hear only about the crowdfunding success stories and not about the mistakes people make, where they went wrong, and what they learnt from those mistakes.

Also the crowdfunding world is perpetually dominated by the likes of kickstarter and indiegogo and whilst they’re good and useful they only represent a small part of the overall story. There are lots of other crowdfunding mechanisms available and those shouldn’t be overlooked. 

So what did I learn? Actually a lot. Whilst it is easy to get views on crowdfunding from lots of sites and to pull stats and data from all over the place, nothing beats hearing people talk about their experiences and mistakes. A personal story is worth much more than any number of stats in my opinion. 
So here are some of my favourite comments, learning and more from the evening with a little commentary here and there:
From QuidCycle: “Just start now, don’t wait until everything is perfect. Don’t be insular, and don’t believe the hype!” (Me: This is very good advice. Often people do wait until everything is in place, but waiting doesn’t always help.)

“Don’t create a fake celebrity twitter account to tweet about your campaign, nothing good is going to come out of that!” (Me: It might seem obvious, but people try all sorts of tricks to get noticed. Don’t try tricks, be honest)

From CrowdCube: “Prefund your campaign, don’t wait until you run out of money” (Me: It might sound strange, but prefunding really helps. We all know how it feels to turn up at a campaign page to see that no one has invested as yet.)

From Seedrs: “Don’t crowdfund if you don’t want to share your idea!” (Me: Another seemingly obvious comment, but it is important. If your idea is too secret don’t share it or find a way to tell people without giving away too much.)

“Don’t have a crappy video” (Me: This is a point that comes out a lot. The quality of a main campaign video is crucial and can’t be stressed enough. Ideally a a 2-3 minute video is best.)

From BuzzBank: “Don’t forget to promote your campaign on your own website” (Me: Another sensible comment, but people do forget.)

“It is as important to be offline as it is to be online. Investors are real people and will want to meet you and talk to you offline” (Me: This is very important for equity crowdfunding. You can be invisible to investors. They need to talk and meet with you.)

“Only 43-44% of campaigns on kickstarter succeed” (Me: It might sound strange, but I can believe this statistic.)

So what does all of this mean for the world of music apps? Well that’s a very good question. I often have developers ask me about crowdfunding. It’s got a bad name over the last year or two in our community. This is mainly because it is very difficult to actually crowdfund an app without annoying all of your backers and giving away loads of apps for free to people who didn’t crowdfund the app in the first place.

But having been to this event it made me realise that there lots of other options available apart from the big too, and people should be looking at everything out there, not just focusing on the obvious.

Some pictures and thoughts from Hardware Startups Soho Showcase on Monday

On Monday I went along to Hardware Startups Soho Showcase. There were some great start ups showing their stuff, including Sam Labs and Mogees. It was interesting to have a chance to play with some of these things, as that can really bring them to life. I got a chance to talk to the guys from Sam Labs about their kickstarter which is currently running.

To date I’d sort of thought of Sam Labs product as quite close to littleBits. I think I can be forgiven for that. However, having had a chance to talk to them and to try out the hardware for myself, albeit briefly, I could see how Sam is different as (to use their words) Sam has code at its heart and littleBits has hardware at its heart. You could probably argue this a bit, but essentially that’s accurate enough.

It was interesting to play with the modules and see how the drag and drop style code is used to change how each module works with the other. It makes me quite tempted to jump in on this campaign.

It was also great to see Mogees there showing their stuff, and really good to catch up with them, as it’s been a while since we worked together at our SoundLab BOC event on the Southbank.

But the most useful thing was the Q&A panel where founders from a wide range of start ups answered questions and told their stories. But there was one person on the panel who wasn’t from a start up, but was from Indiegogo. She talked a lot about what they look for in hardware start ups and the kinds of problems they encountered.

So I thought I’d take the opportunity of talking to Indiegogo about the problems that app developers face when trying to crowdfund projects. I’d hoped that Indiegogo would want to engage and find a creative way around the problem. I couldn’t have been more wrong though. Essentially I just got fobbed off with some rather pathetic comments about how campaigns needed to tell a compelling story. Nothing actually useful at all. As far as I’m concerned Indiegogo have lost a big opportunity and crowdfunding is still a problem for app developers.

Anyway, enough of that disappointment. One good thing that happened was that I met Tom Whitwell who used to run the excellent blog “Music Thing” and now runs Music Thing Modular amongst other things, and was a great help and support in the early days of Palm Sounds. It was really good to chat to him after many years.

These kinds of events are all about the networking and getting to see things for real, which is incredibly useful and important. I think that Hardware Startup Lab are hoping to do more, and if they do I’m certainly going to try and go along.

So what’s the next big innovation going to be?

Now that I’ve got my iPhone 6 and whilst it is lovely and it is growing on me, it is largely just more of the same in technology terms. So it makes me wonder where the next really big innovation will come from, not just for music making, but in mobile tech as well, in general.

In fact, if I think about it, the last really big step forward was the iPad and what that did for mobile music, but since then there hasn’t been anything on the same scale. Certainly not in my opinion anyway.

Of course you might argue that the next big innovation could be with the Apple Watch, although I know lots of people don’t see it yet really. I still like the idea of a smart watch, but perhaps I’m wrong. We’ll just have to see where that goes and how adoption works for both users and developers

The other area where you could argue that innovation could come from is Android. I know that to date Android hasn’t been seen as anywhere near iOS in terms of mobile innovation, but with Samsung’s latest SDK for Pro Audio it could catch up very fast indeed, especially if there is good develop support for it. But even so, this is likely to be a catch up more than anything rather than a different course for innovation in mobile music tech.

So could it be in software (apps)? Well I think that it is quite possible here. In the iOS world, and in fact in Android as well, we’ve largely seen a replication of the desktop into mobile. That’s not a bad thing though, or at least it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We’ve got great synths, drum machines, controllers and DAWs. There’s just about everything you could wish for in the mobile world, but if we simply recreate desktop systems in mobile aren’t we forgetting something? Aren’t we loosing out on all of the benefits of a device that is meant to be moving around with us? That in itself is probably a whole discussion for another day though. However, in terms of what I’m interested in here, I wonder if we’ll see some major new step forward in mobile innovation via an app or a way that an app is able to utilise the device or device data.

So what do you think will be the next major innovation will be, and I suppose as importantly, where will it come from? I’m really intrigued to hear your thoughts on this.

Why Color Chime is one of my apps of the week this week, and quite possibly for longer than that

If you don’t know Color Chime then can I suggest that you give it a try? It is a very simple app, but actually it’s an app that really embodies what is great about mobile music making, or at the very least, one aspect of it, and that is ‘play’. Color Chime is a great app to just play with, and that’s what I’ve been doing with it since it came out.

So why am I so excited about a simple app like this?

Well, I think it’s simply because there’s no clutter. Color Chime is just about making some music quickly without any interface noise to get in the way. You don’t have to dig deep to find out what to do or how to operate it and it just works. There is a great deal to be said for that level of simplicity. It is really quite elegant.

I think that the other reason that I like it is that it does in some ways remind me of other similarly simple apps like NodeBeat, and also SynthPond too. Interfaces that were fun to use, engaging and caught your imagination.

As apps get bigger, more complex and sophisticated it is all too easy to forget that playing is really important. Playing for the sake of it, for fun and for relaxation is a very important part of how we use music, and it’s apps like Color Chime that really tick that box for me.

If I were you I’d click the button below and download it, as Color Chime is free on the app store and describes itself rather charmingly like this …

“Shapes, colors, sound! Make music in seconds with Color Chime.

Tap to create a melodic sound collage. Includes simple controls for timbre, scale, tempo, delay, filter cutoff and filter resonance.

Color Chime is an amusement park for your fingers and a bubble bath for your ears.”

Modal Pro, a first look and some other thoughts on modular synth apps

Modulars are never easy let’s face it. Some people love them others just don’t get them, but one thing is for sure, they represent a very good way of getting a better understanding of the building blocks of synthesis. So, why is that important? Good question. Simply as it can help you when making your own patches in a variety of synth apps, whether they’re mobile apps, desktop apps, or even hardware. Of course, there’s a downside too. Lots of people say that using modular apps is just the first step to getting into modular synths, and I can say from personal experience that it is tempting, although so far I’ve managed to resist the temptation on the whole.

So, what’s so good about Modal Pro? There are a small number of modular type apps on the app store (and I’m only going to focus on iOS for the moment). Within that small group there are a number of varying types of app that can be broadly classified as follows.

Visual patching modular apps

In this category I’d include Modal Pro, Jasuto Pro, Modular, and Audulus.

Other Modular apps

The three above of course are not the whole story. There are a number of other apps which have a modular component or deliver modular capabilities in a different way from the more traditional ‘patching’ concept. In this category I’d include:

  • Sunvox: of course it’s much more than a modular, it’s a full fledged production environment, but its approach to synthesis is very modular)
  • TC-11: A very unique interface and a very powerful app that deserves a whole review of it’s own.
  • Thor: An excellent modular environment

So, those are my very high level categories, and probably need another whole post to talk about the whole modular app thing, but for now I’m going to concentrate on Modal Pro and try to not get lost in modular rambling, which is always a danger.

So, what’s different about Modal Pro? Well the easiest thing would be to start to compare it with the other apps in the category I’ve put it in. Modal Pro is a relatively simple app when compared to Jasuto and Audulus. That’s not to say that it’s just a simple synth. It isn’t, but when compared to these two it is. That’s from the perspective of getting to grips with what modular synthesis is and how to start constructing patches.

The first thing I noticed when I opened up Modal Pro was the ‘getting started’ tutorial, which I have to say is excellent. For anyone who wants to not only understand the app, but also get a grasp of how to construct a modular patch this is excellent. In fact, I can’t stress enough how useful I think this feature is. The tutorial explains the modules and how to connect them to each other. It also explains how to adjust the parameters for each module to achieve what you want to with your patch.
Once you’ve gone through this tutorial, using the app is very simple and straightforward.

The app has all the normal elements you’d expect in a modular app, like oscillators, ADSR, Amplifiers etc. Each element or module for creating patches can be connected using virtual cables, and you can make some pretty complex patches using Modal Pro.

Overall I think it’s an ideal app for getting started with either learning modular synthesis or if you wanted to learn the building blocks of synthesis itself. Whatever you motivation you’ll get a lot out of this app.

The app costs $9.99, which isn’t bad at all for a complex app like this.

Why the Theremini is so important …

I’m sure you’ve seen Moog’s new Theremini which is due to start shipping shortly. It’s a lovely machine, very compact with great features including CV output and MIDI IO through a USB mini jack. But what’s really important is that it’s built on Moog’s Animoog engine, and for me that’s really significant.

No, it’s really really significant. I mean, how many physical instruments can you name that have their sound engine derived from an app? Not many I’m guessing. This is a point in music technology where things start to get really interesting. Where apps become embedded in hardware. So I applaud Moog for developing this instrument. Personally I’m really looking forward to using it in workshops and live as well. Having the Animoog engine inside guarantees fantastic sound and amazing synthesis.

Well done Moog, this is the beginning of something really important.

My impressions of Oscilab

I thought I’d jot down a couple of notes about Oscilab, and as I wrote this it turned into  more of a rant about interfaces and how our music reacts to them. Anyway, as a result I thought it might be best to split this post up into a few headings.

Some (slightly rambling) thoughts generally about interfaces
I have to admit that I was really looking forward to Oscilab when it first got teased, and let’s face it, cross platform apps and anything that works well on Android is few and far between to say the least. So Oscilab looked like it was going to be really amazing. The videos showed it doing some really interesting things and producing really amazing sounds, so it had to be great, yes?

Well, that’s what I was expecting. When I opened up the app it made no sense to me at all. I didn’t get it, and these days, I really like to be able to dig in to an app very quickly and start making some sounds with it. Let’s face it, we all tend to be busy, in fact that’s one of the reasons we (and certainly I) like mobile apps for making music.

However, I persevered, and if I’m honest, it didn’t take very long at all to get into this app when I’d got my head around how it worked, or perhaps I should say, how I had to work to make it work for me. Whichever way you look at it, it worked for me, but the interesting thing for me, was how.

It’s probably true to say that my usual way of sequencing or composing or writing follows a fairly standard format. I like piano rolls, I like step sequencers and that sort of thing, so Oscilab’s approach to sequencing was very different. Although, as I said before in many ways, that’s very refreshing. In fact, I often feel that a change of interface can be a good way to try different musical directions. It doesn’t always work, but it’s always good to try, and that’s how I felt about Oscilab.

Actual impressions of Oscilab
So, my impressions of the app itself. Well, as I said above, I actually found the app a very interesting way to work. In fact the workflow is nothing like what I’m used to. I wondered if I’d get used to setting pitch through Oscilab’s interface, but it didn’t take long at all. In fact, I quite like it now. It’s a different way of looking at things, a different way of achieve self expression but without having to know about all the usual stuff that we can get hung up on, especially if you come from a traditional western musical background.

On reflection, using the Oscilab interface is actually very easy. I expect that a few people reading this will wonder what all the fuss is about, but for others it might make sense. So, if you have been put off when seeing the Oscilab interface and thought it didn’t make sense for you, then think again.

I’ve found that the app has made me rethink how I respond to different interfaces and how I think about music making. I’ve really enjoyed using it and I expect it’ll become more and more a part of my workflow.

Hopefully I’ll get a track out made using Oscilab in the not too distant future. Anyway, I think it’s a very different app, but perhaps not in the way you’d think. So, if you haven’t tried it out, I think you should seriously give it some thought.

Oscilab is on the app store. Click below:

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