The journey from music consumption, to creation (and beyond)

I’ve been saying this for a long time now. But increasingly I think that we will a more pronounced movement of users from listener consumer through a series  of steps or paths to content creator and beyond.

If you look back just a couple of decades it was not an easy thing to start making electronic music or even to have any kind of home studio. Over the years this has become progressively easier to the point now where you can start making music at a relatively minimal cost including the hardware. As a result of this you can go from listener to creator with incredible ease.

So what does this mean? So what takes some from the consumer / curator to creator? Well my guess is that lots of people would like to make music but the transition is too hard and often very daunting. Mobile tools can place plenty of stepping stones on the way though. Lots of these are cheap and easy to use and can help a user make that journey to musical creativity, whatever that might mean for an individual.

So what are these stepping stones? Well, one path through starts with the kind of curation tools that allow users to share tracks and play lists. Moving on to remix tools like those from liine. Letting a user remix tracks in a familiar environment on their mobile device gives them a taste of what they could do next. Of course, not everyone wants to move through all of these phases.

That’s fine, but giving people the tools and entry points is what’s important. I’m a firm believer that people need creative outlets and that music is an excellent way of satisfying that need. But it isn’t the easiest way to satisfy it. Not by a long way. So in order to encourage users down this path they need simple cheap and engaging tools to make small steps into musical creativity rather than have to take what is often a very large perceptual leap that can end up putting them off for a long time.

There are already plenty of apps that do this and do it well, but as with everything in the mobile music world discovering them can be difficult and the search in itself can be off putting. Wherever you go these days discovery is talked about as some kind of Holy Grail. I’m still not entirely sure why. From my own perspective discovery is not the answer. Discovery relies on a user making an active decision to search for something in an area that they’re unfamiliar with (at least in terms of moving along a path toward musical creativity). What we need is guidance for users. A way of understanding their behaviour and being able to suggest possible paths for them to take next. Music discovery is already getting better at this and is better understood by users in general whereas getting a suggestion that a user might want to try out a wholly different kind of application is less familiar. But that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily unwelcome.

I’ve often wondered why it is the so many discovery systems only work in a single category. Why is it that when Apple emails me to tell me what I’ve bought it recommend apps to me? If I buy a synth app why doesn’t it recommend ebooks on synth programming? Or even synth music?

If I buy music by an electronic artist why doesn’t it recommend a handful of synth apps to me based on previous purchases? Now you could argue that this would require a lot of work on Apple’s part and that they’re unlikely to change overnight. I’d agree. But it isn’t just about Apple. There are plenty of developers who have in app stores inside their apps. Why don’t those recommend books and music too? Surely that wouldn’t be so difficult? If we don’t grow the market for music apps it will eventually stagnate and I firmly believe that there is a much bigger market available if we can only define simple and non-threatening paths for users to try out. Encouraging people to make the jump from listener to creator is a big key to the app economy in my view. But how do we make that happen?

Well, I believe that there are a number of routes. One very obvious route is through games. Now, before I go further with this I have to admit that I am firstly not a gamer and secondly not entirely convinced that gamification of music is completely workable. However, having said that, just because I don’t think that I’ve seen it done successfully so far doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. In fact, my own doubts about the concept could just be because I’m not a gamer. The only think that’s come close in my book is the work that RJDJ have done with the app they produced for the film Inception and also their Dimensions game. Both of which are very much worth a look at if you don’t know them.

So, on to the gamification of music creation. My biggest problem with this is how to turn something fundamentally competitive into something creative. I think that there is a problem at a very conceptual level with the whole application of gamification to the process of music creation. I think if you can design a process that gets you around that it could have a real chance of success. There are ways of gamifying music though, outside of making the actual process of creation a game itself. For instance, applying the concept of leader boards to music creation is something that you rarely see and in fact only a handful of music apps on ios connect to apples game centre. To be fair game centre isn’t really an ideal place for music creation and others would be best place to take this on, like SoundCloud for example. Allowing users to rate and comment on tracks is already something that SoundCloud do well so why not extend to a leader board model that can exist commonly to apps?

So what else can be gamified? Patches and samples in the same way as tracks themselves? Why not? That of course leads nicely into collaborative approaches to music, but that’s for another day.

Are there alternatives to gamification as a route to bring users in? Of course there are. One other example would be locative services. Ideas around sound walks have been explored for some time now, but why not mainstream this by allowing users to collect tracks or sounds fromtheir favourite artists based on location? Check ins don’t just have to give you points but sounds and tracks too.

Taking it one step further a user, once they’ve collected stems and made their mix, could drop it to a specific location as well. For others to find and also remix. Again this leads back to ideas around collaboration. There are many possibilities and I’ve only mentioned a very limited number here. Others will have better ideas than I do I’m sure, that is if anyone reads or decides to take any of this further.

But what comes after that? Sure only a percentage of people will make the move to starting to create their own music but of those who do a percentage will continue further and become more technical users. Others will make the move from mobile to desktop for more powerful tools and a different experience. Their needs to be continuity from one platform to another and a consistency of experience as well. This is especially important to desktop tool manufacturers and we’ve begun to see this with vendors like Propellerheads and their iOS app Figure. On its own it is a great app for making a beat and playing with it. But as a potential hook to the desktop it is a very useful stepping stone. These kind of experiments are important. Not just in terms of learning, but also in showing that the big established players on the music tools business also see the benefit in taking this route.

Anyway, I think that this is as good a place as any to wrap things up here. I hope you found this useful or thought provoking.

Talking to Tim Cole from Intermorphic

I was lucky to catch up with Tim from Intermorphic recently and spend a couple of hours chatting about the mobile music world and what he’s doing at Intermorphic.

Tim and Pete from Intermorphic have been in the mobile music business for a long time. Way before iOS became the dominant operating system for mobile music making. Mixtikl, and miniMIXA before it were on Windows Mobile a long time before the iPhone first appeared, and it is important to remember the software has it’s roots in Koan Pro. Tim and Pete worked on Koan with Mr Eno, and as a result, Mixtikl has a lot of power under the hood, a lot of which they haven’t unleashed as yet, so that was one of the main things I talked to Tim about.

I’ve mentioned the next version of Mixtikl before but when I met up with Tim I got a chance to play with some of the new features and it is a big step forward. I don’t want to spoil the surprise so I won’t say much more except that I’m really looking forward to getting to use the new version of Mixtikl, and it is going to be a lot more integrated into my workflow very soon too.

More on Mixtikl coming very soon!

Mixtikl 12 Track Mixer of Generative Music, Audio MIDI Loops & Live FX - Intermorphic Ltd. Clip to Evernote

Music / Media / Social – Where are and where we should go

It is social media day so I thought I’d take this opportunity of looking at how mobile music making apps have integrated with social media so far, and what possibilities lie ahead.

Quite a few mobile apps have integrated with social media on the iPhone. Apps like Touch DJ which let you connect to facebook and twitter to say what you’re mixing, or PianoStudio, which lets you post your track to twitter, facebook or share via email. Then there’s Mixtikl 2 which converts a whole mix into a character string that can be pasted into twitter and anyone can listen to it online.

There are plenty more examples, and lots of good uses of social media in those apps, but essentially our use of social media inside apps is sharing of either what you’re doing creatively or the output of what you’re doing creatively, and I think that there’s a lot more potential to be had.

I think that projects like Genomestudio are moving in the right direction. Real time collaboration and sharing of musical ideas as they are forming is where I see musical social media going in the future.

I was really excited by the OhmStudio, but I think that mobile devices should be an integral part of this kind of exchange and collaboration. There have been a few concept devices around this idea, but nothing concrete as yet with the exception of Genomestudio.

Current social media sites like facebook, twitter and others aren’t really geared towards this kind of collaborative approach to sharing. The closest thing so far is Thounds, which does have a Thounds app for the iPhone. Perhaps there’s is a platform that could be built upon for real time collaboration using mobile devices with the ability to locate and connect with musicians around you to collaborate and share ideas and composition.

But is it too much to ask for? Social media is still evolving as is mobile music creation. My hope is that the two together could provide the tools and platforms to enable musicians to not only be able to be creative wherever they are, but also to find and collaborate with other musicians on an ad hoc basis.

We’ll see what the future holds.

What I’d like to see in … DopplerPad

I really do like DopplerPad from the Retronyms. It is without a doubt a great app, but even so, there’s always something that can do with an update and an improvement here or there. So I thought I’d put down a few thoughts on what I’d like to see come into this app.

  1. An iPad version. Whether it is a universal or a completely separate version of DopplerPad I think that it would be brilliant if it were native to the iPad.
  2. Multi project support, this is almost more important than an iPad version of the app. It would be so useful to be able to call up separate projects and work on them in DopplerPad, and even be able to move patterns from one project to another.
  3. Remove the last instrument or a commit button. I don’t know how many times I’ve been working on a pattern in DopplerPad and recorded it only to then think that I didn’t like the last thing I added. Of course it is possible to work around this, and I do understand that DopplerPad’s recording is more like overdubbing than layering separate tracks, but some form of last action undo would be wonderful.

See, it isn’t a long list, but I think that each of those is probably a fair amount of work though. Do you have any burning issues for DopplerPad? Comment them in if you do.

DopplerPad at the app store:

Looking Back … Moving Forward

To finish off my day I thought I’d post a link to this end of year piece I wrote on new year’s eve last year. It looks back at the last 4 years (less 2010 of course).

It makes for interesting reading about how mobile music has moved forward in the last few years.

Thanks to everyone who’s commented and twittered in birthday wishes, I really appreciate it.

Here’s to many more years of mobile music.