Cloud services and their effect on music production and collaboration

On October 4, 2011

In the past year my own personal workflow has had a major upgrade: cloud computing. Both in my teaching and my music productions, services like Dropbox and Soundcloud have made file sharing and client delivery much easier. But the potential power of cloud computing on music creation and collaboration is only just being recognised. 

Over the past five years, we have seen a surge of online production services for mastering and mixing. These services provide the home recording artist with virtual access to professional facilities to add a bit of polish onto their assignments. For a relatively low fee (compared to “sit-in” mastering rates), artists who have chosen to be creative from home are able to turn to experts for the final touch.  

For many production facilities, the past twenty years have been difficult. There has been a significant decline in recording budgets alongside a technological convergence that’s allowing many “amateur” engineers, producers and musicians access to music-making tools that only top facilities may have had previously. But there are still many production tasks that simply cannot be done effectively or efficiently at home – such as mixing and mastering. Professional studios have recognised an opportunity to not only fill their downtime, but to capture a market of amateurs that need help to complete a commercial production.

Several mastering services have appeared in the last five years. The most notable were the new online arms coming from established studios such as Abbey Road, Metropolis and Sound Masters. This group had decided that mastering needed to be more accessible and affordable. Creating this new type of service meant the implementation of file transfer, storage and delivery systems had to be user friendly. Although still offering a postal service for master discs, they chose to rely on ftp drops or web-based user interfaces. Such methods can be both expensive to host and difficult to maintain. In April 2011, Abbey Road announced that they were partnering with SoundCloud “to let artists and producers connect directly to our legendary studios over the internet and have their tracks polished by the world’s most celebrated audio engineers”.

With recent advances in cloud-based computing, smaller facilities have been given the opportunity to offer similar services. In January 2011, The Miloco Group began offering an online service through many of the studios under its management. It farms out particular projects to the studios of your choice (through an online form), and that particular studio can set up their own method of file transfer. Cloud storage is making this task much easier. 

It’s not only these production stages that have been aided through ‘the Cloud’. Online real time collaboration in music making is beginning to emerge as a new method of creativity. In April 2010, Ohm Force announced that they were developing a way for artists to collaborate through a new interface. Its name was Ohm Studio, and its aim was to create “collaborative-driven online community”. Take a look at the following video for a nice overview of the concept:

The service is still in beta, but during this period they have been slowly adding users and creating a community while ironing out the bugs. This type of innovation creates an impressive means for international musicians, producers and engineers to work together in real time but in their respective regions. It can potentially give rise to new creative genres and very interesting crossover projects. 

These services do have some disadvantages. Being a purely online method of working, internet connectivity is always going to cause problems. Some users will struggle with the necessary bandwidth to manage such streaming and uploading. Some may not be able to be online at all. Cloud services have also run into problems with how they manage their data and have been questioned on their terms and conditions.

The cloud will continue to open up methods of interactivity and collaboration. The technology is still in a very early stage, but we are already beginning to see its impact on workflow, service accessibility and creativity. The world might begin to feel smaller, but the cloud will continue to grow. 

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