Collaboration has always been at the heart of making music. Thanks to a new generate of collaborative music apps, musicians can continue creating music together, even when a global pandemic has kept them apart.
One example is Endlesss. Launched at the beginning of lockdown last year, the platform combines software recreations of drum machines, samplers, synths and FX, with a ‘tap to loop’ workflow. It also accepts live audio for use with guitars, mics and other external instruments.
Endlesss has enabled people from around the world to jam with each other remotely. This year band, The Veltrons, release their second album, having met on the app in 2020. The band members are yet to meet in person. Kevin Drew, the front man of Broken Social Scene, wrote an entire album on the app, which was released in July.
CEO and founder Tim Exile believes that music has always been about performance and that the future of media will be conversational interactions over passive consumption. His own musical journey started at the age of five when he learned to play the violin. At 12, a friend lent him a bootleg rave tape and that changed everything.
He says: “I knew this was the sound world I wanted to operate in so I learned to DJ, then to produce, and started getting radio play and releasing records. I completely lost touch with what initially motivated me to get into music, so I started dabbling around with programming.”
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As his confidence as a programmer grew he was ready to create an instrument that would allow him to play electronic music the way that he had played the violin. That instrument became the ‘flow machine’ and in 2010 Exile decided to ditch his recording career to pursue pure improvised live performance.
“The sense of connecting live with an audience in the room was such a thrill,” he says. “I knew I’d never look back, but I also knew that the biggest potential here wasn’t my artist career, it was the technology I’d built that needed to be put in the hands of other people.”
From there he started to create products, first teaming up with big brands like Native Instruments, then branching out on his own. However, he knew that the only way to truly fulfill his mission was to start something completely from scratch. The result was Endlesss.
Previously his focus had been purely on productizing an end-to-end live improvisation instrument, but it had soon become apparent that building it in a web-connected way was the best path forward. “The way we were building Endlesss was perfectly suited for live remote collaboration and the potential network effects that could bring were truly exciting,” he says.
The business was bootstrapped, initially from cash earned from Exile’s other software products, plus a couple of government grants, before raising funds from friends, family and angels.
Exile was also fortunate to a have strong network of contacts from his earlier career in music and tech, giving him access to early investors, including Tim Clark, founder of IE:Music, and artists such as Imogen Heap, BT, and Flux Pavilion.
He says: “We’ve also had strong backing from our community who helped us run the second biggest software campaign ever on Kickstarter, and again recently when we raised £400,000 in a crowd equity funding campaign. Our total startup costs to date are around £1 million.”
In what is the biggest economic shift in centuries, Exile believes that the ability to create immutable digital goods that are verified by decentralized networks is as huge a shift as when industrialists began incorporating legal entities to centralize production at the beginning of the industrial revolution.
He says: “In the next decade it’s going to disrupt the extractive practices of social media platforms and the attention economy. We’re at the beginning of a cultural renaissance which could feasibly end up with the market size of culture industries outstripping the ‘real-world’ economy.”
Endlesss has been tracking these developments closely while being involved in several NFT projects where Endlesss artists such as Imogen Heap minted and sold riffs created on the platform as NFTs.
“The value of NFTs is explicitly driven by how the communities around them interact and coordinate,” says Exile. “Right now, the NFT world is very focused on what happens downstream from minting and sales, but we believe there’s a huge opportunity to bring the creative process itself into NFT platforms.”
It is still early days for Endlesss, which has over 100,000 users on the platform, with 3000 of its top creators creating more than 10 riffs in the last 30 days.
“Until now we’ve been focused on making a great creative experience and getting it on the platforms where most music creators are,” says Exile. “We have some great supporters of the app such as Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene, comedian-beatmaker Hannibal Buress and our artist investors.”
He is also optimistic about the future for artists and musicians. As the industry moves away from the age of production and consumption, and artists and fans, towards a world of creative communities, Exile believes that the value that emerges from their interactions is held between community members.
“Legacy music industry structures that rely on centralized ownership and distribution might find it hard to compete or transition into this world,” he says. “But it will be fascinating to see how it plays out.”