Interview: Audio Orchard
I was recently introduced to the new cloud based DAW Audio Orchard by its creator Eric Herbrandson and was instantly impressed by its interface, recording functionality and stability. Eric agreed to answer some questions of mine about it and has provided some very interesting and engaging answers….
1. What inspired you to start working on Audio Orchard?
AudioOrchard really started as an idea when the major browser plug-ins (i.e. Flash, Silverlight, Java FX) started adding low level audio support. The first question was “were these plug-ins powerful enough to run a DAW in the browser?” So we did a little experimenting and realized it was very possible. After that, the question became “who cares?” The fact that it was technically possible to run a recording studio in the browser might be interesting from a technical standpoint (at least if you’re a geek like us anyways), but why would a typical musician opt for an online tool over the existing (and very powerful) tools already out there today? In thinking about that question, we started talking about the “web 2.0” movement from a few years back, which to us was really about sites that connected people. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Docs are all about harnessing the power of these new fangled inter-webs to enable people to connect and interact in new ways. Ways that just weren’t possible in the past. At this point we got pretty excited because we really thought we were on to something. We could take the social aspect of Facebook that we’ve all come to love and mash it into the heart of the recording process. We felt we could create something that would be a really exciting and unique experience for musicians.
Our goal with AudioOrchard is to create a platform that allows musicians to write/record music and then easily share their music with others. And that means both sharing a finished masterpiece with the world, as well as sharing something that’s “in progress” with other musicians and letting them help build it out. We have this theory that playing music by yourself is not as much fun as making music with others. In fact, we call playing music by yourself “practicing”. Practice is important, but playing with others is where the fun is. We want to help musicians have more fun making music.
2. What do you feel differentiates you from other online music production tools?
There are a few things that we feel make us unique. First, we’re one of only a few tools that provide musicians with the full traditional multi-tracking experience. Most of the existing online music tools enable mixing tracks, but don’t really let musicians listen to a drum track WHILE recording a guitar part, all in real time. Indaba’s “Mantis” has this functionality, but it’s still pretty rare with most online tools. We also have a pretty slick little step sequencer built in that let’s musicians build their own beats. And, thanks to PrimeLoops.com, we have tons of free loops, samples, and one-shots that let musicians get started making music really quickly (without having to purchase anything!)
But, the other thing that we think really sets us apart from other online tools (and not-online-tools for that matter) is our interface. Since the beginning of digital recording tools there’s been a tendency to make the interface on the screen look as much as possible like the analog tools that they were replacing. This was great back in the day because it made it really easy to learn how to use the new tools. You basically used then in the exact same way that you used the analog tools. But, we all understand how these digital tools work at this point and we don’t need them to look like the real thing anymore. With AudioOrchard we really wanted to flip this. So, one of the things you’ll notice right away is that there are no “knobs” in our interface. Knobs are really easy to use on an amp, but they aren’t very “mouse” friendly. Instead, we use sliders because they’re much more computer friendly. And that’s just one example. We’ve tried to make everything really clean and simple. Basically, we’ve tried to remove a lot of the visual noise and clutter on the screen. We didn’t want people to feel like they were looking at a big metallic gray box. We wanted to get the tool out of the way so musicians can just focus on making the music.
3. Why did you choose Silverlight as your platform and what advantages do you feel it offers developers?
When we started we looked at Flash, Silverlight, and Java. Flash and Java both had a larger install base, but we felt that Silverlight gave us some great advantages. Without getting too geeky/technical, Silverlight lets us do some things that just aren’t possible in Flash. We get some performance benefits. Also, Silverlight’s mic support is much more conducive to what we’re trying to do than what Flash offers.
We’ve also put some thought into HTML5, but it’s just not far enough along yet to make it realistic at this point.
4. What influenced your choices in terms of the front end and features?
I talked about that a little bit above, but we really tried to focus on building just enough to have a truly useful tool. Something that has enough features that musicians could actually make music with the tool. On the other hand we tried to not build too much before we launched the beta. What we’re really hoping for is to let musicians drive the tool. The goal is to let the community tell us what would be helpful and build that. So if you’ve got ideas, please tell us!
5. Could you outline the features planned for in the coming months both for the online DAW and community/social media tools?
The immediate next step is to get the tool itself really solid. We’re focusing on effects, editing audio, and a handful of performance and usability tweaks. We’re sitting down with a lot of musicians and watching them use AudioOrchard. We’re trying to learn what works well for them and what needs improvement.
Once that’s solid we plan on putting a lot of effort into the collaborative side of the site as well as the social features. We’ve got some pretty cool things in store around new ways to work together, but we’re not quite ready to talk about them yet.
6. Would you ever consider compatibility with mobile devices and if so what features would you make available?
We have talked about this some. Windows Phone is coming out later this year and our tool would actually port to it pretty well. We’ve thought about some possibilities there, but don’t have any solid plans yet. At the very least we want mobile users to be able to browse the site and listen to the music people have published and probably even leave comments about the music. It would be great to actually be able to lay down the basics of that song that comes to you while you’re waiting in the drive through at Burger King so you could finish it later, but we’ll have to see about that.
7. What future do you feel online DAW’s and sequencers have alongside standard music production tools and how does Audio Orchard fit into this?
We’re really excited about the possibilities that online DAW’s open for musicians. For the immediate future we don’t think it will replace the existing recording tools. Instead we think they will work alongside each other. I think musicians will use online tools to write songs and get other musicians to help them “flesh it out”. I also think that in the next few years you will see more and more musicians recording using an online tool, but then exporting the tracks into a more powerful tool to do the final production and mix down. However, with the rate at which home computers are getting more powerful we definitely see a future where the entire song is written, recorded, produced, and even distributed, all from one online platform.
Imagine recording part of a song, then inviting your friend from another state/time zone to do the vocals, then searching a list of banjo players to find someone across the world with just the right style for your song, then finding someone to do the post production (after listening to their other work to make sure they’re right for your song), and then sharing your final song on Facebook/Twitter so all of your fans can check out what you’ve created. Pretty exciting possibilities
You can try out the beta version of Audio Orchard at http://audioorchard.com/
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