Production Platform Splice Moves Towards Leveling the Music Creation Playing Field

Cloud-based music creation and collaboration platform Splice is working towards becoming the glue which holds together a new framework of music creation and distribution. On Thursday, Jan. 22, the New York-based company announced several new features pertaining to plugins, which are essentially digital instruments and effects "pedals" which connect to digital audio work stations (DAWs) -- production software -- like Ableton or Logic.

"Now you can discover and explore plugins organically throughout the creation experience on Splice -- whether browsing public DNA players, opening project sessions from collaborators, or exploring our plugins hub which provide plugin rankings by actual producer usage and showcase popular projects utilizing those plugins" reads the announcement available on the company's blog.

Beyond the surface, this is more than just another plugins store, but a notable step towards solving a serious compatibility problem that occurs when multiple people attempt to work on the same track by passing files from one computer to another.

Amateur music hobbyists and professional digital audio engineers alike use dozens of these plugins during the creation of a piece, and each plugin can range from a $39 bass booster to $499 for "Komplete 10."

However, for example, if a person was to compose a melody using Sylenth (a plugin instrument created by manufactuer Lennar Digital which retails for close to $155 USD) and then send that track to a collaborator who didn't have a plugin, that melody would "freeze" and they would not be able to work on the song until they bought the software. With Splice's new update, "If you are working with a collaborator who has a plugin you don't, you can immediately get the plugin and not have to worry about freezing tracks or bouncing audio stems before you are ready."

 

Unfortunately (at least up to this point) for plugin manufacturers, a cheap and easy solution to this problem for bedroom producers has been piracy, a practice that is increasing in the wake of ever-decreasing studio budgets. Johnny Maroney, founder of an independent artist agency Moodswing -- responsible for developing Iggy Azalea, LMFAO and now a host of electronic DJs and producers including Brenmar and Sliink -- is familiar with the modern studio environment and has firsthand experience with the issues facing developing acts today.

"In the up-and-coming younger producer space, especially in the DJ/producer space, there aren't typically advances paid from labels from the jump, so you're required to deliver a finished product frequently on your own," says Maroney in a phone interview with Billboard. In the wake of the collapsing recording industry, with as much as 50 percent of commercial studios closing in major markets, these costs of production are being shifted onto developing artists, many of whom are between 16 and 20 years old.

Maroney estimates that at least half of the artists on his roster are using cracked or pirated plugins plugins, just because there are so many. Splice co-founder Steve Martocci corroborates this in an email to Billboard.

"Unfortunately a lot of the hard work of these manufacturers, many of whom are independent developers, is lost to piracy. We think there is a way to curb this -- not through the cat and mouse game of security and encryption, but through a better user experience and pricing models that are in line with modern software offerings. We're on a quest to find the win-win for manufacturers and customers."

This brings us to the real kicker found in Splice's newest update. Buried at the bottom of Thursday's features rollout is the announcement of the Plugin SDK, which will "soon allow for new models of plugin distribution like subscription & rental." What this means is that, through Splice, plugin developers could introduce a per-use, subscription-type model to their currently standalone products. For example, instead of not being able to collaborate and work with a friend who owns and uses the program/plugin Massive to create his bass lines, Native Instruments (who makes Massive) could charge a nominal fee, say $5, to enable its use just for that one track.

Just last week, Pro Tools announced a free version of their highly pirated audio editing software. Adobe, who makes Photoshop (one of the most widely pirated programs ever), has reported its move to a cloud-based version control management and offering subscription-based pricing has lead to a decrease in piracy -- so it's reasonable to infer that the plugins market could experience similar results. 

Just how big of a market is the plugins industry? "The current market size for plugins is hard to nail down," says Martocci. "With NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants, the world's largest trade-only event for the music products industry that took place this past weekend] reporting $20 million a year and others estimating it to be an order of magnitude larger." The $20 million number just includes retail sales -- when factoring in direct and online, that number could potentially be 10 times higher than that.

"Plugins are a major issue for my clients who work across different platforms," says Maroney. "People at different levels in their careers invest differently in different software, and after an artist gets accustomed to that one plugin, they're going to want it and they're going to buy it when they get the money. I could totally see that type of model having the potential of leveling the playing field between the high-level producers who own all of the expensive plugins and instruments, and up-and-coming producers and DJs, who'd now only have to pay nominal fees to work with them."