Surprise! Plug-in developer Ohm Force, known for their plug-ins (like effects Ohm Boys and Frohmage), today tease an upcoming collaborative host. It looks like the sort of thing Apple could have done, but hasn’t. There’s a GarageBand-style MIDI and audio editing pane, plus semi-modular routing of plug-ins on a pretty, graphical surface that resembles the “cheese grater” perforated aluminum of a Mac tower, and pop-up window palettes that resemble those we’ve seen on the “flattened UI” of the iPad.

The real feature here, though, is collaborative editing in the “cloud”: sessions are uploaded to a server, which in turn keeps track of versioning. (Actually, it’s quite unclear how that works collaboratively – this means you can “undo” from one version to another, but I can’t tell whether collaborators can try different “forks,” or if it’s all one set of linear changes.) The changes are “real-time,” though usually the trick to allowing international collaboration over the Internet is to make things delayed enough that everyone stays in sync.

There’s also an accompanying Web community for connecting with collaborators. Everything else about the product, however – more features, pricing, and specifics of how it all fits together – is as yet unknown. Mac and Windows are both supported, though – something Apple would not have done, most likely.

It’s an interesting idea, one I think we’ll see more frequently as connected applications grow in popularity. Among other options, Ableton had promised something like this with Share and then fell off the radar. Image-Line had a collaborative tool called Collab for its FL Studio, then abandoned it. The most significant competition comes from tools like Indaba. Indaba’s edge: by being powered by Web tech, you can do all your editing right in the browser; serious users can then keep using their host of choice and just bounce out audio. But while Indaba has an offline editor, too, the addition of plug-ins in Ohm Studio is a big change.

I do wonder with all of this, though: are we consigned to collaboration existing only in proprietary, integrated app-website combinations? Isn’t the whole lesson of the Web about open standards and platform-agnostic communication? Having said that, what would a more open tool look like – and what do people really want to do? (For instance, I wonder how hard it’d be to build a system that allowed open chat and transport control, with standards-based versioning and sharing, using the open-source DAW Ardour? See the post I’m … about to write … for the OSC end of this.) On the other hand, is the kind of integration Ohm Studio is offering necessary to make it all work together? (That last question we should be able to answer once this is in our hands and ready to try.)

I don’t wish to pre-judge Ohm Studio – on the contrary, I think this is a provocative product teaser that immediately raises some of these fundamental questions. So bravo, Ohm, for starting that conversation; I can’t wait to see what you’ve cooked up. And anything that gets artists collaborating is potentially a very good thing.

In the meantime, readers, it seems the most important question falls to you. Do you even want to collaborate with other artists? What would an ideal system look like for doing so? What features would you want? How would you want to work? Is real-time important, or do you prefer some time to sit back and think about how elements combine? When you collaborate now, how do you go about it?

Updated: Your closest bet at the moment is NINJAM, which is integrated with Reaper – a host various folks are using already – or on its own. Using compressed audio streams and latency compensation, it allows the exchange of any audio, and it works on Windows and Mac. But it doesn’t exchange MIDI data. (The site refers vaguely to this happening some time in the future, but I’m unsure of their progress.) And it doesn’t have integration with the Web community, though as readers note, you may want to work with people you get to know a bit first, anyway. Thanks to “PooPoo the Korruptah!” for the tip. (Hmm, no way for me to say that and not sound silly.)

More importantly – anyone out there using it? Or is it just easier to send files back and forth?

  • Great idea & design. But people don't want to leave there current DAW/host. If it has rewire it might do well.

  • Collaboration with (relative) strangers is alive and well over at places like I very much like the potential of this because it's like a sketch pad that makes it possible to very quickly build an idea together with other people.

    If I can export the project to individual tracks and continue to work in Record, then I'm a happy guy. Otherwise, this could be an interesting concept with limited applicability to me personally.

    Then again, I had a couple of pints with lunch so I might not be thinking completely clearly.

  • Brian

    Can someone tell me the difference between this and the Rocket integration from the early 2000 era? That was at least blended into popular DAWs.

  • Brian

    The reason I ask.. it seems like some might mistake this approach as 'new' but really seems like we've seen this several times before.. even feels like Live's offering.. though I forgot what it was and checking now, the entire thing seems to be pulled for some reason..

    Anyhow, I really love aspects of this, but wondering if someone could explain how this is different from other similar collaboration offerings.

  • @Brian – well, I'm not sure Rocket did versioning in the same way as this, and the idea of building it directly into the host is definitely new. But yeah, there were a couple of those options, don't know what happened to any of them.

  • @Mikael: the "couple of pints" is, for me, an important feature of collaboration — sadly one not afforded by online collaboration. Just sayin'. 😉

    The nice thing about ccMixter is its explicit licensing. And I know Ardour has worked on the ability to pull Freesound samples – integrating something like ccMixter with tools, even via a script, etc., could be interesting.

  • Brian

    I used the Rocket service briefly in Logic 4.8. It was pretty good, but back then network speeds were not so hot. You are probably right about versioning. In Rocket, I think one person "owned' the song and approved changes before the other contributors could hear it. I really like the idea of shopping for collaborators however. That seems really new to me. Then again, I haven't used the myriad of online collaboration sites.

  • I echo the points above, that this exists outside of the software I use already is the thing that gives me pause. I like the idea of having some kind of Rewire-to-Soundcloud style of online collab tool, but I'd prefer to use something that integrated with many different DAW apps.

    If, for instance, you view the software you currently use as an instrument on its own, how do you get the audio from there into OhmStudio? If it means uploading pre-recorded audio rather than recording it straight to the OhmStudio from another app (like the singer records her audio straight to OhmStudio in the video), than it isn't any more useful than all the other online collab services.

    That said, I am looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

  • DBM

    It's Ohm Force BTW not Ohm Boys .
    Abelton's share was not nearly this complex level of real time collaboration in fact when you add all the different aspects together this would "appear" to be a real breakthrough .I just hope they didn't "mortgage the farm "as someone the size of Avid will undoubtedly do this too if it caches on …and I would miss my Ohmforce plugins if they went under 🙁

    On another note :
    What dose this app have to do with Apple ? You have a constant hate on for them that I noticed is growing lately … it's coming across a little whiny . I'm Mac user and love the performance I've gotten from the tools I've bought from them .That said I'm not a Cult of mac whatever ,but It gets a little old and alienating to see you constantly poke at them for not having sought your consultation before doing something . If you don't dig it don't buy it and just to show I'm not a total hypocrite I'll stop reading this blog .

  • @DBM: Thanks for the correction. Made.

    And, sheesh, THIS is the "anti-Apple" line in this article:
    "It looks like the sort of thing Apple could have done, but hasn’t."

    As I say in the post, this looks for all the world like an Apple UI. There are nods even to the iPad (though perhaps unintentional, as they may have designed this before they saw it). It's not unreasonable to think Apple might have done this first. Apple already has a cloud service – .Mac – which no other DAW vendor does (Avid, MOTU, Ableton, Propellerhead, Mackie, Cakewalk – none of them do).

    It's not even a criticism. It's an observation. But the message I get is take swipes at companies everyone else has declared uncool, but speak in hushed tones about Apple. That's ridiculous. It's not in any way Apple's fault – I'm sorry they have to be held to that standard by their fans, because it's likely to annoy the hell out of everyone else.

    So, just asking – who's whining, again?

  • otousan in shinden

    who owns the rights to the finished product?

    am i paranoid or is this sort of system open to exploitation of artistic property?

  • @otousan in shinden: It's a good question. It's a question with any collaboration – you may want to enter into an agreement with people you're working with so there are no misunderstandings. (It doesn't take money being involved, either.) I guess we'll see if any of this is addressed in the terms that accompany the software.

    That's why ccMixter has an edge, to a point, in that everyone sets out putting things into the commons (though nothing stopping you from doing that here, too). But it is worth asking.

  • otousan in shinden

    it's a bit like dating. i feel better knowing who i'm being intimate with.

  • spinner

    10 years from now the stationary daw will just be an anachronism used by the then retro community. Ohm is a great plug in manufacturer and it's not surprising that an indie company has their ear to the ground.

    Having said that, few things beat sitting around in the studio your mates drinking coffee and eating biscuits and making some occasional recordings 🙂

  • PooPoo the Korruptah

    As an OHMForce fan and owner of most their plugs i was really excited to hear of their new venture…but upon inspection its left me with a big boring rubbery. This sucks. Why the hell do I want someone noodling over one of my tracks, who i dont know(?) on the other side of the world. If i collaborate I will get a friend in the studio, or send files back n forth like we all do now.
    Whats the bet it was tailored for and ends up on iPad and other new hipster hand apps!
    Who fuckin Cares!?!
    Its clever as a moneymaking "cool-thing" venture, but not particularly inspiring.
    At first I thought theyd made a new kick ass DAW environment, now that had me excited.
    And the possibility of it being cracked is also pretty low if you need to be on a forum to connect, so theres another money decision there.
    Oh well, spend some money elsewhere.
    edit(REAPER/Cockos also has NINjam which is this, sort of. Same thing different colour)

  • tony

    I think this is a great idea fantastic I sign up for the beta testing.

  • aje

    This one's a real suprise… are we looking at the future here?

    …interesting indeed.

  • Gavin@FAW

    It definitely an amazing piece of programming.

    My own feeling though is that being tied inside a browser is not a good thing, maybe two years ago, but with the iPhone, iPad and what ever else is around the corner I'm not so sure.
    What would be really interesting is if they opened up the communication protocol and let people develop there own front end clients.

  • hey everyone,

    here at SoundCloud, we really believe in the power of connecting music apps to the web. it opens up for new types of collaboration and putting audio in a social context (the cloud) adds additional value to the music making process.

    our take on this is to have a public and free API that third-party developers can use for connecting their apps to our platform. then we can focus on building a kick-ass web platform, while the software makers can focus on making great music apps. a number of integrations are being built and Studio One from PreSonus will be the first major DAW to have an "export to SoundCloud" function.

    so hopefully we'll soon have a network where you can choose the tools you want to use, and still be able to exchange the fundamental building blocks for music creation which we believe is audio. then one guy can create a beat with his iPhone, another one drag it into his arrangement in Ableton Live, a third one add vocals recorded with a field recorder, etc…

    happy to hear your thoughts on this and keep the discussion going!


  • A Different Jonathan

    I don't really buy the "people won't give up their usual DAWs" arguments.

    For two reasons…

    TECHNICAL: Even if this package doesn't have Rewire, JACK or Soundflower should easily work around that to get whatever live audio you want into Ohm Studio.

    IDEOLOGICAL: One of the attractions of collaboration is that it encourages stepping outside your comfort zone.

    People have been collaborating musically for centuries, and doing it in unfamiliar studios, on unfamiliar instruments, with people they just met, etc. More recently, Brian Eno has built his reputation as a producer largely on the strength of deliberately encouraging the creativity that springs from unfamiliarity.

    I collaborate all the time, and much of what I love about it is NOT being entirely comfortable. When I pack up my keys and laptop and take them to a friend's studio, or bring my cello and some effect pedals to an improv session with musicians I've never met, it excites me. Yes, I'm anxious and apprehensive, but that soon blooms into creative energy.

    I don't haul my entire studio to a backyard jam session; I accept the limitations and let myself be inspired by them. I understand the "my DAW is my instrument" argument, but put John Coltrane on a desert island with no saxophone, and he'd make himself a makeshift marimba out of coconuts and learn to play it. No matter how much you may specialize, as a musician the music is in you, not in your saxophone or DAW or whatever your instrument may be.

    Put simply, if this product delivers what it's teasing, musicians *will* make music with it.

  • I like the idea of online collaboration. I do prefer it to be more open ended. I think it comes back to standards in file exchange that work. If you can then transfer the online session to a DAW of your choosing then I would have no problem with it. Additionally, I like the rewire type concept over the net.

    I am impressed with the implementation. It is a very hard proposition to create a collaborative real-time music environment over the internet. You have to consider things like latency and jitter… I will definitely have a look at it. In terms of collaboration i do think it is very nice. I think they will need to work out licensing and privacy issues if they have not already done so.


  • Endosine

    Another rather interesting aspect of this app is going to be the pricing. I have a feeling based on the survey they gave to sign up for beta access that they are going to charge a monthly subscription fee. It makes sense that they would need income to support the "cloud" which leads me to believe they are going to use a MMORPG style business model. If that is the case I think they will have a hard time selling it, If it's a low annual fee like SoundCloud they might have an easier sell.

    I'm also curious to see how they handle plugins and if everyone on the project needs the same set of plugins. Definitely looks fun but I have to agree with the comments that it will be hard to get me to switch out of my usual DAW.

  • actually as a software developer the lack of native versioning support in most DAW's confuses the hell out of me.

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