Endlesss, the collaborative jamming and cloud-based looper led by artist/dev Tim Exile, is removing its paywall. But that “free” model comes with a whole lot of Web3 talk – manifestos and white papers and a new token and NFTs.

You can wade through the news on the Endlesss site:

Endlesss Transition Statement

Expect a lot more like this, too – recently Kickstarter’s founders announced their own “commitment to a more open, collaborative, and decentralized future” by transitioning to a new blockchain-based prototocol – with some unclear implications for users of the platform:

The Future of Crowdfunding Creative Projects

Endlesss and the more recent Endlesss Studio (macOS, iOS, and shortly Windows) do have a compelling and fairly innovative model for jamming and collaboration, rooted around the looper and groovemaker workflow of the app. There are other ways of jamming and collaborating online – see tools like jamtaba for options that just plug into your existing hardware/software setup, if they’re a lot less ambitious than Endlesss. Endlesss’ main advantage is in providing lots of collaborative and social tools integrated with the music-making ones. And its looping approach is unique and instrument-like in a way developed by Tim Exile in his own performance rigs over the years.

Edit: I should preface this by saying – if you just want to use this app for free, you can totally go do that and stop reading here. For the time being, at least, this doesn’t really change the day-to-day use experience of the app and there’s no indication it will do so any time soon.

But it’s not really Endlesss removing the paywall that’s the main story. Like a growing number of services for creators, it’s jumping to a crypto / blockchain / Web3 model. They’re issuing tokens, some of you will get free NFTs because now everything is apparently an NFT (even things from Taco Bell and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and I’m not even making those up), and somehow this all is meant to make things more collaborative and everyone gets shared value somehow.

What does that actually mean? Well, no one exactly knows. And I don’t mean that in a kneejerk way – I mean, objectively, even the developers of Endlesss say very explicitly and repeatedly that they don’t know. As they put it at the end of their announcement:

We don’t have an answer to everything, which is the way it should be. Rather than coming to the community with a fully mapped-out plan of where we’re going and how we’re going to get there, we want to engage the community to come to a consensus as to what we want to achieve, how we collectively imagine our future and how we will work together to achieve it.

We want to provide a solid start-state and enough guide-rails to focus the conversation, with the guide-rails being held more and more by the group consciousness as we go forward.

There’s a whitepaper version of the “transition statement” with more details and footnotes.

There’s a manifesto.

And there’s a metaverse tie-in, of course, entitled “Endlesss: A Creative Operating System for the Metaverse” which includes quizzical statements like “When you go to a restaurant, you don’t consume the decor as content, you experience the decor as the container.”

What would that mean in practical terms? The metaverse will have a constantly-edited soundtrack made in looper apps that people remix in real-time like an open-ended Wikipedia article or the graffiti on a toilet stall, except they’ll get crypto royalties? Again, I can’t say for certain, but maybe that’s because I was too busy gnawing on the upholstery of this Waffle House booth, sadly disproving the just-mentioned statement.

By issuing their own virtual tokens, they can in theory at least share ownership and a community stake in the app. That technology also provides some novel and clever ways of modeling that investment, and setting up interactions.

Endlesss does have at least one tangible and logical reason to do this, which is to allow users to track ownership of grooves as they’re evolved, shared, and used, and hypothetically even earn some money on this. It’s just unclear how or if any of this will actually work in practice – or whether people want it. (GarageBandCoin, anyone?) It’s not as though there was a lot of money being made in the first place, so the input of the revenue equation is a bit mysterious at the moment, except I guess for the moment anything involving crypto or the metaverse makes hope spring eternal.

Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe people who are interested in this will naturally gravitate to this app and provide some feedback and direction. Maybe it’ll power the ongoing free usage of the app, and a lot of users simply will ignore the long manifestos about the metaverse and decentralization and just use it like a free drum machine. But there is also a risk that this could escalate into a complex, unwieldy idea that detracts from making the music software work.

Anyway, for better or for worse, here we are, in the web3 app space. You don’t just pay $5 for a drum machine and then jam on it and maybe send a loop to a friend. You get a crypto token that includes your stake in ownership of a platform that “builds an economy around your creativity in the metaverse” [paraphrasing, but only very slightly].

I expect some folks will indeed just use the app and ignore this, just as they’ve used free apps and ignored venture capital funding behind them. And some of you will find this the ideal app, because you’re interested in these ideas.

For my part, I’ll be keeping an eye on whether the ambitious ideas become more focused, and if they work. But I might point to a slightly different version of history than the one in the “metaverse” articles. Instruments have always been personal, not because people were contributing “monolithic” content, but because the collective experience of music-making matures when you become more expressive on an instrument – as an extension of individual creativity. That’s what drives people to buy very expensive drum machines and little looper pedals both. And ironically, that was what was always appealing to me about Tim Exile’s live sets. I hope that sensibility in the app doesn’t wind up getting washed away in a tidal wave of crypto chatter.