Regardless of your level of experience as a producer, there’s always going to be people out there that have done things you haven’t even begun to consider. That’s the beauty of mankind’s creative potential – you’ll never reach a point at which you’ve seen everything. Collaborating with other artists, however, will get you a little closer to that point, opening your mind towards different ideas and helping you grow – provided your ego doesn’t get in the way.
Online collab for musicians isn’t exactly big news – Indaba Music and Kompoz immediately come to mind, Ohmforce’s Ohm Studio DAW has been built around that very idea and Bitwig is looking to include such features in the future as well. Now here’s Blend.io – a minimalist, no-bullshit approach to the matter, focused (at least for now) on the very essentials.
The website greets you with a sleek, lightweight interface completely devoid of unnecessary navigational entanglements. With everything usually only 2 clicks away from wherever you are, it’s nearly impossible to get lost – and to top it off, the design is very clean and unobtrusive. Similar to Facebook, you have a news feed (albeit without cat content) and notifications. Then there’s an overview of the projects you’re working on and a section showcasing other people’s projects you might want to get involved with. You can filter those by DAW and a selection of pre-defined tags. If you know exactly what you’re looking for, there’s a simple search function as well. Finally, you can take a look at the Cred Board which is basically a hall of fame promoting active members of the Blend community.
All that’s left is your profile and general settings. Thankfully, neither of those sections are overly convoluted. The profile doesn’t require you to provide any personal information you don’t want to disclose as it’s limited to the essentials anyway: e-mail, display name, user name/vanity URL (blend.io/your name), profile pic, location, bio, website, Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook – period. The settings give you complete control over e-mail notifications and your Dropbox connection. It’s all very tidy and transparent.
In order to unlock its full functionality, Blend requires a Dropbox account to connect to. I’m going to assume I don’t have to explain what Dropbox is at this point. Setting up the link is a breeze: log in, head over to the “My Projects” section and follow the prompts. Once that’s done, you will be able to pull other people’s projects to your Dropbox as well as publish your own.
The work flow centers around the local Dropbox folder on your machine. Projects you pull land here, projects you want to share need to be placed here as well. Blend updates the “My Projects” section every couple of seconds, reacting to changes almost immediately. Similar to your profile, you have full control here – nothing happens unless you want it to.
Projects can be set to private in case you’ve got something secret to work on – they can be shared with other people, but will not appear on your public profile. The project BPM and DAW version are filled in automatically. There’s room for a description and the status of the project as well as the type of CC license you want to go with (read up on the details here). You can also add tags and list some of the plug-ins you used if you feel like doing so. It’s all pretty straightforward – the only way to mess things up is to change the folder names of active projects and try to update them. Remember not to do that and everything is going to sync up just fine.
Blend already supports several popular DAWs: Ableton Live, Maschine, Logic, FL Studio, Pro Tools and – believe it or not – Garage Band. It’s merely a matter of time before others (Bitwig, Reason, Cubase, Sonar, Studio One, Reaper?) will be added to the list. Limited support upon launch makes sense to keep the community’s growth in check and calmly implement new features step by step rather than be overwhelmed by a growing ToDo list – nothing to argue with, really.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Feature-wise, there’s little more to talk about. Most work flow-related questions are answered in the help section of the site, and there’s only a handful of them because – as I said in the beginning – Blend is utterly minimalist. There is no status to update, no pictures to upload, no instant messaging, in short: no bullshit. If you need to communicate with someone, the only way to do it is via the comment section of a project (you can tag people). This allows you to focus on what you logged in for without getting distracted.
We can speculate all day about what happens next, but why not go to the source? I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Alex Kolundzija, the man behind Blend, and ask him a few questions about what may be in store for users in the future.
1. When browsing through your projects, it’s apparent that you’re a versatile musician yourself. Tell us a little more about your background – what motivated you to create Blend?
Thanks for checking those out. I’m a long time user of Ableton Live (and Nuendo/Cubase before that), and am a huge fan of Native Instruments plugins and the Maschine, so much of the motivation for Blend came from my own experience and challenges of producing music using software: learning new techniques, backing-up, previewing and sharing projects, collaborating with others, etc. I’ve also released music on a number of labels as both a producer and a guitarist and have come to believe that today there are opportunities to create new ways to gain exposure and distribute music. Those are also key goals for Blend. Its worth pointing out that everybody also on the Blend team is a producer, DJ or a musician. We’re building a product that we love to use which is a great perk.
2. Blend is already being referred to as the musician’s Facebook, yet at this point the classic social media features (such as instant messaging) are very limited. Are you planning to change this in the future?
We’re constantly evaluating new ideas, many of which come from our user community, and also frequently roll out new features. Support for private projects was a requested feature so we added support for that earlier this year. We get a lot of requests for supporting more DAWs, so we’ve rolled out support for FL Studio, Logic, ProTools and will be adding others soon. Speaking of social features specifically, private messaging has come up a number of times so I can reveal that its something we’re implementing. It wasn’t something that I expected us to focus on this soon, but we’ve arrived at some pretty cool ways to leverage that on the platform that we think will be very valuable to Blend users. We just released brand new profile and project pages which is another update largely driven by user feedback.
3. People looking for similar services must have stumbled upon Splice, and a little research shows that is it to Blend what Pinspire is to Pinterest. Are you worried about competitor clones at all?
We are flattered by the extent to which competitors go toward cloning us and other successful products. We also understand that competition is generally good for business but our focus remains entirely on Blend. We’re confidently looking ahead, not behind.
4. What’s to prevent someone from grabbing a bunch of quality stems off Blend and using them for their commercial releases? After all, we’ve seen the likes of Timbaland using the creations of demoscene artists with no attribution (let alone compensation) and getting away with it. Personally, I think the advantages of Blend far outweigh the risks – but what do you have to say to skeptics?
Part of the reason for the invite-only access to Blend is to minimize spam and abuse so we haven’t had any issues that fall into that category. Also, projects on Blend have a public lineage which makes it clear who started a project and when, and exactly who pulled it since, so Blend actually helps here. But the much more common problem for music creators is getting exposure and getting more plays. I love this quote from Moby, who has published a number of projects on Blend, on this topic: “The best way to make a living as musician, I find, is to set this stuff free and let the love come back to you.”
5. With DAW support being expanded on gradually, soon the basics of Blend will be covered – so what’s next? How much of your future plans are you willing to disclose to the DJWORX community?
Our product is evolving quickly which means that our users see improvements and new features regularly, but also that their feedback and behavior inform our plans for the future. Additionally, we have specific ideas about what we think will add value are executing toward that. Showing lineages of “Blends” is something we’ll do in a more visual way. I’m can’t reveal more specifics at the moment but you can expect major product updates, artist features and unique opportunities for being featured on our newly official record label in the coming months.
VERDICT? OVER TO YOU!
In the spirit of open collab, no specific conclusions will be drawn here – it’s pretty clear I like Blend a lot for its simplicity and focus, but I want to know what you think and I’m sure Alex and the Blend team will appreciate quality feedback from the DJWORX community as well.
That’s why until August 1st, you’ll be able to sign up for a Blend account using this link: https://blend.io/vip/djworx – go ahead and give us your opinion in the comment section!
If you’re not sure where to start, there’s a competition going on, powered by iZotope‘s Break Tweaker (check out Jared’s review). All the details are listed here– the deadline is July 25th, the prizes are awesome and BT himself is on the jury. If that’s not a reason to jump on this, I don’t know!