Music Platformisation: How Splice is changing the way music is made.

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On: September 28, 2020
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2020. The year where the Grammy for best-engineered album went to a record made in a suburban bedroom. Producers are harnessing more power from their home studio settings and this new platform can be relevant for that process.

Introduction

The introduction of this entry will be done by mentioning three changes of paradigm in the music universe.

#1 – Music meets the computer

The first shift that can be pointed to is the rise of new media, the convergence of media technologies and digital computing (Manovich 14). Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) became widely available to be used by computer owners all over the world. What was once a technology reserved for professionals in the recording industry is now as ubiquitous as the word processor (Bell 46).

Raw audio is now both an oxymoron and a bad idea.

Consider that a stereo PCM signal digitized at 44.1 kHz at 16 bits uses 1411.2 kilobits of storage space per second (Kefauver and Patschke 63). Whether one is educated in audio terms or not is irrelevant for this discussion. The fundamental point in bringing up this technical analysis is to show that audio now is simply raw data. To borrow Geoffrey Bolker’s quote:

“Raw data is both an oxymoron and a bad idea; to the contrary, data should be cooked with care”

(Bolker 184)

In order to “produce music”, audio data must be “cooked” as of put in a context. Digital audio workstations, therefore, were designed to read, write, and manipulate these data in their raw form (Kefauver and Patschke 63).

#2 – Data now available for everyone

DAWs could supply users with the means to edit and compile data into music pieces. In addition, the internet crystallized the basic condition of the new information society: over-abundance of information of all kinds (Manovich 11). Piracy skyrocketed as an accessible resource for independent producers to build their own databases, therefore, it changed the game in the music industry (Ustik 43).

#3 – Platformisation

A platform offers the opportunity to act, connect, or speak in ways that are powerful and effective (Poell et al. 3) they structure how end-users can interact with each other and with complementors through graphical user interfaces (Poell et al. 3). From the listener’s side, it is noted the impact of streaming platforms (Ustik 48). Now from the producer’s viewpoint, there is one platform that brings a major change to the production process.

Splice: changing the way music is produced.

Further development of this piece will attain to Splice, a new media platform, and how it’s changing the music production environment. And to begin, consider this statement:

“Music has the right to children.”

This is the name of an album, by Scottish duo Boards of Canada. A way one can interpret it’s meaning is that music gestates. If audio is now data, then, by joining data provided by two (or more, in this case) human beings, a new product can be created.

Splice, brings the producer to the possibility of sharing and receiving audio data from other producers in a network. This leads to a collaborative audio database with the feature that everybody wants: a coherent, authoritative path through what is there (Ramsay 1). In other words, quoting Ramsay:

“until recently, no one was able to search the content of all the books in the library. There was no way to ask, “Which of these books contains the phrase ‘Frank Zappa?’ “.

(Ramsay 5)

The same happened with wide downloaded packs of samples, which demanded a lot of browsing through the file explorer to find the right sound. Now with Splice, it’s possible to look for very specific sounds with ease with its content filter.

Splice, for example, is a good place to look if someone needs 606 samples specifically related to Jungle Sounds. Note that it’s possible to filter content by kind, bpm, key, instrument type, and genres

Creating together

Online collaboration is also now possible with its virtual studio feature, which dissolves geographical boundaries by connecting two (or more) producers to work together, in real-time, on a music project. It has compatibility with the most used DAWs on the market and, by just uploading the DAW file on Splice’s server, it can be shared with others and everyone with access can be a part of the process. It’s virtual collective music composing.

Splice Studio

A medium is a technology within which a culture grows (Postman 1). The platform also created a new marketplace for music makers, where one user can shape and upload the sounds for others to use and, then, capitalize on royalties. Today, there are people that have as their job to create sample packs and user presets for Splice. The platform can be profitable for users that wants to make use of it in that sense. User-created samples have been notoriously used in releases of globally known artists such as Lil Nas X and Justin Bieber. It is, therefore, already part of our global music culture.

It is crucial, however, to bring to light another facet of this platformisation of audio data. As nothing is that don’t act (McLuhan 10), technological artifacts also have political qualities. (Winner 121). Platforms not only steer economic transactions, but also platform-based user interactions. This leads us to the dimension of governance (Poell et al. 8). Splice, much like other digital platforms, can moderate the content that flows through it. Therefore, there might be audio data prone to deplatformisation. It’s imperative to assume that there may be a certain amount of control on what can or cannot be heard within their grounds.

Conclusion

The “message” of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. (McLuhan 8). DAWs and access to audio databases were largely responsible for major shifts of paradigm that took place in the music industry and they had their message: giving to computer users the means to gather audio data and assemble it together to turn it into music. Splice now brings the message of standardization of virtual music collaboration and breaking of physical barriers between musicians. It also brings a new logic of browsing and collecting audio data, through a highly filterable, cloud-based, and collective sample database and a new form of labor within the music industry.

Nevertheless, the view that artifacts do have politics provides an antidote to naive technological determinism (Winner 122). As media studies, or “media ecology” “exists to further our insights into how we stand as human beings (Postman 16), this piece will be concluded with a very important thought:

Rewriting this song’s quote: “If you can be told from which samples to choose, then it follows that you can be told what to express in your songs”.

Bibliography and sources

Wasserman, Todd. “Cloud-Based Music Platform Splice Opens to All Musicians.” Mashable, Mashable, 17 Sept. 2014, mashable.com/2014/09/17/splice-opens-platform/?europe=true.

Constine, Josh. “Instead of Stealing Instruments, Musicians Turn to Splice.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 16 Apr. 2018, techcrunch.com/2018/04/16/splice-sounds/?guccounter=1.

Terdiman, Daniel. “Abbey Road Studios at 80 (Photos).” CNET, www.cnet.com/pictures/abbey-road-studios-at-80-photos/.

Appleford, Steve. “Billie Eilish Backstage at the Grammys: ‘We Made This Album in a Bedroom’.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 27 Jan. 2020, www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2020-01-26/grammys-billie-eilish-backstage-finneas-o-connell.

Onanuga, Tola. “Splice Is Giving Locked down Musicians a Lifeline.” WIRED UK, WIRED UK, 23 Aug. 2020, www.wired.co.uk/article/splice-music-library.

Manovich, Lev. “How Media Became New.” Communication in History, by Peter Urquhart and Paul Heyer, edited by Paul Heyer and Peter Urquhart, 7th ed., Routledge, 2018, pp. 293–96. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.4324/9781315189840-42.

Kefauver, Alan P., and David Patschke. Fundamentals of Digital Audio, New Edition. A-R Editions, Inc., 2007.

Bell, Adam Patrick. Can We Afford These Affordances? GarageBand and the Double-Edged Sword of the Digital Audio Workstation. p. 23.

Ustik, Georgina. Who Owns Culture?: Digital Music and Its Discontents. p. 96.

Ramsay, Steven; Kee, Edited by Kevin. “Pastplay: Teaching and Learning History with Technology.” Digital Humanities, University of Michigan Press, 2014. quod.lib.umich.edu, doi:10.3998/dh.12544152.0001.001.

Postman, Neil. The Humanism of Media Ecology. 2000, p. 7.

Winner, Langdon. “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” Daedalus, vol. 109, no. 1, 1980, pp. 121–36.

Poell, Thomas, et al. “Platformisation.” Internet Policy Review, vol. 8, no. 4, Nov. 2019. DOI.org (Crossref), doi:10.14763/2019.4.1425.

Mcluhan, Marshall. Understanding Media.

Bowker, Geoffrey C. Memory Practices in the Sciences. MIT Press, 2008.

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