One of the breakout stars from this year’s SXSW festival took his passion for music and his desire to create a new collaborative experience for musicians and the entire music industry to a deeper, more enriching level. MIT grad Philip Cohen has created a new cloud-based platform that transforms the way music is created. AudioCommon allows musicians across the globe to create new music in a secure environment, giving each member of the band the ability to lay down tracks no matter where they live. Their next step will be connecting fans with the artists to give a stronger look into the music creation process. AudioCommon creates a fully realized interconnected experience.
Last week at SXSW, I had the chance to sit down with AudioCommon’s CEO and co-founder Philip Cohen about this game changer for the music industry.
Meredith: I was out at the trade show today and a lot companies were showcasing their music apps. This has been one of the more ingenious concepts I’ve seen all weekend. I was speaking with one of your reps on the floor, and just the layers of what you are able to do, but for regular users, what exactly can AudioCommon do?
Phil: [It's] revolutionizing the way music is created, organized, and shared in today’s interconnected world. And we are doing that through a cloud-based collaboration platform.
It allows musicians in the larger music industry to build and grow geographically-separated teams, communicate and collaborate very securely during the earliest stages of the creation process, and ultimately share a new form of content with the public to engage music fans in a new way that brings new value to music.
Meredith: Now, even beyond the average user, like me. I’m a music listener; I’m not a creator. And there are a lot of tools out there for people who are DJs and musicians, but this platform seems like it could be an essential tool for creating music on a wider scale.
Phil: I think one of the things that makes AudioCommon so good and so important for the music industry is that artists can really use whatever recording system they want or digital audio work station. And after they record, they can essentially drag and drop their files into our interface, and we provide that communication bridge, that secure communication bridge, internal to all the people who are very important to that artist’s music creation process.
I’ll tell you, a lot of people have tried to make cloud-based digital audio workstations or recording systems, but we haven’t been focused on that. We’ve been focused on building a cloud-based team environment which is important for musicians in the larger industry, so I think there is a fine line delineation there that is very much in our favor.
Meredith: In terms of the user interface, we were shown that there are ways you can pull tracks out. Say you don’t want the bass on a certain track. A DJ can come in and add their own, following the use of a creative commons license, of course. How does that work for the DJ who wants to interact with the musician to create their own remix?
Phil: One of the big things our company is doing is putting the power back in the independent musician’s hands. We’re trying to do that in every way, shape, or form possible. So, as part of that, via the collaboration platform, when the musicians are given the opportunity to share this new form of content to the public — so I say the new form of content is multi-track stem files, we internal to the industry know what that is, but the external folks, the public, really hasn’t been able to ingest that type of content in the past. But we put the power into the artists’ hands such that when they are sharing music via our platform, they are given the option of whether they want it to be downloadable. [And] if it’s downloadable, what price they’re going to offer this to the public, and a few other options with regards to rights; so all rights are reserved, — or the multiple creative commons licenses that are out there — so we put all that decision-making into the artists’ hands so they can really pair and tailor and put together a package, with regards to the music they share that works for them specifically.
Meredith: What does this mean for labels? Will AudioCommon allow the independent musician a new way to publish music without going through the traditional channels?
Phil: It’s a new way of publishing music potentially without going through a label, but we do see labels as value-added partners in the communication channel. Certainly you can do work in today’s DIY universe without labels and what have you, and we’re a part of that movement as a team of musicians. But labels do serve an important role, and actually, we see some really interesting things on the major label side of the house that is very much showing us that major labels are in our camp. It’s really no secret [that] we’re working with Atlantic Records on a number of initiatives. Labels like Atlantic, even though they are well established, major labels — I mean, Led Zeppelin was on Atlantic Records! I still can’t believe it; it’s awesome that we are working with them! It’s really cool that they [the lablels] are able to take a step back, see how the industry is evolving, and take a certain chance on companies like AudioCommon to ensure that the music is getting a certain upper hand in the industry.
Meredith: You have this amazing startup that you are launching here at SXSW. One of the big things about SXSW is this whole idea of the independent developer, the young entrepreneur — which you’re one of the poster boys for this movement. How did you find yourself here with this idea and this passion?
Phil: My life has taken many interesting turns. After high school, I was a full time hockey player for two years in the Midwest and Canada. Then I went to the US Air Force Academy and of course, after college, I was a military officer deployed all around the world. Throughout that entire portion of my life, since I was a young teenager, I’ve always considered myself first and foremost a singer/songwriter and a musician and an artist. I got back from Afghanistan and I had a bunch of songs built up. Prior to this, I’d always been a serious musician in my eyes, but I never really wanted to throw myself out there. I was a bit reserved, but I saw, in a way, how serious life was and that drove me to do my passion: Music. And so, I thought, “I’m an active musician in the Boston and New York City rock scenes,” but I very much believe what we’re doing. After I got back from my last deployment, we went into the studio. We experienced these real inefficiencies and wasted a lot of money. I was ready to do something about it. It was the perfect time.
I went to business school, went to the MIT Sloan School of Management. That really gave me a great foundation for building the foundation for a large enterprise. We’re not actually interested in building small business. We’re interested in building a large enterprise.
My goal is to help out the independent musician. If we can ensure that people can stay authentic to their form of art, to their music, while still being able to maintain a career in the music industry, then we’re doing our job. When I see that happening, and we’ve achieved that vision, then that’s going to be an amazing day.