What if Ableton music software had a built-in Github so musicians could contribute and modify samples? That’s essentially the idea behind Splice, a cloud-based music production platform built for collaboration and remixing, and its Beat Maker tool, a new sequencer that allows users to play with close to one million samples from the Splice Sounds library.
Splice’s Steve Martocci and his co-founder Matt Aimonetti, music fans who happened to be programmers, wanted a "Github for music," or something like a fusion between Dropbox and Spotify designed for music creators. The result, Splice, launched in 2014, allowing users to upload and collaborate on projects.
They wanted a "Github for music"
Offering Beat Maker’s sequencing and sampling capabilities seemed like the logical next step in Splice’s evolution. With Beat Maker, Splice wanted to offer high quality, royalty-free audio files. All of the nearly one million samples available on Beat Maker are distributed royalty-free through Splice Sounds, Martocci says, which includes packs from producers like Carl Cox, deadmau5, and Lex Luger. Tracks and project files shared by the Splice community are distributed with a non-commercial creative commons license.
"When most people think of ‘samples’ they think of stealing a piece of audio from someone else's song and using it without their permission, but it’s much wider than that," Martocci explained. "There are entire labels that fund musicians to produce samples designed to be sold in royalty free ‘packs’. This means as long as you pay for the sample, you can use it in any of your musical work without paying any fees back to the sound designer."
"We’ve seen more and more artists making significantly more money selling samples than they make counting on their music sales or streaming revenues," he added. "These sounds range from ‘one shots’, which could be a recording of someone hitting a snare drum, to loops which could be 30 seconds of a full drum kit. The vocal samples have also been very popular on the platform—they help give your song an organic feel. Splice Sounds also has presets files for popular virtual synthesizers like Massive and Serum."
Splice focused on ease-of-use and shareability
With a lot of virtual sequencers on the market, Splice Sounds decided to focus on ease-of-use and shareability for its initial release. Martocci said they had to resist the urge to build some of the commonly-requested features — for instance, they decided to automatically correct volume rather than offering a manual control.
So what exactly can Beat Maker do? First of all, even though it’s a streamlined digital audio workstation (DAW), Beat Maker features a 32-step (32 notes) sequencer and arpeggiator. These features alone, particularly for a cloud-based DAW, distinguish it as software that could be useful to artists working in electronic, hip-hop, and other genres where sequencing is vital.
Users can also trigger and edit kick and snare drums, open and closed hi-hats, floor toms, and a shaker. Beyond that, Beat Maker has BPM control (beats per minute editing) and allows users to trigger sound effects that have been uploaded as samples. These sampled effects are currently limited to sounds like filter sweeps (think any Daft Punk song) or air horns. Logic Pro and Ableton it is not, but Martocci isn’t interested quite yet in going the route of those preeminent DAWs.
Logic Pro and Ableton it is not
"Beat Maker itself will get basic pitching, reverb, delay, etc.," Martocci said. "We’re also discussing the idea of allowing you to apply these effects to existing samples in our library and repost them for others to download."
"While there are some limitations right now, they are very intentional," he said. "For example, we wanted to keep the beats short to encourage sharing so we limited the beat to 32 steps. If we allowed for longer beats we were afraid people would think their beats were incomplete unless they filled out the entire grid."
Splice Sounds subscribers can load any sound into Beat Maker. (Subscriptions start at $7.99 a month and go up to $21.99 depending on how many samples are downloaded.) Non-subscribers, on the other hand, have access to some of the platform’s top drum sounds and effects, which serves as a good look at the Splice Sounds catalog.
In the future, Splice plans to add better loop support, more steps for the sequencer, as well as more scenes and basic effects. A section that allowed users to control ASDR (attack, decay, sustain, and release) to shape the contours of notes would be nice, but it’s not in Beat Maker’s cards at the moment. Martocci and his team are clearly happy with the platform’s current stripped down iteration. Rather than build it out into a fully fleshed-out DAW, they want to keep Beat Maker minimalist and work on smoother ways to export work.
"Before adding more DAW-like features, we’re going to go deeper on mobile," he added. "It’s very compelling to be able to sketchpad with a library this big on your phone then export right into your DAW."
Martocci is happy with the platform’s current stripped down iteration
Martocci says Splice is growing well. "Last month there were over 850,000 sounds and we have a massive queue of content waiting to be uploaded and tagged," Martocci said. They’re importing new sounds from labels and distributors, and working with partners like Loopmasters and Prime Loops. They’ve also started commissioning packs with producers like Dot Da Genius and Lex Luger.
If Splice can make a mobile export function work in seamless fashion, Beat Maker could mutate into a nice go-between for artists who like to sketch music on the road, but who want a clip in Logic or Ableton when their in their home or professional studio. In that case, paying for the subscription might be worth the price of entry.