It’s been nearly five years years since Spotify acquired music creation startup Soundtrap, and in a crowded market, it has evolved into a powerful, browser-based tool for making music. Now it’s getting some new features, including live collaboration between musicians.

They’ll be showcased in a new Spotify for Artists Masterclass video released tomorrow (10 August). Ahead of that, Music Ally spoke to Spotify’s head of international artist and industry partnerships Bryan Johnson about how Soundtrap is expanding; what its strategic value is for the streaming service; and why Spotify is keen to be part of the initial moment of music creation, rather than just the point of distribution.

(You can see the masterclass video, featuring artists Snow Tha Product and Fabian Mazur, here.)

Bryan Johnson, Spotify’s Head of International Artist & Industry Partnerships

Music Ally: What are the new Soundtrap features and why have they been added?

Bryan Johnson: Soundtrap has always believed that collaboration is at the core of music-making: and artists should have the freedom to collaborate from any where. So there’s three new features that enable that: commenting, live collaboration and auto-save. Commenting means that collaborators can share feedback in by dropping in a comment on a certain section of the music – let’s say that I’ve made a drum track: I can see that feedback immediately, live.

Live collaboration and auto-save – which are currently in beta – means that we can show real time changes between collaborators without a “sync” button. It shows real-time changes, and autosave is automatic, which means users can keep in that creative flow.

Music Ally: What have been the key successes of Soundtrap since Spotify acquired it? 

Bryan Johnson: We acquired Soundtrap in 2017, and it’s played a really important role in providing resources and opportunities for creators to express themselves – both in music and podcasting. And as the wider creative economy grows, it helps empower creators at all levels. A good example of it becoming embedded in that creative ecosystem is on Spotify Island in Roblox – Spotify and Soundtrap provide an interactive creative experience.

Music Ally: Why is it important for Spotify to provide tool like Soundtrap for the beginning part of the music creation chain? Why not just let creators use other DAWs and tools, and then let Spotify deal with the music that’s subsequently produced?

Bryan Johnson: It’s another piece of Spotify’s creative tool set. We’re focused on being with those creators each step of the way – including  when they’re at the beginnings of their output.  We’re seeing more people creating songs, and wanting to create on the go, and with people around the world. Providing intuitive and accessible tools is important.

Music Ally: In terms of the new creators – people that have not traditionally created music – who are they, and what will this new-to-music-making creator base bring?

Bryan Johnson: The goal is to empower, inspire, and educate people to explore creativity. [With Soundtrap], it’s intuitive: you can access and use high quality tools that are not intimidating, but are sophisticated enough for advanced music makers. We’re targeting and reaching a new user base through our education team, which puts Soundtrap in front of students at an early stage, to unlock their potential and inspire them. In terms of what these new creators bring: it’s a different process, a difference approach to recording. We’ve seen collaborations from afar, particularly between genres, and it’s so inspiring. Suddenly as a musician you’re exposed to new harmonies and scales and rhythms. So it’ll be super-interesting with regards to where music goes in the future.

Music Ally: Cross-border collaboration (on the creative side) and cross-cultural discovery (on the consumer side) has been a feature of the last few years in recorded music. What do you hope this kind of international collaboration will bring?

Bryan Johnson: I always see this as two angles. There’s a broadened cultural music perspective: as a musician that listens to an artist who collabs with someone in a different genre, it exposes me to something new – and that’s inspiring. There’s also an opportunity through collaborations to reach more people through music. Our recent Fan Study report recently focused on collaborations: 84% of streams on international collaborations come from outside the main artist’s country—versus under 60% for single-artist tracks. The data we have shows that collaborations can help broaden an audience.

Music Ally: The fear around AI music-making tools is abating. Will AI music-making tools from Spotify’s AI music lab be integrated into Soundtrap in the future?

Bryan Johnson: We have the AI Lab in Paris; and for us, the goal is to innovate with Soundtrap, and provide tools for users to innovate. We listen to the creative community and ask them what they want in a DAW, or in tools. Before I was a drummer, other drummers were initially terrified of drum machines, but they ended up as useful tools. Any tool is about how you use it, and when you use it, and the vision you have – any tool we launch will be for creators to use and interpret with their artistic vision.

Music Ally: You’re a musician and understand the desire for originality and success – if platforms like Soundtrap hugely increases the number of songs, possibly using similar loops provided by the platform, will there be lots of songs all reminiscent of each other?

Bryan Johnson: Soundtrap regularly adds in new sounds and loops, and the library is plentiful. The opportunity is there for creators to seize the opportunity to be inventive and unique. In some genres there are classic chord progressions, and then it’s all about the artistic vision of how you weave melodies around that, and we encourage users to make something unique.

Music Ally: Will this increase in the volume of new songs created mean that there’s more competition… and make it harder for artists to break through?

Bryan Johnson: Some of it comes down to what their own goals are: are they making music purely as a creative outlet? Are they a hobbyist? Or are they aspiring to make it a full-time job? There’s varying degrees to why they pick up an instrument and collaborate. We are focused on providing these tools and educational resources to show them how to grow their audience. Look at something as simple as growing followers:  the more you have the more playlists you can get onto, such as Release Radar. So really we’re trying to put as much information out there as possible. 

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