Cloud computing has taken over the business world, as more companies rely on Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services and others. It’s easy to understand why: The basics of computing services, like storage, servers, analytics, applications and databases, are all in the cloud, and you connect there via the internet when you want to use those services.
Numerous attempts have been made to create online collaboration sites (remember Rocket Network?), but none of them gained traction. However, that was before technology reached the level of maturity we enjoy today. Once again, companies are forming around the idea of cloud-based, online studios and collaboration.
Avid offers several different cloud plans, from an Artist version (10 GB, $5/month) to a studio version (80 GB, $25/month). These are mostly so that people can collaborate on projects, as opposed to having the tools themselves in the cloud. However, other companies are pushing the envelope and offer cloud-based DAWs—with varying degrees of sophistication and pricing plans—where you can transfer tracks for yourself or others to access from anywhere. Probably the most developed is Ohm Studio (it uses a combination of cloud- and local-based attributes), but there’s also SkyTracks, Soundation Studio, UJAM, BandLab, AudioTool, Splice, Dropin, AudioSauna, Soundtrack and others. Some are Flash-based, some run in a browser and others are apps you access directly—and may be mobile-friendly as well.
While compared to a pro studio, these may seem like toys, some are fairly powerful toys indeed, with built-in instruments and plug-ins. Ohm Studio can even wrap your VST plug-ins. Also, most sites play up the collaborative element. This can be as basic as finding other musicians for a project, or being more like a social media site.
For pro audio, at the moment, online DAWs are not going to replace your terabytes of storage, fast processing, rendering with video, gigabyte orchestral libraries and the like. However, technology has a habit of becoming increasingly powerful, and given the issues surrounding the desktop market (we don’t know exactly what Apple has in mind for 2019, and currently Microsoft seems more interested in its cloud services than Windows), we may all be hanging out in the clouds sooner than we think.
Of course, the cloud isn’t the ideal solution for everyone. As just one example, when Sony Pictures was first considering using an external cloud service, the cost of bandwidth to deal with the massive amounts of data generated every day was problematic. Bandwidth continues to get less expensive, but still, huge companies will have to decide whether to use commercial cloud services, or build their own.
As for pro audio, it’s likely that any transition to the cloud will be incremental. For now, cloud storage is the main attraction. At least in theory, the data is more secure than it would be if stored locally, and you can access files from anywhere. I doubt anyone will miss the days of shipping 24-track reels of tape around.
The next step is specialized services. To some extent, we already have that with EastWest’s ComposerCloud and Roland Cloud, where the cloud integrates with your local setup. However, Roland expects to create instruments that could exist only if hosted in the cloud. Perhaps another step is having the cloud equivalent of Studio Instrument Rentals, where you could rent time on specific plug-ins when you need “just that one sound” and don’t want to commit to a purchase.
To graduate a complete studio to the cloud isn’t trivial. Singapore-level bandwidth is the exception, not the rule, which impacts transferring and storing large amounts of data. Servers go down, and the internet isn’t secure from hackers, so you’d still need a plan B—ultimately, you’re the only person you can trust with your data.
There could be major advantages. You’d always be using the latest version of an online DAW, and there would be no compatibility issues with collaborators. Backup would be automatic. As to cost, although it may not be less expensive to run an online studio—those monthly subscription charges add up—you’d potentially have access to more instruments, sounds and plug-ins than you could ever purchase. And if the cloud studio eliminates piracy, virtual gear costs could come down even further.
Maybe the future isn’t so bright that you have to wear shades...but you might want to check out the price on prescription sunglasses to go along with your regular pair.
Craig Anderton’s new book series, The Musician’s Guide to Home Recording, is now available from Hal Leonard in softcover, and Reverb.com as a series of eBooks. Visit craiganderton.com for more news.