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Featured on Aug 13, 2012

Bjorn Roche

"Rock star is my backup plan."


Bjorn Roche grew up trying to decide between being a rock star and mad scientist. Today, he's sort of like a mad scientist for rock musicians: by designing software for the music industry, his software inventions have been used by the likes of Linkin Park, Weezer, and other rock stars to move their music around the 'net, and share their music with fans. He's also written tools for musicians to collaborate online, including the first audio editor that allowed recording, mixing, editing and real-time effects in a web browser, Mantis.

As one of the leading experts in web, internet and collaborative audio, Bjorn has developed software for startups like Indaba Music, Sterling Sound, one of the top mastering studios in the world, Z-Systems audio engineering, a manufacturer of high-end digital routers and signal processing, and helped put together DVDs for several major publications, including Rolling Stone. Currently, he's working on a not-so-top secret project called Xonami, which will, for the first time, allow musicians and music producers to collaborate on projects from anywhere on the globe in real-time.

In his copious spare time, he plays upright bass in the band Molly Does Not Approve.

  • Title: Independent consultant and President of XO Audio
  • Age: 32
  • Location: Washington Heights
  • Contact:

How has the reaction been to Xonami from the music community?

So far the response has been very positive. People are excited and really looking for ways to collaborate and manage their own projects more efficiently, as well as collaborate and not worry about tedium like backups. I've also had a lot of interest from other companies making DAWs, so there is definitely going to be some integration with tools people are already using.

As an independent consultant and your own boss, do you find it difficult to manage your time?

Most of the time it's just a matter of prioritizing. For example, my clients always come first, and then my own projects.

Any upcoming shows for Molly Does Not Approve?

Unfortunately for the band, Molly just had a kid, so we don't have anything booked right now. You can sign up for our mailing list to get info about upcoming gigs, or you can like us on facebook.

Who are your favorite musicians?

I grew up on 80's british new wave like The Cure and Depeche Mode. I also liked Siouxsie and the Banshees and even dressed all Goth for a while! In college I listened to a lot of trip hop, like Massive Attack, Tricky, Portishead, and Morcheeba. Nowadays I've finally started listening to some American music, like Neko Case, The Books, and Cat Power, but there's so much great music out there!

With so many tools available for amateur musicians to create studio quality music, how do you think the music industry is going to change?

Since the 90s, home studio technology started making music production cheaper, and now even distribution and promotion is becoming cheaper thanks to the Internet. I've also noticed a recent trend toward gathering and analyzing more marketing information. Of course, technologies like Xonami are taking advantage of the Internet to make production easier, too.

A major theme throughout these changes has been people speculating about the downfall of the major labels. It makes a great narrative because nobody likes the idea of big evil companies profiting off of art, and music is one of the few areas where actual artists can make a living freely expressing themselves. Despite their recent contraction, though, the majors still have an iron grip on recorded music -- they sell around 80% of it worldwide. Most aspiring professional musicians still want to be signed to labels, because labels have money, and it still costs money to get your music career started. Until someone finds a way for musicians to get their career going for free or much less money, I don't see anticipate a big change happening in the way money moves around in the music industry. In the meantime, there have been some real changes: the majors have given some ground to independent labels, they've learned to adapt to a world with piracy, and they've accepted that music distribution may have to happen in ways that they do not completely control or did not foresee. In the short term, I definitely see more innovation in distribution, as well as metrics and analytics.

It's also clear that lots of great ideas are coming out around getting more people involved in music, whether it's online DJing and remixing, networking for musicians, or Beck's new "Album" released only as sheet music. I don't know if this has to do with new technology or it's simply a reaction to the homogeneity of popular music, but it's an interesting trend that could lead to some big changes.

(Indaba Music, and Club Create, two companies I've consulted for, work in these areas)

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