Essay: Cloud Collaboration

May 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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It’s more than just a buzzword. Use of what is colloquially known as “the cloud” as a resource in producing audio seems to increase as its economic and practical benefits become more obvious to engineers, producers and musicians. It’s changing how people share information and collaborate on projects large and small, and we’re just beginning to realize the enormous potential of what really is a new way of working.

On its most basic level, “the cloud” is a metaphor for the way independent computers can be networked on the Internet so files can be conveniently viewed and worked on by multiple users, utilizing third-party servers and mirror sites as neutral storage and retrieval locales for exchanging and updating information. Though “the cloud,” as a term, has only been in vogue for the past couple of years, the concept is not new. For instance, since 2003, YouSendIt has provided a secure medium for users to send and receive digital files of varying sizes, bypassing conventional email. What are relatively new, however, are Web-based file-synchronization and storage services such as Dropbox,, ZumoDrive and others, which facilitate much more complex means of networking.

Producer/mixer Robert Venable uses “the cloud” for file management and distribution of music files.

Producer/mixer Robert Venable uses “the cloud” for file management and distribution of music files.

Nashville producer/mixer Robert Venable says, “The majority of the time, I’m using [the cloud] for file management or distribution. I can upload MP3s, WAVs, lyric sheets, song samples, my song demo reel, and distribute those links to those I think might benefit from them. I got hired to produce a record for a female pop singer from Switzerland. I’m based in Nashville and the label flew me to L.A. to do a pre-pro and writing session with her for a week. We met at a studio with some label people and writers, and I took the lyrics that she had sent me a few weeks back, put them in my Google Docs folder in the cloud, and I brought my iPad and MacBook, and the others brought their laptops. In the writing session, there were two or three writers, two label people, the artist and her friend, myself and an assistant engineer, so we could demo the songs. We all shared the same Google Docs file, which was hosted online. We were on a network and we were all able to view changes in real time as we made them to the lyrics and production notes.

“We’d track a vocal melody we liked on a synth and we’d quickly record it, and we uploaded it to my Dropbox folder—everyone on this project had access to a shared folder with a password. We also had my session guys in Nashville tracking strings and guitar melodies over these synth loops I’d produced, and they’d send them back that night so we could all pull them down from the same Dropbox folder and talk about them and send the notes back via Google Docs. Same with mixes: I send roughs back and forth between the artist and the labels and management all the time and get their comments, and I’ve had engineers send files to me for final mixes.

“I can also use my iPhone or iPad to access WAVs or MP3 files or lyrics in my Dropbox. So if I’m driving or flying somewhere, or wherever I have Wi-Fi or cell phone service, I can pull them off onto my phone and put headphones on and take a listen—let it buffer for a few minutes on a cell phone and you’re good. I actually did that with five mixes in the airport yesterday on a two-hour layover in Houston. I listened, and said [to the client], ‘Hey, I’m listening on earphones—not exactly ideal, but here are a few things I hear already.’”

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