New Streams

Screenshot of the BeatConnect software showing a sequencer with tracks being edited by multiple people represented by differently colored cursors

Founded by Alexandre Turbide and Nicholas Laroche, who worked together at CBC Radio, BeatConnect is software that lets musicians and producers collaborate in real time. The company closed a $3 million CAD seed round in August 2022. Turbide and Larcoche are putting the resources toward preparing the software for public release and developing a platform that makes music production welcoming to the broadest possible audience. This interview was conducted on November 16, 2022. –Brian Sholis

Frontier: BeatConnect is based in Montreal, a city known internationally for its vibrant music scene. And the Quebec government is known nationally for its support of the arts. How did the city influence your decision to start and build BeatConnect?

Alexandre Turbide: Montreal has been important, but the deepest influence is neither music nor the arts ecosystem. It’s the huge presence of the video-game industry. Most of the people working with us are both musicians and gamers, and we believe the kinds of innovation the games industry has introduced over the past decade translate very well to music creation and sharing. First, gaming platforms like Steam and Fortnite are truly cross-platform: it doesn’t matter what console you’re using, everyone plays the same game in the same environment. At a deeper level, we’re inspired by gaming’s engagement models, how to get people interested in what is being built. The music community hasn’t developed something like that. Lastly, the process of creating a song is drawn out and involved; there is no legible, consumer-friendly tool for the amateur, the enthusiast, the would-be musician to get into music creation and just have fun. Professional musicians have found ways to make music in a live environment, then send recordings back and forth and refine them. The people who are poorly served today are the ones doing music as a hobby, amateurs looking to network and to learn.

Frontier: Musicians are seemingly squeezed from two sides: by labels, which gain the rights to the intellectual property they create; and by streaming services, which pay a pittance and direct those meager funds to whatever conglomerate, label, or third-party owns the rights to those songs. How does BeatConnect solve these or similar issues?

AT: I mentioned that the under-served audience is amateurs, and we’re solving a lot of problems for them. But we are also building with professionals in mind, and one of the next big features we’ll release offers a way for musicians to advertise their services and time directly to audiences. The simplest use case is teaching remotely. Because our platform works with any audio-creation software, teachers can even help people using different tools. And because it’s in the cloud and live-edited, you don’t have to pitch files back and forth. Both parties can collaborate seamlessly.

We want to lower the barrier to music production so that more people can express themselves.

Frontier: Can you say more about how collaboration works?

AT: Well, the BeatConnect software uses WAV files; through a plugin, it can connect to Ableton, ProTools, or any other audio workstation you want to use. That means, by extension, that BeatConnect can sit in the middle and foster interactions between two people, even if one is using Ableton and the other ProTools.

When people realized what we do, they got very excited, very quickly. We’re not even officially out in the world yet—we’ve been in beta for more than a year, reshaping the product and making it as broadly accessible as possible. Our early adopters are tech-savvy; we’re aiming to also be useful for people for whom using a sequencer or other audio tools is newer. 

Frontier: Can you talk about how your recent fundraising round will be put toward that broadening?

AT: Our software will always be free. The funding will help us to build out a platform that enables in-app purchasing, which is both our way of making a sustainable business and of helping music creators, teachers, and others support themselves. Most popular VST plugins—instruments and effects you can insert into the music you’re creating—are very expensive. A novice musician or enthusiastic amateur might hesitate before spending $200 on a plugin they’ve never tried. We’ll enable “rental” trials, where you can hear how the plugin fits into your sound environment before buying.

We believe this not only helps individual buyers feel confident about spending money on exactly what they want, but also enables new sources of revenue for creators. Broad compatibility and shared availability means everyone can use and benefit from the platform.

Frontier: Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, has a theory that the internet enables vastly more creative livelihoods. You just have to find your “1,000 true fans.” Do you believe in that theory and do you expect people can develop followings on BeatConnect?

AT: Yes, definitely. One of the things we’ve noticed during the pandemic is that audiences want to watch the creation process, not just enjoy the end product. Twitch, in particular, has been supporting that. BeatConnect will offer a new way for musicians and teachers to create and share content and engage with audiences. It can be a two-way stream: imagine a musician who is live streaming setting out a one-hour challenge to create a particular sound or effect, listening to the results, then choosing a favorite and live-remixing a track with the audience member who created that “winning” effect. That kind of interaction enables true-fan relationships. It’s a new medium.

Frontier: It helps to be an API, to have a tool that connects to almost everything.

AT: We don’t want to just fit into the current ecosystem—there are too many middlemen taking cuts of cuts of cuts and leaving the artists with next to nothing. We’re trying to create a pipeline for musicians to have fun, create, and, if they want to put it online, share and monetize it directly. Many creative people don’t need labels or aggregators, don’t need the traditional “music industry,” to fulfill their goals. Ultimately, we want to lower the barrier to music production so that more people can express themselves.