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Tech by VICE

An Algorithm Will Direct Your Band's Next Music Video

A chat with the creative minds behind 'Rotor,' a music video tool for the masses.

by DJ Pangburn
Mar 27 2014, 5:40pm
Image: Screenshot from Vimeo/Rotor

At some point, every band is in need of a music video. And with the wealth of cheap cameras and software, the tools to get it done are easily accessible. But, you still need the skill, talent, artistic vision, and that stuff, which doesn't come on the cheap. Fear not, for a new music video startup company called Rotor intends to subvert this model. 

Think of it like plug-and-play music videos: Users upload a song to the website, add four video clips, and then Rotor's music video creation tool does the rest of the creative heavy lifting.

The site was designed by a team of music video directors, visual artists, and creative coding experts: Diarmuid Moloney, Eoghan Kidney, and Tim Redfern. I tested the new tool, which is preparing for its beta run, and talked to Kidney, about the idea's inception, the software and technology behind Rotor, and the team's future plans for the site.

Motherboard: Where did the idea come from originally?

Kidney: Our CEO Diarmuid Maloney had the original idea and developed it with the Propel scheme in Derry. I came onboard mainly because, as a music video director, I knew tons of musicians who can't afford or don't know how to make videos; and they're still really important, even more so now. 

What was the modus operandi?

It was important to us that we didn't just make a system that offered a few generic styles. We know that musicians wouldn't be interested in that. We need to give visual artists the tools to make their own video styles, so we've developed a way to do that. We're really excited to see that in the wild and see if people take it up, like a WordPress for music videos with visual artists earning every time one of their styles is used.

How flexible is it? Is there a great depth to what Rotor can direct?

It's as flexible as a user wants it to be. A musician could upload a tune, choose a style and hit "go" if they like, but a style designer can create styles from scratch in Patchbay. They can be customizable, with a user contributing video clips, dictating pace or whatever. We're working on ways that an artist can video a performance, upload it and have it put together in an interesting way, and other really interesting features which we will release hopefully sometime in Q3. We've got tons of ideas but so little time!

Do you have a target user in mind?

All musicians who want to find more ways of getting their music heard.

Is the video synced rhythmically to the music at all?

Yes. Rotor analyzes the music that's uploaded, finding information such as locations of beats, segmentation based on similarity (i.e. where the chorus and verses are), intensity levels of segment, etc. It's this information that is used to compose the video via the style. 


How were its aesthetic and stylistic parameters designed?

In our web-based style authoring tool Patchbay. We're getting lots of artists on board from different backgrounds, introducing them to Patchbay and letting them go off and make styles that they can then sell to musicians. 

Which videos have really surprised you so far?

We were working with music directors Sasha Rainbow and Stephen Agnew and they really took to it and started to get great results out of it. We'll have styles directed by them ready on launch. So, it depends on who uses it and what they do with it. We're still in development, so a lot of surprises to come I'm sure, and we can't wait to see what people make with it.

If users design music video styles, are they then asked to share that style with others in a communal way? 

They don't have to if they don't want to. We recommend they do though, as it could be a good opportunity to make a few quid. We're planning on an extremely fair revenue-sharing model. 

What software and technology is behind Rotor?

Our CTO whiz Tim Redfern has coded a rendering engine in C named RotorD that lives in the cloud. We're using Ruby for the front end. We've created a proprietary browser-based tool in Javascript that directors can use to design a style. It's a nodal-based system that we hope audio visual designers will be familiar with, much like VJ tools like Isadora or post production tools like Nuke.

Final thoughts on the development process? 

Well, it's the first time any of us have really attempted anything like this. We're all from very non-web based backgrounds, so it's been a real learning curve. I've had to learn how to code to some degree and use things like Python. We're also always on the lookout for new partners that can help us find our user base. So, if anyone out there is interested in coming onboard, get in touch.

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