Raf Fiol, Kompoz – Online collaboration platform for musicians

Raf Fiol created Kompoz for musicians who want to collaborate, using their own digital audio workstation (DAW). The platform has grown into a social community for music collaborators.

My guest for this episode is Raf Fiol of Kompoz, the online collaboration platform for musicians. This is one of a five episode series that is related to an article I published for Forbes.com, which covers the online music collaboration space. I’m trying to better understand the different approaches and models within the space. Online collaboration and the trends therein are extremely fascinating to me. It is also something I encourage other musicians to look into.

I’m a Kompoz user/member, having recently signed up, and have already submitted my first collaboration track. Among the topics Raf and I discuss are the evolution of Kompoz as a platform and community, Raf’s thoughts on the future of online collaboration, why he started Kompoz, who the platform is best suited for and much more.

Mentioned in this Episode

Robonzo 0:02
Welcome to the Unstarving Musicians Podcast. I am your host Robonzo. This podcast features conversations with me and indie music artists and industry professionals. It’s all intended to help other indie music artists be better at marketing, business, the creative process and all the other things that empower us to do more of what we love. Make music. Almost got it. Hey, would you like to help other independent musicians find this podcast? All you have to do is subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your favorite podcast service. It really does help. The Unstarving Musician is made possible, by the way, through the generosity of listeners like you. And one of the easiest ways you can offer your support is to join the community at Unstarving Musician dot com. In doing so you’ll get tips and insights you can use in your music journey, but not just for me and my years of experience and also comes from the insights of hundreds of other musicians I’ve talked to as part of the Unstarving Musician project and a podcast. Plus you get a free copy of the Unstarving Musicians Guide official ebook. It’s all for free just for being part of the community. There are other ways that you can support the community. And if I may ask you, please go to our sponsor page at UnstarvingMusician.com/CrowdSponsor to learn how you can help me keep this podcast going for free.

My guest for this episode is Raf Fiol of Kompoz, the online collaboration platform. It is another multi part episode covering this time the online collaboration space, kind of a shorter episode here today, as it will be the others for this mini series. I’m trying to understand the space and the different approaches to it. Different model It’s and the trends I’m super fascinated with it. I’m actually a Kompoz, user member. It’s pretty cool. I need to make the time to submit it. submit some tracks I there’s a track I’m super interested in I just been sort of immersed in some other tracks I’m working on and of course the podcast is that the other thing but anyway, it’s coming man. Like everything else.

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So my guest Raf Fiol he started this site Kompoz the online collaboration platform. It’s kind of an online socialized social media is a collaboration platform. They started around 2007 And we talked about how he’s seen some things come and go in the space. The cool thing about it, I think so far is that, and we talked about this, is that they’re digital audio workstation agnostic, DAW agnostic, so they let us whatever you want. They’re very focused on the social aspect. That’s just something that has kind of evolved. I think you’ll find that like 80,000 collaboration started on the platform, half a million tracks uploaded. I think he talks about how many users they have to I just didn’t note it here for this introduction. But it yeah, it has evolved into a community that’s got to focus on new talent onboarding, that new talent, that’s what makes him thrive. I also wanted to know if he had any predictions for the online collaboration space, and I asked him about crowdsourcing talent, which is another facet of the online collaboration space that I have seen and how that fits into Kompoz. It doesn’t really but… not today. So the reason he started composes a pretty classic story he, he found a solution out there back in 2007. But it wasn’t quite right. It didn’t work as well as he wished it did. So, yeah, he built his own thing. And he tells me he loves seeing what new songs have been created in the morning when he logs in, just you know, trips him out, like these are these peep created between people who’ve never been in the same room together. And yeah, he just he gets off on that. You know, I asked him why indie artists would want to try it. So I think my experience has been that not a lot of you have. So we talked about that. And also for you other drummers and you vocalists, you other vocalists there, they are the most in demand talent on compose, so maybe you want to check it out for that reason. Yeah, we talked about the, I guess the profile of the people that use it, it’s it’s a it’s not something you’re going to do just from your iPhone. You have to be somebody who’s into recording. A little bit techie, I guess. But yeah, it’s I think it’s worth checking out. It’s, you can you can learn more about it. I’ll put this in the show notes, but it’s Kompoz.com K O M P O Z .com. Alright, that’s enough. Here is me and Raf Fiol of Kompoz.

Yeah, why not start with you telling me what feels different about what compose does, given that there are some others in the space doing some similar stuff. But yeah, what do you guys do different?

Raf Fiol 6:38
Well, you know, we’ve been around for a long time we started back in 2007, is when we first launched and I’ve seen quite a few sites come and go during that time period. And I think what we do differently, and the reason we’ve been around as long as we have is that we really kind of let the users our members, use whatever recording software they want, you know, you’re comfortable with Apple logic or GarageBand, or Pro Tools, or whatever it is they like. And they they spend a lot of time learning the tools and how to best tweak their sounds using those tools. And I’ve seen some of the other sites that tried to create their own sort of, you know, D A W’s online or, you know, you sort of record and mix online or or use their apps. And that doesn’t work. It just you know, everyone wants to use their tool. So, what we’ve really focused on is the networking component, the social networking pieces, [Yeah]. Connecting musicians. So come to our site, use whatever DAW you want. You upload your tracks into our projects or collaborations is what we call that. You create split sheets with the other artists you can you know, talk about, you know, your, I guess your song split sheets, right? And you just kind of create songs together online. We’ve had over 100,000 registrations that are about 80,000 collaborations that have been started. [Wow] …and yeah, about half a million tracks that have been uploaded. It’s really kind of cool. I think the other nice thing is that we have this feature called a spin off. Which is, I mean, think about it like, and this has happened to me a couple of times, I’ll start a project with with a thought in mind of what it’s going to sound like, recording guitar piece and upload it, somebody downloads that brings it into their studio and starts just going in a completely different direction, and then uploads that as a spin off and I’m like, Wow, that is really cool. You know, I’ve seen songs go from rock to reggae, to country and you know, all around. It’s really exciting to see that exploration.

Robonzo 8:46
That’s interesting. And I’m glad you brought up the thing about the cloud based DAWs. Given that you’ve stayed away from it, I don’t know how you probably do know, more, more than I would even expect, but what… Are you seeing any, as an observer? Mostly because you don’t do that, and stay DAW agnostic [Right]… Do you see room for that? Are there people that actually like that, like perhaps the ones that, like I’ve seen them pitched as a place where people who want to try their hand at at, you know, putting the track together without investing in software? And I don’t know if that really holds true or not, but what do you observe?

Raf Fiol 9:27
You know, I think it really depends on your goals as a musician. Some of the musicians that come to the site simply just want to explore, you know, use samples, use loops, you know, whatever and try to using beats put something together. That’s really not where we focus, we really are targeting more, the musicians who want to create new original music. There tend to be a little bit skew a little bit older in terms of demographics, and more traditional I should say maybe older is not the right word, but more traditional. You know, real instruments, and they’re really into the mixing and engineering aspect of the music creation. They really like their own DAWs. Where I do think there is an opportunity is, and we’ve explored this very lightly, is that to have a maybe a plug in for the different DAWs that would allow you to import an export directly to Kompoz. I think that would be a really valuable tool, but I certainly don’t want to try to replace all of the magic that happens with with some of the technology that’s out there.

Robonzo 10:35
So I’m a little new to you know, recording at home and using a decent DAW does that mean when you mentioned the plugins? This is my WordPress designer brain, but does that mean that you guys would get into developing your own plugins for artists to use in their preferred DAW that you guys would market?

Raf Fiol 10:57
Exactly. We actually did build an We do have on the website, a desktop application for uploading and downloading the tracks. It’s for Windows and Mac and that that does make it a lot easier. I should say faster because it organizes your tracks for you, it pulls them down off of Kompoz and store them on your local file system where you can go to, you know, Dropbox or anything like that. But I think the next step would be to actually have it so that let’s say if I’m in GarageBand, or if I’m in Apple logic, and I just press a button that says export this to Kompoz, that would be a really, really cool feature to have. So we’re looking into that. Where I do see like, we when we started, there was really only one other major site out there. It’s called Indaba music. And they they pivoted, they got more into contests and remix contest. They moved away from you know, creating new original music, and they’ve since I think they’ve been acquired by somebody else. Splice, they got acquired by a company called Splice.com, that kind of went back to collaboration, but it was very specific to a certain number of DAWs, and instead of trading tracks, you’d be actually exchanging projects with other members. It was a little different from ours. Most recently, actually, Spotify has entered into the space. They’ve got a product called SoundTrap. Again, they went towards the complete online, you know, DAW concept so, I think they’re really kind of going after a much larger mass audience that really wants to get into… because you can download loops and you can download samples and you know, kind of mix that way. You’re recording directly into your browser. I tried it. It’s interesting, but again, there are a lot of limitations. I’ve gotten to the point where now with my with my DAW, again I use Apple Logic, is that there’s just so many great tools in there with, you know, their ability to actually move notes around and cut and paste and do the vocal tuning and all of those types of things that where you can take multiple comps of your tracks and kind of pick the best of each one is just amazing stuff. And I don’t think they’ll ever be able to compare with that.

Robonzo 13:12
Yeah, maybe we’ll see, you know, cloud hybrids in the future that kind of keep up. But then unfortunately, to me, unfortunately, we get into subscription models for every every DAW you want to be involved with.

Roberto Hernandez 13:24

Robonzo 13:24
What changes have you seen in the use of your own platform that have most caught your attention?

Raf Fiol 13:35
Ah, good question changes that I’ve seen…. You know it’s interesting, because when when the site started, it was really focused on, “Hey let’s create songs together.” And I think more recently, obviously, that’s still the central goal, but there’s really been this kind of sense of community where everybody’s helping everybody else. They sort of really look for new fresh talent. As new members join the site, there, there’s a group of members that really, you know, kind of focus on onboarding them and helping them kind of get started. It’s kind of really become. It’s, it’s, and you’ll see this in the new version of Kompoz that I’m actually launching is that there is the studio aspects where you’re actually collaborating, mixing songs together. And then there’s the community aspect where you’re sharing your results and what you’ve learned. And there are all sorts of user groups that have started within the post community section for specializations, like you know, vocalist, groups, drum groups, bass groups, things like that. I would say that that, you know, the sense of community and sharing of data is very interesting to me the way that’s that’s all.

Robonzo 14:50
Nice. That does, it’s intriguing to think and it makes a lot of sense. When you look at any robust community that have these aspects and as a musician who’s most done most of my stuff in the offline world, other than, you know, finding people and posting stuff online. It’s interesting to think of having all that out there–very appealing. Do you have any predictions for the future of online collaboration?

Raf Fiol 15:19
Predictions for the future? I wish I did. I would certainly. You know, where we are, I think I just mentioned this. I’m on version 3.0 now of the platform. We’re doing a rewrite of the front end and focusing more on privatization of the actual collaboration experience. Whereas today on Kompoz, you can create private projects, but then you miss out on the whole community aspect. But we have this concept of public and private today. In the future, I’m sort of moving away from the concept of public and private collaborations and creating this concept of projects that are the spaces where you can work together with people. But then what becomes public are your requests for tracks. I’m calling them track requests. So for example, if I’m looking for a drummer, I’ll post a drum request on the site. That’s what gets searched. That’s what’s public. That’s what gets explored. And you can limit what’s exposed at that point, you can say, you know what, I’m looking for a drummer, here’s a rough mix, I’m not going to expose all of my individual tracks, because I don’t really want those out in the public domain yet. But here’s a rough mix that I want you to record your drums again. And then then if the if the drummer is accepted into the project, then you have access to the full project aspects. So it’s sort of a hybrid of where we are today. And really kind of focusing on moving more towards helping out the more serious musicians who want to kind of keep their individual tracks out of public domain and work privately with other individuals but still maintaining that that collaboration aspect.

Robonzo 16:59
Okay. What about… I wanted to ask about the, you know, musician for hire aspect of the whole crowdsourcing thing that happens. Is that and has that always been a pretty big part of the ecosystem?

Raf Fiol 17:15
You know, not for us. We actually did an experiment, we launched a sister site called Kompoz Studio, which was exactly that. It was it was a for hire kind of platform. Where you’d post your gigs and, and a bounty is what we called it. You know, hey, 50 bucks for a guitar player that would record a 32nd solo, that kind of deal. And initially, it was well received, but we’ve seen that the demand for that has really just kind of tapered off. So I think we’re going to scrap that I learned a lot from it. It certainly is a powerful motivator. If you definitely want need… You can’t find, let’s say the talent through the regular Kompoz channels, then adding money to that certainly does close the job. I don’t think there was ever a gig that went unfinished on Kompoz Studio, but it changed the dynamic so dramatically that I don’t think it was good for our community in our platform. Because once you introduce money into the into the equation, you’re no longer creating music or the love or the art, and it’s become a business, and the dynamics change and, it just becomes… It’s a different animal. That’s not where we want to be. Having said that we are having in the new 3.0 platform there is a gamification aspect, so that when you do post a request, let’s say for a drummer, I keep using that example since that’s what you play. You can earn points and other things by by performing those types of… Any activity that’s valuable to the community you’ll earn points for. And that will increase the your ability to attract other musicians to work on your project. So there’s like this little market that’s created using a point system that… and badges and whatnot, that we hope will drive engagement.

Robonzo 18:42
Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. I mean, I think strictly from the aspect of allowing people to be noticed as popular contributors, or just contributors, like strong contributors who were helping the community in some way, in different ways. I think that would do a lot, so that’s exciting.

Raf Fiol 19:43
We’re excited about it.

Robonzo 19:46
For my podcast listeners, can you share the story? You know the the brief story of why you were passionate about doing Kompoz, getting it going and what have you discovered along the ways? along the way that surprised you? If anything?

Raf Fiol 20:07
Yeah. So when I first got the idea, again this was back in 2007. There was a site at the time called My Virtual Band dot com. And it was essentially just like a forum where it had threaded discussions. And people were attaching mp3 files and say, “Hey, Can you add a drum track to this mp3 file?” And I saw that and I experimented with it for a little bit. I kind of loved the concept, but it became very difficult to follow a song through to completion when you’re using a forum system, right? Because you got all these threads and you know, it’s hard to keep track of all the files that are involved, because they’re scattered across multiple messages and comments and whatnot. So I just got the idea of let’s make it more project based and created the site at that point. And did it for fun really. It was just a side project that I was working on, launched it, and it grew pretty quickly. You know, I think we had probably by the end of the first six months, there were like, maybe 10,000 people that had signed up, and we’re using the site. And we were just having a great time with it. And then And then, in 2014, gentleman out of New York contacted me and he wanted to invest in the site. So he did that, and we hired some folks and we launched the next version of the platform, and, you know, just kind of continues to grow, and it’s just super fun, super exciting. I love waking up in the morning, cranking up Kompoz and seeing what new songs have been created. And just, you know, to think that hey, these guys have never really been in the same room together. And they’re creating these songs from across the world. It’s just awesome. There’s no politics there’s no… None of that’s allowed on the site, we were just there to make music. It’s a blast.

Robonzo 22:04
That’s nice. And it’s, you know, it’s a new, it’s a new world to me. And I was gonna say that the most of the interviews I do for the Unstarving Musician are independent artists. And it may be my impression, and nothing more and inaccurate, but my impression is, is that a lot of them have never tried something like this. Why would they want to? And how would they know if maybe it’s not for them?

Raf Fiol 22:33
Good question. And I’ve tried to get a lot of my local buddies, you know, they’re musicians to to use the site. And they do because they know me and they wanted for me. A lot of them, it’s just not for them. And I think it’s because that they’re very protective of their music and they’re afraid it’s going to get ripped off and just, you know, the internet’s gonna swallow them whole. For others. It’s such a great experience to be able to, to finish that song that’s been in your head for years. And you know, it’s hard to sometimes find a violin player or, you know, some new plays the oboe, or you know, these really weird esoteric sort of instruments. They’re on Kompoz. It’s amazing, you know. You just kind of post it and say, “Hey, I’m looking for somebody who can play, you know, triangle; and you’ll get multiple people submitting to your projects. For me, that’s the coolest part of it. It’s that. And again, like I mentioned earlier, it’s the thought process that you go into it with is, I’ve got the song in my head, but somebody else has a different sort of spin on it. And a lot of times, it’s a lot better than what you had in your head, you know. To let it sort of grow and explore from there is really exciting.

Robonzo 23:46
Yeah, and I would imagine the sort of loose connection with people that you get in the beginning, especially in on a social network, allows people to be a little more forward with their ideas in some cases, because sometimes our friends, they sort of tippy toe because they’re not really sure what we can handle in terms of making suggestions or whatever.

Raf Fiol 24:05
And the other aspect is that there’s a little bit of technical know-how that you have to have to make this really work, right. You have to have some gear at home, you’ve got to have a nice laptop or a computer. I use this Focusrite digital audio interface that, you know, I can play my guitars into directly and my mics and everything else. You gotta have something like that. You gotta have some some recording software. And then, you know, with online collaboration there is also this… It is very important to make sure that your tracks line up correctly. Right, because timing is critical. When you lay down your drumbeat, I’ve got to make sure that when I bring that into my project, it’s timed correctly with the other instruments. So you know, we use this this concept, we call it sync tones. We just kind of put an artificial, sometimes it’s a drum hit, you know, it’s cymbal crash or something in the beginning; and everybody kind of aligns to that. And and record from there. So there’s a little bit of technical geekiness that you have to have, and maybe not all musicians are into that.

Robonzo 25:13
That’s for sure. That is that is for sure. I mean, I guess… I’m real curious, and I’m going to start by asking about… A lot of the people I speak with and meet, a good number of them are pretty young and sort of immersed in this tech world. So it’ll be interesting to know, but not everybody’s been recording, myself included. I just kind of jumped into it recently. So I look forward to checking it out. On a personal note, where are you located?

Raf Fiol 25:39
Miami, Florida.

Robonzo 25:40
Okay, how are things going there?

Raf Fiol 25:43
Things are going okay. You’re in California?

Robonzo 25:47
No, I was for 17 years. My wife and I moved to Panama in 2016. So we’re in a very surreal, strict quarantine and curfew situation that let up for one week. And then, you know, kind of what we’re seeing around the world. There were case spikes. And so we’re back. Back under quarantine.

Raf Fiol 26:09
Yeah Florida just opened up last week and we’re expecting some big spikes. I’m sure there will be. I’m still trying to be very careful, at least in this household.

Robonzo 26:17
For sure. Well, I wish you and all of yours that best and staying healthy, especially. And I guess I should ask, Is there anything you wanted to know? From me about anything podcasts or otherwise?

Raf Fiol 26:30
Yeah, I’d love to hear a little bit more about what you’re doing and the projects you’ve been working on the podcast and anything else? Sure.

Robonzo 26:38
Yeah. The podcast is a passion project. It started with an idea for a book, which I’m working on a second edition of, and it was just to help musicians get, you know, better gigs, better paying gigs, which was something that I was pretty adept at just as a part time musician, and then I started contemplating you know, distributing that knowledge and maybe curating expertise from others about areas that I knew nothing about to help the independent music artists. So, you know, it led to a podcast. And I’ve immensely enjoyed a couple things, you know, the art of the interview, and the other one is meeting all these great people and, and hearing about the things that they’ve gone through, you know, the stuff that works, the stuff that doesn’t work, and they’re all very supportive of the idea of, you know, helping one another. So that’s been a lot of fun. And then I moving here to Panama, I, you know, move myself to a completely new community for musicians. And it’s not… we don’t live in an urban… We no longer live in like an urban or suburban area. So it’s a lot thinner. There are a lot a lot less musicians and we’re all farther spread apart. But the one thing like for most people, that the pandemic has done as it had me go, you know what, I’m going to try and write that song I was thinking about. That part’s done. And now I’m recording it and and thinking about a lot of doing a lot of things online that I’ve been wanting to do. So I guess that’s been an upside.

Raf Fiol 28:09
And is drumming your primary instrument?

Robonzo 28:12
Yeah. And it’s funny, you know, to write the song I picked a guitar back up after at least 20 years away from it. A friend had given me an acoustic here recently, so I started playing… The band I recently got together with was let me play a couple of acoustic tunes on stage in part of our set, and yeah, and so I had gotten comfortable enough to kick out a melody and ask a friend what he thought and I was lucky enough that he, someone I really respect musically liked it, and is helping me with some of the recording aspects.

Raf Fiol 28:41
That’s awesome.

Robonzo 28:42
Yeah, it’s fun.

Raf Fiol 28:43
Are you able to record your drums? Do you have some, some tools for doing that?

Robonzo 28:48
Yeah. So I bought I had to go buy some tools. I had to go buy a Focusrite interface that had enough channels to record drums and I bought some mics. You know, I don’t have terribly expensive overheads. That would have been a big deal. But, you know, I’ve shared it with people who have a breadth of recording experience. And and, you know, one out of three was like, he really needs some better foreheads. And the other two were like, you know, it sounds good. It sounds good. I guess I’ve been trying to use that, you know, the best mics to record with are the ones you have.

Raf Fiol 29:21

Robonzo 29:21
Yeah. So…

Raf Fiol 29:23
Yeah drummers have it the hardest, right? Cuz you got probably like eight mics all set up and recording yourself, and then you gotta put it all together. And, yeah,

Robonzo 29:30
Yeah and from a learning perspective, it’s, I think it’s at, at least in my head, and it’s kind of a lot to deal with. But I am just focused on trying to get the best raw sound that I can, because fortunately I have other people who are way ahead of the curve who can help out with, you know, mixing and mastering and all that stuff.

Raf Fiol 29:50
Well, you know, that’s the other cool thing about Kompoz too, right, is that you just upload your raw files, and there’s always somebody on there that’ll mix and master for you.

Robonzo 29:58
That’s cool.

Raf Fiol 29:58
You know drummers and vocalists are the ones that are most in demand on our site.

Robonzo 30:04
I got to get on there! [Laughs]

Raf Fiol 30:05
Yeah, drummers because, you know, like I said, you’ve got the hardest job in terms of recording. You’ve got, you know, it’s the hardest piece of it. And then vocalists just finding a great vocalist is really, really rare, so they’re in high demand on the site.

Robonzo 30:19
Well, I will share that with my community. It’s one thing I met as a lot of outstanding vocalists. And a few really good drummers too. I just only by virtue of the fact that I talked to more vocalists than I than I do pure drummers, but I really appreciate your time a lot.

Raf Fiol 30:34
No, thank you. I really appreciate you talking to me. And if there’s anything that comes up later, if you have any questions just shoot me an email.

Robonzo 30:42
Thank you.

Raf Fiol 30:43
Thanks! Stay safe.

Robonzo 30:46
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