This article first appeared on Medium under the Open Music Initiative.

It all started with Amanda Palmer talking about her writing process and how she has “notebooks on notebooks on notebooks filled with old lyric and song ideas.” And this concept was echoed among every songwriter we talked to; it was all about the notebook. Every songwriter liked having that tactile object to write with but also needed to be able to write whenever the inspiration struck. This results in song fragments littered around all sorts of mediums; notebooks, iPhone notes, short audio recordings or even bits and pieces written on to napkins from the dive bar they were at on Saturday night.

This disorganization and fragmented nature is echoed on the industry side of song writing. All the information about what was created is scattered around various databases. Specific details, such as who wrote X lyric and who wrote Y chord, are not documented and therefore nobody knows how to properly distribute compensation when the song is produced later on.


So we came up with Trace

At its core Trace is a way in which a songwriter can combine and document all their song ideas into one place. We wanted a way in which the songwriter could maintain their tactile pen and paper way of songwriting while now being able to add to the lyrics or music on the their phone or computer. Enter the Trace pen attachment, a way to transcribe what the creator is writing in their notebook or dirty bar napkin and upload it to a central platform so that they can access what they’ve written from anywhere they want.

To add to this we wanted to include in a collaborative aspect so that Trace could be used in a cowriting or band-writing setting. To do this we made it so other authors can contribute to the song the same way a group of coworkers can contribute to a communal Google Doc. Our plan is to have all these revisions uploaded to a blockchain so that we have an immutable record of the song as it’s being written, making it easier to calculate who wrote what when and how that plays in the final version of the song.

Trace is all about making the songwriting process easier for the creator or creators, whether it be by keeping all their ideas in the same place or by smoothing out the cowriting process with the addition of a more objective calculation of who wrote what in the song. With more time we would like a to develop a way to grade contributions to the song based off of its role in the composition. For instance is the chorus considered to be a more valuable contribution to the song because of it repeats and is considered the most memorable section? We would also like to develop an AI to make this an even more useful asset to the songwriter. Would it be possible to develop a way for AI to offer unique suggestions based on each individual songwriter? What about a way for the AI to communicate and “cowrite” with app users?

OMI Fellow: Ben Kling